The toothsome texture and delicate flavors of basbousa are a refreshing, light dessert. Hailing from Egypt, where it's usually made with yogurt, the Israeli version features notes of citrus, plenty of coconut, and is dairy-free thanks to separated eggs.Yum
Basbousa, originating in Egypt, is popular in Israel, both for home bakers and in bakeries (as always, the hole-in-the-wall bakeries make the best basbousa). Its Egyptian/Levantine version is generally made with yogurt, which is delicious, and of course we'll be exploring that option. But for today, we'll enjoy the Israeli version, made with separated eggs in place of the yogurt, and full of added citrus flavor from orange juice, orange zest, and orange blossom water (the secret ingredient). See my Israeli Ingredients 101 for more on orange blossom water and where to get it.
Ingredients for basbousa
To make basbousa, you'll need semolina flour. Bob's Red Mill makes a particularly fine version (I think it's primarily marketed towards making pasta, but it works for basbousa as well; I've used it many times). You might be able to find semolina flour in a small bag near the all-purpose flour in the baking aisle, especially at kosher and other specialty markets. (Semolina is also used in many Eastern European recipes, as well as in making couscous from scratch.)
You also need finely flaked coconut, fresh orange, and, aside from the orange blossom water, a few pantry staples and whole almonds for decorating the tops of the cake pieces.
Basbousa is a three-bowl cake: one for the dry ingredients, another for blending together the wet ingredients, and one for whipping the egg whites. Wet gets mixed into dry, and then the whipped whites get folded in to create an airy batter.
Making the syrup
While the basbousa is baking, you make an added, and crucial, element for this cake: lemon and orange-blossom kissed sugar syrup to pour over the still-warm cake from the oven. It's as simple as letting sugar dissolve in simmering water. But it's what makes basbousa such magic: dense with syrup, fluffy with the texture of semolina and coconut.
Serving the cake
In bakeries, basbousa is usually served in squares or diamonds (that is, squares cut on the diagnal). For a small, home-baking-sized pan, I think square work best or you end up with some errant half-diamonds, but the choice is yours! You can also bake this in a round cake pan (8" or 9" / 20-22 cm) and serve it in slices.
Looking for more Middle Eastern flavors?
- Middle Eastern-Spiced Meat-Stuffed Rolls - A chewy roll stuffed full of Mideast flavors, these are easy to bake, portable, reheatable, and all-around wonderful.
- Moroccan-Spiced Butternut and Sweet Potato Soup with Crisped Chickpeas and Pomegranate - The layered flavors and textures of this delicious soup justify the extra long descriptor.
- Moroccan Chraime (חריימה) – Shabbat Fish Simmered in Tomato Sauce
- 4 eggs - separated
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 2 cups fine semolina flour
- 1 cup finely flaked coconut
- 1 Tbsp baking powder
- 1 orange, zested
- 1 cup orange juice
- ¾ cup neutral-flavored oil
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
For the syrup:
- 1 cup water - 240 ml
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- ½ tsp orange blossom water
- 16 whole almonds, raw or blanched
- Preheat the oven to 350°F / 180°C. Grease a square or round pan (8" or 9" / 20 or 23 cm).
Beat the egg whites:
- Separate the four egg whites in to a small-medium mixing bowl. Whip until the whites hold medium peaks, then add in the sugar while beating until combined. Set aside.
Mix the cake batter:
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the semolina, coconut, and baking powder.
- In a third bowl (or large measuring cup), beat together the egg yolks with the oil, orange zest, orange juice, and vanilla extract.
- Pour the egg yolk mixture over the dry ingredients and mix just to combine.
- Fold in the egg white mixture gently into the batter until fully incorporated.
Bake the cake:
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the cake is lightly golden around the edges.
Make the syrup:
- While the cake is in the oven, make the syrup by combining the water, sugar, lemon juice, and orange blossom water into a small pot. Bring to a simmer over a medium flame, whisking occasionally, until the sugar has completely dissolved into the water. Turn off the heat and set aside.
Finish the cake:
- Allow the cake to cool for 15 minutes. Score the cake into square or diamond-shaped pieces using a sharp knife. Press a whole almond into the center of each piece. Pour the syrup evenly over the cake. Leave to cool completely before serving.