The Middle East is famous for its variety of delicious (mostly sweet) desserts. One of the most popular Arabic cakes is Basbousa (also known as Namoura or Hareesa). Basbousa is a semolina cake that is sweetened with a simple sugar syrup. It comes together in less than 10 minutes and feeds a crowd. Let me show you how to make it.
What is Basbousa?
Basbousa is a Middle Eastern semolina cake that is also known as Namoura or Hareesa, depending on the region. It’s believed to have originated in Egypt, but is popular across the entire Middle East. In some Mediterranean countries, the Balkans and Turkey, there is a very similar version of this cake, known as Revani.
The key components for Basbousa are semolina and yogurt, where the cake gets its soft and moist texture from. Basbousa is sweetened with a simple sugar syrup that is poured on the warm cake right after baking.
In the Middle East, Basbousa is available at most bakeries and sweet shops. Many families prepare Basbousa at home, usually for special occasions, during Ramadan and for gatherings. Basbousa is very easy and quick to prepare and feeds a crowd.
Note that there are countless variations of Basbousa out there and every country (and even every family) has their own twist. I’m sharing with you my family’s recipe. We like our Basbousa fluffy and moist (not too dry) and moderately sweet.
- Semolina: Basbousa is a semolina cake so naturally, semolina is the key component to this cake. Traditionally, coarse semolina is used for this cake. Fine semolina also works well. You can also use a mix of coarse and fine semolina.
- Yogurt: Plain yogurt (unsweetened) is what makes Basbousa moist and fluffy.
- Butter: Unsalted butter (melted) for tenderness and structure.
- Sugar: You’ll need some sugar for the cake batter as well as to make the sugar syrup. The cake itself isn’t very sweet. It gets its sweetness mainly from the sugar syrup that is poured on the cake after baking.
- Coconut flakes: Coconut flakes (also known as shredded coconut) pair extremely well with semolina and are a key ingredient for most Basbousa recipes.
- Baking powder: Baking powder acts as a leavener and adds to a lighter texture. Be sure to use baking powder, not baking soda.
- Tahini (optional): Tahini is a Middle Eastern sesame paste. It’s traditionally used for brushing the baking pan. It will not only avoid the cake from sticking to the pan, but also give it a slightly nutty flavor. If unavailable, you can substitute tahini with butter.
- Almonds (optional): Traditionally, an almond is placed onto each piece of Basbousa. It doesn’t only look good, but also adds to the taste and crunchiness. If you don’t like almonds, you could also use a different type of nuts, for example walnuts or pecans.
- Sugar syrup: Basbousa gets its sweetness from a simple sugar syrup, which is made from mainly water and sugar. Optionally, you can add a dash of lemon (to help break down the sugar) and rose water for some flavor.
Note: You can find exact quantities (depending on serving size) in the recipe card at the end of this recipe.
How to Make Basbousa (Step-by-Step)
Ready to make Basbousa? Yallah, let’s get started!
Step 1: Prepare the syrup
Before you prepare the cake batter, we’ll make the syrup. The simple sugar syrup will be poured over the cake after baking, and will be soaked up when cooling. The syrup will make your Basbousa moist and sweet.
To make the syrup, combine water, sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan and whisk to combine. Heat over medium heat and cook until the sugar dissolves. Then, turn your stove to low heat and simmer for 8-10 minutes to thicken. Turn off the stove and add rose water. Set aside and leave to cool while you prepare the Basbousa.
By the way, the key ingredients for the syrup are sugar and water. The lemon juice is optional. It helps break down the sugar, but it won’t affect the taste. Rose water will give your syrup some flavor, but it is optional, too.
Step 2: Mix semolina and butter
Before you start making the cake batter, preheat your oven at 180°C (350 F). Combine semolina and melted butter in a large mixing bowl and mix well to incorporate. The idea is to coat the semolina with a thin layer of butter.
Step 3: Add dry ingredients
In the next step, we’ll add the remaining dry ingredients: coconut flakes, sugar and baking powder and mix everything again.
Step 4: Add yogurt
To wrap up the cake batter, add the yogurt to the mixing bowl and mix to combine to a thick batter. Adding the ingredients bit by bit helps avoid lumps in the butter.
Step 5: Brush baking pan
For baking, you can use a rectangular, square or round baking pan. Traditionally, Basbousa is relatively thin (about 2-3 cm or 1 inch) so a flat baking pan is fine. Some people prefer their Basbousa thicker, like Sfouf (in which case you’ll need a higher baking pan).
Brush the baking pan with tahini using a pastry brush or your hands to do so. Make sure the bottom and the sides of the baking pan are greased. If you don’t have tahini available, you can brush the baking pan with butter instead. Don’t skip this step as it avoids the cake from sticking to the pan.
Step 6: Pour batter into baking pan
Next, pour the batter into the baking pan. Evenly spread, then tap the pan to flatten the surface.
Step 7: Cut
What’s special about Basbousa is that it’s already cut prior to baking. Use a knife to cut the cake into squares or diamonds.
Step 8: Garnish with nuts
Last but not least, place a whole almond in the center of each piece.
Step 9: Bake
Add the baking pan on a medium rack in the preheated oven. Bake for about 30 minutes until slightly golden. The exact baking time varies from one oven to another, so be sure to keep an eye on the baking time to avoid your cake from becoming too dark.
Step 10: Reinforce cuttings
Remove the baked Basbousa from the oven. Carefully cut along the same lines that you created before to reinforce the cuts.
Step 11: Add syrup & serve
Pour the cooled sugar syrup (step 1) over the warm basbousa. Leave to cool for 1-2 hours before serving to allow the cake to soak up the syrup.
How to Serve
Allow the Basbousa to cool for 1-2 hours after adding the syrup. This allows the cake to fully absorb the syrup, which is crucial for its taste and texture. Once cooled, arrange the semolina cake on a large serving platter and garnish it with some additional coconut flakes. Serve at room temperature.
Make Ahead & Storage
Basbousa can be prepared ahead of time (in fact, allowing it to cool and soak up the syrup is important).
The semolina cake can be stored at room temperature on the kitchen counter. Ensure it’s well covered (e.g. with aluminum foil or plastic wrap) to retain moisture and avoid drying out. Consume within 1-2 days.
If you intend to keep Babousa for several days, store it in the fridge. Place the cut pieces in an airtight container and consume within a week. The cake is also very freezer friendly.
Learn Middle Eastern Cooking
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Basbousa (Middle Eastern Semolina Cake)
- 180 g (1 cup) semolina coarse
- 190 g (3/4 cup) yogurt
- 70 g (1/3 cup) unsalted butter
- 70 g (1/3 cups) sugar
- 40 g (1/2 cup) coconut flakes
- 1 Tbsp baking powder
- 1 Tbsp tahini for brushing the baking pan, see notes
- whole almonds one for each piece, approx. 12-14 pcs
- 120 ml (1/2 cup) water
- 100 g sugar
- 1 tsp rose water optional
- dash lemon juice optional
- Before you start, prepare the syrup: combine water, sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan, whisk to combine. Heat over medium heat and cook until the sugar dissolves. Then, turn your stove to low heat and simmer for 8-10 minutes to thicken. Turn off the stove, add rose water (if using). Set aside (it will cool while you prepare the Basbousa).
- Preheat your oven (180 °C or 350 F) while you prepare the batter for the cake. In a large mixing bowl, combine semolina and melted butter. Mix well to incorporate.
- Add coconut flakes, sugar and baking powder and mix again.
- Add the yogurt to the mixing bowl and mix to combine to a thick batter.
- Brush a baking pan with tahini (use a pastry brush or your hands to do so). Make sure the bottom and the sides of the baking pan are greased.
- Pour the batter into the baking pan. Tap the pan to flatten the surface.
- Cut into squares or diamonds (using a knife).
- Place a whole almond in the center of each piece.
- Add the baking pan into the oven and bake for about 30 minutes on a medium rack until slightly golden. Keep an eye on the baking time to avoid your cake from becoming too dark.
- Remove from the oven and reinforce the cuttings (square/diamond shape).
- Pour the syrup (step 1) over the warm basbousa. Leave to cool for 1-2 hours before serving to allow the cake to soak up the syrup.
- There are different types of semolina, ranging from fine to coarse. For Basbousa, you’ll need coarse semolina. I sometimes make Basbousa using a mix of fine and coarse semolina. This gives a beautiful texture to it. However, if you want to purchase just one of them, use only coarse semolina.
- This cake is popular across the Middle East and comes under different names. In the Levantine countries it’s called Basbousa, Namoura or Hareesa. In Turkey and some Mediterranean countries, a very similar version is known as Revani.
- Basbousa gets its sweetness mainly from the sugar syrup (the batter isn’t very sweet). Be sure to add the full amount of syrup onto the cake right after baking. It might look a lot at first, but the warm cake will soak it up completely.
- You could use Tahini (sesame paste) to brush the baking pan, or regular butter. Don’t skip the brushing to avoid your cake from sticking onto the pan.
Nutrition information is only a rough estimate and may vary depending on factors such as the cooking method, exact weight, type, and brand of ingredients used.