Egyptian Basbousa

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I spent most of last week in bed, sick to the bone, unable to lift my head off the pillow, getting eaten up by antibiotics. It was not pretty. All I did all day was sleep, eat meagerly thanks to my dead taste buds and crave sweets. I lay in bed thinking about warm chocolate croissants – their buttery flaky pastry, chocolate oozing through; creme brulee – its crackling bittersweet crust and the luscious custard; and Basbousa – its sticky crumbly texture dripping with sweet syrup. (That’s what happens when you love baking; you dream of sweets all the time!)

Basbousa is a traditional Egyptian dessert – it is a moist semolina cake, made with desiccated coconut, soaked in a rose flavored sugar syrup. It is made with several variations in different parts of the Middle East – sometimes the syrup is flavored with orange juice, other times the cake is only made with semolina, leaving out the desiccated coconut.

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Here, in Oman, Basbousa is available in every department store and sweet shop, all year round. But there’s something about the store bought variety – they are sickly sweet, way too doused in syrup and no longer retain the crumbly texture of the semolina. Like all store bought things, they are a let-down as compared to homemade versions.

After spending a week craving Basbousa, I decided to make it on the occasion of Eid ul Adha, which is being celebrated by Muslims all over the world, this weekend.

IMG_3652Here’s what you’re going to need:

For the cake:

  • Semolina – 350 g
  • Yogurt – 200 g
  • Sugar – 100 g
  • Butter – 150 g
  • Baking Soda – 1/2 tsp
  • Baking Powder – 1 tsp
  • Desiccated Coconut – 50 g
  • Salt – 1/4 tsp
  • All Purpose Flour – 75 g
  • Almonds – 20 to 25, peeled
  • Vanilla Extract – 1 tsp

For the syrup:

  • Water – 1 cup
  • Sugar – 1 and 1/2 cup
  • Rose Water – 1 tsp
  • Lemon juice – 1/2 tsp

This is how you make it: 

  • Mix semolina, sugar, baking powder and soda, desiccated coconut, flour and salt in a bowl.
  • In a separate bowl, melt butter. Beat together yogurt, butter and vanilla essence.
  • Add the yogurt-butter mixture to the dry ingredients and beat well. The batter will be thick and dry-ish.
  • Preheat oven to 160 degree Celsius.
  • Line a square baking tray with parchment paper. Pour the batter into the pan and smooth out into an even layer.
  • With a knife, cut it into squares or diamonds (whichever you like) and lay an almond on each square, pressing slightly into the square.
  • Bake at 160 degree Celsius for 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Take it out of the oven and let it cool.
  • Bring water and sugar to a boil on high flame. Once sugar dissolves, reduce the flame to low heat and boil for another 3-4 minutes.
  • Take the syrup off the heat and add lemon juice and rose water to it and mix well. Let it cool slightly.
  • Pour the syrup over the warm Basbousa and let it seep into the cake.
  • Serve at room temperature.

I was pleasantly surprised at how the Basbousa turned out. I had never tasted homemade Basbousa before and making it myself gave me insight about how artificial and monotonous-tasting the store bought variety can be. The cake is moist and has a course granular texture courtesy of the semolina and the coconut. The syrup is stickily sweet and gives the cake a warm, juicy feel and the decadent flavor of the rose water comes through perfectly. For someone who has cake so often, this dessert is a breath of fresh air – the crumbly texture melting in your mouth and the different essences which come through, play fantastically on your taste buds.

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I have always loved Basbousa, and now I only love it more. I packed some in a small plate and tied a festive ribbon around it and carried it to a good friend’s place when visiting her family for Eid and I’m still awaiting feedback. The boyfriend’s family enjoyed it and even more shocking – the boyfriend loved it! I didn’t think he would like it much ’cause it wasn’t his kind of dessert – it was not chocolaty and it had coconut – yet he was raving about it which had me pleasantly surprised. And as for the parents? I had kept a box-full of Basbousa in the fridge and was out for most of the last two days, only to come home last night and find just one piece remaining! They absolutely loved it!

A little tip: Use only as much syrup as you want, depending on how sweet you like your desserts to be.

Bring some Arab flair and Eid festivities into your home with this homemade Basbousa. My family, friends and I thoroughly enjoyed it and so will you!

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Here’s wishing you and your family a blessed Eid! 🙂

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