Semolina Cake with Cream (Basbousa Cake)

by Hanelore Dumitrache

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Incredibly soft and moist semolina cake with silky cream filling. Made with subtle flavours of orange and juicy candied fruits, this semolina cake is incredibly delicious. Soaked with orange syrup, this one of a kind basbousa cake is the perfect treat for Ramadan and other celebrations.

Basbousa cake with cream filling with slice cut out

If you’ve ever had a proper Egyptian semolina cake, you will know how good Middle Eastern cakes can be! This basbousa with cream is seriously next level and a reinvention of the traditional cake. The cake is incredibly soft and moist, with juicy bits of candied fruit and crunchy almond flakes. The creamy filling has notes of cardamom and orange, making the cake melt in your mouth.

Now, before you argue that this isn’t really a basbousa, I will tell you that this dessert is a complete reinvention and an ode to tradition. If you’ve read some of my other blog posts, you’ll know how much I love Arab and Middle Eastern desserts. I absolutely love Arab desserts, from the unique flavours, to exciting flavour combinations and amazing textures. Since my partner is from Morocco, I have a special place in my heart for all North African and Middle Eastern desserts. This cake is a staple in our house, and I always make it for Ramadan or other celebrations. We absolutely love having this cake with a side of Moroccan mint tea.

Slice of basbousa cake

So what is Basbousa Cake?

Basbousa is a sweet semolina and coconut cake, originating from Egypt. Traditionally cooked in a pan, this cake is soaked with sugar syrup and loved all across the Arab world. This beloved cake has even reached as far as Greece (revani), Armenia (shamali) and Turkey (revani).

Traditionally, this cake is around 1 cm thick and made in a single layer, without filling or cream. I tend to think of traditional basbousa as more of a traybake, rather than an actual cake. As you can tell, this recipe is not a traditional one, but rather a delicious reinvention. This cake is similar to basbousa bil ashta (basbousa with ashta cream), a semolina cake with a creamy filling. Ashta is a cream similar to creme patissiere, made from milk and used in a variety of desserts or served with fresh fruit.

There are many variations of basbousa around the world, some using coconut flakes others made just with semolina. For a more grainier texture you can use coarse semolina, but I prefer a softer cake, so this recipe uses fine semolina. A variety of flavours can also be added, from orange to lemon or rosewater.

Basbousa polenta cake on stand

What does semolina cake taste like?

How basbousa tastes depends very much on what types of flavourings you add to the recipe. For instance, traditional basbousa tastes mostly like coconut, since it used coconut flakes. However, this recipe uses orange zest and syrup, so the cake has a subtle taste of orange. Other flavourings used can vary from lemon, orange blossom or rose water. You can also add extra flavour with toppings such as pistachio, walnuts or almonds.

How to make Basbousa cake sweet

The cake itself contains very little sugar, so it’s not exactly sweet by itself. Basbousa is sweetened by adding sugar syrup over the cake as soon as it comes out of the oven. This way the sponge is soaked in the syrup and it becomes very moist and sweet. For this reason I strongly recommend not adding any additional sugar in the sponge itself, as the syrup is already very sweet.

This basbousa with cream recipe also contains candied fruit that have been soaked in orange juice. The fruit not only add sweetness, but also help keep the cake nice and moist. The cream inside the cake also contains minimal sugar, so the overall basbousa is just the right amount of sweet.

Flatlay photo of basbousa semolina cake

What is it made of?

What makes basbousa a unique cake is the fact that it doesn’t use white flour. The main ingredient is semolina, a grainy flour made from durum wheat. Traditional basbousa uses coarse semolina, but for this recipe I prefer the fine type as it yields a more delicate cake. The cake also contains coconut flakes, which give the basbousa a delicate flavour.

If you’ve made a traditional basbousa cake, you’ll notice this recipe contains more ingredients. Since it’s a reinvention recipe, this cake also contains orange flavour and a crunchy element – almond flakes. Moreover, I also added candied fruit (papaya or mango) soaked in orange juice. The soaked fruit add moisture to the cake and give a lovely sweet surprise as you bite into it. Since every cake needs some form of fat, this cake uses olive oil – a flavour very popular in Middle Eastern cuisine. Although not very potent in taste once baked, the olive oil leaves a subtle Mediterranean flavour in the basbousa cake.

Flaylay of basbousa ingredients

How to make Basbousa Cake at home

This basbousa recipe is very easy and requires only one cake pan. There’s little worry about technique and measurements exact to the gram, so this is a great recipe for beginners too. Before we start preparing the cake batter, we need to prepare two things.

Firstly, soak the candied fruit in freshly squeezed orange juice. Soaking up the citrus juice makes the fruit become soft and adds more moisture to the cake. I recommend letting them soak in the fridge overnight, covered with some plastic wrap. Make sure you drain them (keep the juice for breakfast) before adding into the cake batter.

Secondly, prepare the sugar syrup. This recipe calls for a simple syrup, which is equal parts water and sugar. Place them in a saucepan and cook over medium heat without stirring until the liquid looks thicker (around 10 minutes). Optionally, you can also add some orange peel into the syrup as you cook it. This will make the syrup taste like orange and you can also use the peel for decoration later. You can also add 1-2 drops of orange blossom water into the syrup once it’s already thickened. The syrup needs to be cold before it’s used.

Step by step method

Once these two prep items are done, we can start making the actual cake.

1. Add all the ingredients in a large bowl. Yes, all you need is one bowl to prepare the semolina cake.

2. Use a whisk to combine all the ingredients until you get a smooth paste. Try not to overmix, so the cake isn’t too dense in texture. We do, however, want to make sure there are no lumps in the batter.

Step 1 - all ingredients added in a large bowl
Step 2 - whisking all ingredients together

3. Add the candied fruit and almond flakes into the cake batter. For the fruit, I like to use candied papaya, because it adds a little bit of a sweet zing to the cake. You can also use pineapple, orange or even ginger. Almond flakes are a great addition to the cake, as they add a crunchy texture. If almonds are not your thing, you can replace with pistachio or walnuts.

4. Line a 20 cm (8 inch) cake pan with baking paper. Place half of the cake batter in the pan and level it with a spatula. Bake at 180C (360F) fan assisted for 15 minutes, or until the cake looks firm. While the cake is baking, start preparing the cream filling.

Step 3 - add soaked fruit and almond flakes
Step 4 - batter poured into cake pan

The orange cream filling

The cream filling for this semolina cake is adapted from the basic creme patissiere (pastry cream). When baked, the cream becomes thicker, but it’s still smooth in texture. What makes this cream different from basic pastry cream is the flavour. The filling has orange zest and extract, which give the cream a wonderful, subtle citrus taste. In addition, I also added a hint of mahlep (or mahleb), a Middle Eastern spice made from cherry seeds. This spice adds a hint of floral, fruity taste, which in my opinion makes the cream even more delicious! Here’s how to make the cream filling:

1. In a glass bowl combine the egg yolks and sugar. Mix well to combine until pale in colour, then add the cornstarch.

2. Mix everything well, ensuring there are no lumps. If the mixture becomes too thick, add 1 tsp of milk to help loosen it.

Adding cornstarch to egg yolks
Mixing mixture with whisk

3. Separately, heat the milk with the orange zest and mahlep powder until it start bubbling (but not boiling). Do not add in the orange extract, as the heat will make the flavour less strong. Once hot, add 1/3 of the milk over the egg yolks, mixing continuously. The hot milk will temper the eggs and the cream will start thickening.

4. Add the mixture into the saucepan with the remaining milk and cook it over low-medium heat mixing continuously. Once the cream start to boil (bubbles forming and bursting), cook for a further 1-2 minutes, until the mixture is thicker. Afterwards, take it off the heat and mix in the orange extract.

Pouring hot milk over eggs
Cooking cream until it thickens

Layering the basbousa with cream

1. Once the bottom layer of the semolina cake has baked, pour the hot orange cream over it. Smooth it out with a spatula to make it even.

2. Next, add 1 tbsp of milk into the remaining cake batter to make it thinner. Afterwards, add the batter on top of the cream, levelling it with a spatula. Place the pan back in the oven and bake for 40 minutes or until the top starts to brown.

Pouring cream over basbousa cake in pan
Adding the remaining batter on top of the cream and smoothing with spatula

3. Pour the sugar syrup on top of the hot cake (straight out of the oven), making sure it’s fully soaked. This will make the semolina cake soften and become ultra moist from the sweet syrup. Don’t be stingy about adding all the syrup, as the cake will soak it up without issues. Adding less syrup than indicated might make the basbousa too dry.

4. Cover the cake with aluminium foil and let it rest covered until the cake has cooled to room temperature. Only remove the semolina cake from the pan when it’s fully cooled. To decorate you can use almond flakes, ground pistachio, candied fruit or edible roses.

Soak the cake with sugar syrup
Covering the cake with aluminium foil

HOW TO STORE

Semolina cake is best served at room temperature or slightly warm. However, since this recipe contains a dairy-base cream filling, it needs to be stored in the fridge. Place the cake in an airtight container or tupperware and store in the fridge for up to 5 days. I do not recommend freezing this cake, as the cream filling may become grainy in texture.

To reheat before serving, simply pop the cake slice in the microwave for 30 seconds. Enjoy plain or drizzle some honey on top.

Drizzling honey over basbousa with cream

If you enjoyed this recipe, you will love these too:

How to Make Creme Patissiere (Vanilla Pastry Cream)

Moroccan Almond Cookies (Ghriba) Gluten Free

Ground Beef Hand Pies (Crimean Tatar Cantik)

Middle Eastern Cheese Pastries

Cheese & Za’atar Buns

Slice of basbousa cake with honey drizzling over it

Semolina Cake with Cream (Basbousa Cake)

Hanelore Dumitrache
Middle Eastern semolina cake with cream, flavoured with orange and almond. Made with silky smooth cream filling and candied fruit.
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 1 hr
Course Dessert
Cuisine Moroccan
Servings 12 slices
Calories 371 kcal

Equipment

  • 20 cm (8-inch) springform cake pan

Ingredients
  

Syrup

  • 200 g sugar (1 cup)
  • 200 g water (¾ cup)
  • 1 tsp orange extract or ½ tsp orange blossom
  • 1 orange peel, optional

Semolina cake

  • 160 g fine semolina (1 cup)
  • 50 g sugar (¼ cup)
  • 20 g coconut flakes (¼ cup)
  • 3 eggs, large
  • 10 g baking powder (2 tsp)
  • 240 g Greek yoghurt (1 cup)
  • 160 ml olive oil (¾ cup)
  • 1 orange zest
  • tsp cardamom powder
  • 50 g candied fruit (¼ cup)
  • 100 ml orange juice (½ cup)

Orange cream

  • 500 ml milk (2 cups)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 35 g corn starch (⅓ cup)
  • 40 g sugar (3 tbsp)
  • ½ orange zest
  • ½ tsp orange extract
  • 30 g almond flakes (⅓ cup)
  • ½ tsp mahlep powder

Instructions
 

Sugar syrup

  • To make the syrup, combine the water and sugar and the orange peel in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce and let simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat and let it cool down completely. Take out the orange peels before using the syrup (they can be used for decoration).

Semolina cake with cream filling

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C (360°F) fan assisted. Place all the ingredients in a large bowl and combine them well with a spatula or hand mixer.
  • Line a 20 cm (8-inch) cake pan with baking paper and grease it with butter. Pour half of the mixture in the pan, then bake it for 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, prepare the orange filling. Place the milk and orange zest in a saucepan and heat until the milk starts to bubble. In a small bowl combine the egg yolks and sugar, whisking until pale. Add the corn starch and mix well to incorporate without any lumps. If the mixture is too thick, loosen it up with 1-2 tsp of milk.
  • Once the milk is hot, pour ¼ over the egg mixture, mixing well to combine. Pour the egg mixture over the remaining milk, whisking it continuously over medium heat. Keep whisking the mixture until it thickens up. Take the cream off the heat and mix in the orange extract.
  • When the bottom layer of the cake has baked, pour the orange cream over it. Pour the remaining cake batter directly over the cream, ensuring it’s levelled on the top. If the remaining cake batter seems a little thick, add in 1 tsp of water or orange juice.
  • Bake for 40-50 minutes until golden brown. If it looks like it’s browning too quickly, cover it with aluminium foil after 20 minutes.
  • Once baked, pour the syrup over the cake as soon as it’s out of the oven. Cover with aluminium foil and let sit for 20-30 minutes until it’s cooled down completely.

Notes

  • I recommend using a kitchen scale in grams for more accuracy. The cups used for the conversion are standard US customary cups (1 cup flour = 136g). There are many different types of cups across the globe, which is why I strongly recommend using grams instead. 
  • I recommend using a springform cake pan, so you can remove the cake much easier. 
  • Once baked, store the cake in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 5 days. To serve, reheat in the microwave for 30 seconds until warm. 
Keyword Orange
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