Vegetarian food blog featuring delicious and nutritious whole food recipes, creative baking and luscious chocolate.

Basbousa (Egyptian Semolina Cake) and Long Live Lebara.

Basbousa

In my youth, when it was rare to know anyone who had travelled abroad, I was a lot more adventurous than I am now. At just eighteen I set off to work in a Swiss hotel in order to learn French, something I hadn’t managed to pick up at school. At various times I hitchhiked from home to France, to Spain and to Switzerland and when I had only just turned seventeen I went to stay with relatives of relatives in Egypt for a month.

This was long before mobile technology had been invented. Phones were landline only and it was phenomenally expensive to phone overseas. In the first year I was away in Switzerland, I had one phone call with my mother and that was Christmas day. In Egypt, it was nigh on impossible to phone home. When I went to live there a few years later, the only way of phoning home was to do it through an operator at the post office. It cost a fortune and you had to queue for hours. Writing letters was the only real means of communication and what a slow process that could be. I’m sure my mother would have rested a lot easier in her bed if she had been able to contact me directly and vice versa.

Today things are very different. Life for migrants can be tough. Feelings of homesickness can sometimes be overwhelming and being able to connect with friends and family can often be a lifesaver. Lebara are specifically set up to help migrants and to connect them to each other and to their friends and family back home. Lebara Mobile offer a free SIM with low cost international calls, no contract and no hidden charges. To enable migrants to help each other, Lebara to Lebara calls are free. And you don’t have to be coming to or leaving from the UK either, Lebara operates globally. My experiences of living and working abroad would have been very different if I’d had something like this at my disposal.

Part of the founding ethics of Lebara is to give back to the communities that migrants come from. Through the Lebara Foundation, a proportion of the company’s profits are donated to help displaced communities around the world with housing, health and schooling. You can read about some of the people that have been helped on the Lebara site. This has particular resonance at the moment with the devastating earthquake in Napal which has displaced so many people.

Basbousa

I loved Egypt and didn’t feel homesick as I was only there for a short time, but I desperately wanted to communicate the exciting discoveries I was making. Life in Egypt was a very different thing to life back home in Cornwall. As for the food, it was a revelation and I fell in love with it immediately. It was here I had my first taste of hummus, felafel and shakshuka. Despina, the matriarch of the family I was staying with was probably the best cook I’ve ever come across. We had big sit down feasts of Middle Eastern cuisine every single day. As for the pastries, they were a complete wonder; spiced nutty Baklawa soaked in rose scented syrup, crumbly crunchy kunafa and the best nougat I’ve ever had anywhere. However, the one I got the most excited about was a plainer less well known cousin, Basbousa. This is an Egyptian semolina yogurt cake doused in rose and lemon syrup. The reason I was so excited was that the pastry shops sold it with a rectangle of what seemed suspiciously like clotted cream. Cornish clotted cream in Egypt? I so wanted to exclaim to my mother the first time I discovered it, but that immediacy was not to be.

This recipe for Basbousa is less sweet than those I used to eat. I just can’t bring myself to apply the copious amounts of sugar stated in all the recipes I looked at. It is, nonetheless, a rather delicious sweet treat. I used kefir rather than yogurt, but this is the closest to the cakes I remember from all those years ago and had the same dense consistency and squiggly top. The flavours of lemon, rose, honey, cardamom and cloves combine to make a flavour reminiscent of Egypt at it’s best. Of course I had to have a slice topped with a dollop of Cornish clotted cream – for old times sake.

Other Semolina Cakes you might like

Honey and Walnut Yoghurt Semolina Cake

Marmalade Coconut Semolina Cake

Orange and Semolina Cake

Olive Oil, Orange and Oregano Cake

Basbousa - Egyptian Semolina Cake
Yields 12
This Egyptian classic, is a dense semolina yoghurt cake flavoured with burnt butter and honey and doused with rose, lemon and cardamom syrup.
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Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
1 hr
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
1 hr
Cake
  1. 75g unsalted butter
  2. 150g semolina
  3. 1 tbsp honey
  4. 250g yoghurt - (I used kefir)
  5. 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  6. 12 blanched almonds ( mine came from 3pFruits)
Syrup
  1. 200g water
  2. 100g sugar
  3. 1 tsp honey
  4. 2 cardamom pods
  5. 1 clove
  6. juice of half a lemon
  7. 2 drops rose extract (I used Lama Spice Drops)
Cake
  1. Simmer the butter in a large pan for a few minutes until it starts to turn brown (be careful not to actually burn it).
  2. Add the semolina and continue to cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes.
  3. Stir in the honey.
  4. Remove from the heat and stir in the yoghurt, followed by the bicarbonate of soda.
  5. Pour into an 8" (20 cm) sq silicone mould (or lined tin) and leave for an hour or more to firm up.
  6. Cut into diamonds and place an almond on the top of each piece.
  7. Bake at 180℃ for about 30 minutes, when the top should be nicely brown, but not burnt.
Syrup
  1. Whilst the cake is resting, dissolve the sugar and honey in the water over a low heat.
  2. Add the cardamom and clove and simmer for about 10-15 minutes or until the syrup has thickened.
  3. Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little.
  4. Add the lemon and rose extract and pour over the hot cake.
  5. Leave in the mould to cool and the cake will soak up all of the syrup.
Notes
  1. It's really worth persisting with the first stage of browning the butter as it adds lovely nutty notes to the cake and gives it a nice colour.
  2. Excellent served with clotted cream.
Tin and Thyme https://tinandthyme.uk/
Bintu over at Recipes from a Pantry has also written a post about Lebara from her perspective of moving to the UK.

This is a sponsored post. However all opinions are my own and I believe Lebara are definitely worth knowing about.

30 Comments

  1. Kath

    30th April 2015 at 7:38 pm

    I like this post and hearing about your adventures very much. How brave you were. I wouldn’t have been that brave. The basbousa sounds like something I would like very much.

    Reply
    • Choclette

      30th April 2015 at 7:52 pm

      Ah, thanks Kath. I don’t think I’d be as brave today, despite the wonders of mobile technology.

      Reply
  2. Bintu @ Recipes From A Pantry

    30th April 2015 at 7:58 pm

    I love hearing about different people experiences of moving to the UK and I would have loved to meet Despina and learnt some recipes from her. Luckily nowadays it is easy to call home or our Despinas via Lebara.

    Reply
    • Choclette

      30th April 2015 at 8:03 pm

      Thanks Bintu, communication is so much easier now thanks to the likes of Lebara.

      Reply
  3. Vaishali Sengupta

    30th April 2015 at 8:00 pm

    The basbousa sounds really exciting. Am sure the yoghurt must make it really moist and delightful. Will certainly try it out 🙂

    Reply
    • Choclette

      30th April 2015 at 8:04 pm

      Thanks Vaishali, it’s very different from a sponge cake, but really good in its own right.

      Reply
  4. Janie

    30th April 2015 at 9:16 pm

    My biggest regret in terms of travelling in my 20’s pre current technology, is losing touch with all the people I met along the way. Nowadays you’d just look them up on Facebook and be able to stay in touch 🙂
    Janie x

    Reply
    • Choclette

      30th April 2015 at 10:23 pm

      That is so true Janie. I’ve lost touch with just about everyone too and it would be fabulous to find out how they all are and what they got up to.

      Reply
  5. Janice

    30th April 2015 at 9:18 pm

    oh for those days of freedom and adventure! It all seems much more complicated now, but I do agree about the phone calls, you just didn’t call abroad unless it was an emergency. It sounds like Lebara has made things a lot easier.

    Reply
    • Choclette

      30th April 2015 at 10:46 pm

      Yes Janice, “those were the days my friend, I thought they’d never end …” 😉

      Reply
  6. Janice

    30th April 2015 at 9:18 pm

    oh and great cake too, of course that is a given 😉

    Reply
  7. Hannah

    30th April 2015 at 9:27 pm

    I’ve never seen that cake before, that recipe looks nice and easy to make x

    Reply
    • Choclette

      30th April 2015 at 10:48 pm

      It’s a very easy cake to make Hannah – always a big plus.

      Reply
  8. Beth @ BethinaBox.com

    30th April 2015 at 9:40 pm

    Oooh, that Basbousa sounds lovely… I’m not very adventurous with puddings but may have to send this to my Mum for her to try out!

    I would have loved to have lived abroad, but in the grand scheme of things I am a homebird and now I have no desire to even holiday abroad.

    Reply
    • Choclette

      30th April 2015 at 10:50 pm

      Haha, I know what you mean Beth. We always go on holiday in Cornwall these days – not even leaving the county. How unadventurous can you get?

      Reply
  9. Lou Foti

    30th April 2015 at 10:53 pm

    For years I’ve had a Lebara card, to phone family and friends in Europe. AMAZING value and charges are barely more, if not less, than phoning UK mobiles! Gorgeous recipe too by the way!

    Reply
    • Choclette

      1st May 2015 at 8:27 am

      Thanks Lou, it’s good to hear from someone who uses Lebara and I’m really pleased to have found out about it.

      Reply
  10. Angie@Angie's Recipes

    1st May 2015 at 9:09 am

    Basbousa…what an artistic name for a simple sweet treat. The cardamom syrup sounds really intriguing.

    Reply
    • Choclette

      1st May 2015 at 9:19 am

      Thanks Angie. Basbousa is a great name to say – love it. And the syrup is much more complex than the average and consequently rather good.

      Reply
  11. Sarah, Maison Cupcake

    1st May 2015 at 9:50 am

    I have enjoyed similar cakes to this from the Lebanese shop I had at the end of the street in West London. They’re delightfully sweet and sticky!

    Reply
    • Choclette

      1st May 2015 at 11:13 am

      Haha Sarah, yes they can be. Mine is deliberately not too sweet and surprisingly not that sticky given the amount of syrup I poured over it.

      Reply
  12. Margot @ Coffee & Vanilla

    1st May 2015 at 9:57 am

    Lovely recipe and that is true, Lebara is worth knowing about, saved me lots of money when I needed to call my mum daily in Poland for the last couple of years.

    Reply
    • Choclette

      1st May 2015 at 11:14 am

      Thanks Margot, it’s good to hear real testimonials 🙂

      Reply
  13. Camilla

    1st May 2015 at 10:20 am

    Fabulous cake which I’ve not heard of before but now I have Kate Bush’s Babouska going around my head!

    Reply
    • Choclette

      1st May 2015 at 11:17 am

      Haha Camilla, I’m going to be bursting into song every time I say basbousa from now on in.

      Reply
  14. Rhizowen

    1st May 2015 at 11:26 am

    That looks mighty moreish to me.

    Reply
    • Choclette

      1st May 2015 at 1:38 pm

      Moorish or moreish Rhizowen. Moorish seems quite appropriate here too 😉

      Reply
  15. Dom

    1st May 2015 at 4:04 pm

    ahhh, the glamour of international travel!… I had to explain to someone (younger than me) what inter-railing was the other day. Love these treats but then anything with this amount of honey is OK by me!

    Reply
    • Choclette

      2nd May 2015 at 8:20 am

      Ah yes inter-railing – the upmarket version of hitchhiking 😉 When did that stop? Honey just makes everything better.

      Reply

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