Basbousa – an Egyptian Semolina Yoghurt Cake
A Basbousa is an Egyptian classic. It’s a dense semolina yoghurt cake flavoured with burnt butter and honey and doused with rose, lemon and cardamom syrup. You’ll find it in every pastry shop in Egypt and it’s often served with cream. But it’s not very easy to find here in the UK, so here’s an easy recipe for you to make your own.
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. A proportion of the comany’s profits go to the Lebara Foundation. This helps 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.
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.
Basbousa – Egyptian Semolina Yoghurt Cake
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.
Cut the basbousa into squares or diamonds. Whichever way you cut it, an almond placed on the top makes all the difference. Not only do they look good, but who doesn’t adore a delectable roasted almond? I used some of the blanched marcona almonds I received from 3pFruits.
Other Semolina Cakes you might like
- Honey and walnut yoghurt semolina cake via Tin and Thyme
- Marmalade coconut semolina cake via Recipes from a Pantry
- Orange and semolina cake via Of Cloves and Capers
- Olive oil, orange and oregano cake via Fuss Free Flavours
Thanks for visiting Tin and Thyme. If you make this Egyptian semolina and yoghurt cake, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below or via social media. Do share photos on your preferred social media site and use the hashtag #tinandthyme so I can spot them. For more delicious and nutritious recipes, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest.
Basbousa. PIN IT.
Basbousa – The Recipe
- 75 g unsalted butter
- 150 g semolina
- 1 tbsp honey
- 250 g yoghurt - (I used kefir)
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 12 blanched almonds
- 200 g water
- 100 g sugar
- 1 tsp honey
- 2 cardamom pods
- 1 clove
- juice of half a lemon
- 2 drops rose extract (I used Lama Spice Drops)
- Simmer the butter in a large pan for a few minutes until it starts to turn brown (be careful not to actually burn it).
- Add the semolina and continue to cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes.
- Stir in the honey.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the yoghurt, followed by the bicarbonate of soda.
- Pour into an 8" (20 cm) sq silicone mould (or lined tin) and leave for an hour or more to firm up.
- Cut into diamonds and place an almond on the top of each piece.
- Bake at 180℃ for about 30 minutes, when the top should be nicely brown, but not burnt.
- Whilst the cake is resting, dissolve the sugar and honey in the water over a low heat.
- Add the cardamom and clove and simmer for about 10-15 minutes or until the syrup has thickened.
- Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little.
- Add the lemon and rose extract and pour over the hot cake.
- Leave in the mould to cool and the cake will soak up all of the syrup.
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.
Excellent served with clotted cream.
Read Bintu’s Lebara post over at Recipes from a Pantry to find out her perspective of moving to the UK.
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