Basbousa is an Egyptian semolina cake soaked in syrup while still warm from the oven. I learned about it awhile ago when I was reading “A World of Cake” – a book that I had an extremely difficult time giving back to the library.  I wanted to bake it for my Egyptian as soon as I saw it.

It took awhile to get around to it, but I finally made it this weekend to coincide with his birthday. As usual, I had every pan in the cupboard except for the one specified in the recipe, so my basbousa turned out thicker than basbousa typically would. Fortunately, this did not impact its flavour (so says The Egyptian – never having eaten basbousa, I had no idea). This was a concern since I was following a recipe written by a Westerner. I did look around on the web for an authentic Middle Eastern recipe but couldn’t decide between the million-and-one variations I found, so I went with the one in the book. I figured that one had at least been tested before publication. You just don’t know with the internet.

I’m happy to report that there were absolutely no misadventures in the baking of this cake. It went together really easily. Soaking the cake in syrup gives the cake a neat texture. Dense, but not heavy. And not particularly sticky, either, as one might expect from a cake soaked with syrup.

It would be fun to make basbousa and head out on a picnic to celebrate Sham el Nessim (or “Smell the Spring” day). Or, you could just make it because it is yummy.  If you want to make basbousa, look for semolina flour in the international or Middle East aisle at the grocery store. I personally think that all flours should simply go in the flour aisle – it’s 2011, let’s end the flour segregation, people! – but I am just a dreamer. Worth noting: It might look like there’s way too much syrup when you pour it on top of the cake. Don’t be alarmed! The cake will absorb it. It just may take some time.

From Krystina Castella’s, A World of Cake

1 cup sugar
10 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
2 tbsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. vanilla
3 eggs
2 cups semolina flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup ground almonds
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup plain yogurt

Topping: 3/4 cup whole almonds
3/4 cup lemon syrup (recipe following).

Preheat oven to 375F. Butter and flour a 10-inch square pan. [Note: I used an 8×8 pan – it turned out fine, just a little thick – and the baking time did not have to be altered].

Beat the sugar and butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy.  Beat in the lemon juice and vanilla.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Slowly stir in the semolina, flour, almonds and baking powder.  Mix in the yogurt and stir until smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Place the whole almonds on top of the batter.  Bake for 35-40 minutes, until a knife inserted in centre comes out clean.

Top with lemon syrup while still warm.  Serve immediately.

Lemon Syrup (yields 1 3/4 cup)

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. honey
juice of one lemon

Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan.  Add sugar and honey.  Stir to dissolve.  Remove from heat and add lemon juice.  Let cool.

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