Saturday, September 10, 2011

3. arab peninsula: basbousa

Yeesh, I've been feeling like crap lately. Tired beyond belief, totally zapped of energy, headaches, utter lack of motivation, etc. etc. etc.

I think it's a case of the I-can't-believe-it's-already-been-three-weeks-of-term-my-God-what-have-I-learned.

[The answer being, much less than what one should know a third of the way into a semester of classes.]

This weekend was [ideally] going to be one of mental and physical rejuvenation [i.e. catching up on sleep], but unfortunately did not pan out that way [i.e. watching Torchwood all night has been cutting into my sleep time].

Nevertheless, today was relaxing in the sense that I did absolutely nothing productive, save visit the Farmer's Market, attempt to take a nap [read: end up reading cookbooks for about an hour and a half (shutup, I enjoy it)], and do a bit of baking and video-game playing with my darling housemate and my darling sous-baker.

So today, I bring you a continuation of my "Around the World in 50 Sweets", a visit to the Arabian Peninsula with this phenomenal cake, basbousa. This dish actually appears in variations all across the Eastern Mediterranean as well as the Peninsula, probably because it's so gosh-darn amazing. It's one of my all-time favorite foreign desserts, and I'm so thrilled to be able to share a rather authentic version of it with you all.

Stereotypical camel statue situated alongside an Arab dessert? OH YES.

Adapted from my khala

For the cake, you'll need:
  • 1 cup semolina flour [also called sooji]
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup yogurt
  • 1/2 cup dry milk powder
  • 1 cup dessicated coconut, unsweetened
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 pinch ground cardamom
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

For the sugar syrup, you'll need:
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 drop rose water

Line and grease an 8x8-inch pan. Pour all cake ingredients in a bowl and mix with a wooden spoon until blended. Pour cake batter in the prepared pan. Let sit for an hour, and then bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes.

In a medium-sized saucepan, heat sugar and water to boiling. Whisk in rose water and blend. Remove pan from the heat and let the syrup cool for 5-10 minutes. Using a fork or toothpick, poke holes over the top of the baked cake. Pour the syrup over top of the cake. Let the cake cool completely before removing from the pan. Slice into diamonds and serve.

I had mom mail me this recipe after getting a hold of it from my aunt. She lived in the UAE for quite some time before moving to Canada a few years ago, and her cook's husband was a rather established chef at the time [I do believe he actually worked in a palace, if I recall correctly]. Consequently, she prepared some pretty amazing dishes for my family while she worked for them, and taught this one of basbousa to my aunt. I'm ecstatic to have it in my hands, now.

Basbousa can be made without coconut, and technically [I think], the traditional version is just semolina flour and sugar. Nevertheless, my favorite version is chock-full of delicious coconut, made absolutely irresistible with the sugar syrup. The end result is a sticky, dense cake, almost difficult to eat too much of, but even more difficult to make yourself stop. One bite is enough to transport you to sandy deserts, colorful bazaars with yells of haggling and bearded shop vendors, shisha and kebabs, scorching suns and cool evenings.

It is, in a sense, ethereal.

Tomorrow will be spent brunching with apartment-mates, attending orientation for a new part-time job, writing Spanish papers, and meeting old friends for Thai food.

I suppose this 'feeling like crap business' can't last forever.


  1. Okay, so these barely lasted 20 minutes in the car. Also, they were delicious. Also, you're amazing. Finally: can you air-mail me some been-treats please?

  2. @Jess: You're so sweet. I can't promise that I'll be able to mail you been-treats, but I'll be sure to replicate them for you when you get home :)

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Thanks so much for reading!
I'd love to hear your thoughts :)