Orange Saffron Syrup Cakes – the perfect dessert for a feast!
Here in Oman, today marks the first day of a super long weekend – five days of sun and fun! (In 38 °C+ temperatures, but whatever!) What’s the occasion, you may ask? It’s Eid! After a month of observing the holy month of Ramadan, this beautiful coastal country is all set to ring in the festivities. And I’m right there with them!
Growing up in Muscat, Oman was the most inclusive experience. Not only did we get to interact and befriend people from different parts of the world, we were also exposed to the most beautiful aspects of different cultures and religions. The best part – we got to celebrate all festivals!
My upbringing in this multicultural society inspires me even today, both in the manner of thought and the food I cook and eat.
Naturally, I LOVE Middle Eastern food. Despite having grown up on South Indian fish curry and rice, I’ve found myself turn to hummus and khubz, or kabsa and kibbeh, for comfort more times than I can count. And the desserts are the cherry on the icing, or the syrup on the sponge (wink wink) of a gorgeous culinary tradition!
So, what are you cooking up this Eid, Dear Reader? I’m hoping you’ve already planned your menu for this weekend, filled with traditional Middle Eastern fare that is sure to impress. But if you’re still looking for a recipe that is apt for the celebrations, may I suggest these drop-dead-gorgeous Orange Saffron Syrup Cakes?
The name is a mouthful, and as it suggests, this dessert comes with a tall flavour profile, heightened by the earthy warmth and more-ish qualities that are synonymous with Middle Eastern cuisine. It is inspired by the humble yet exquisite Basbousa, a moist semolina and coconut baked confection with a coarse pudding-like texture (I make a mean one, here’s the recipe!). Baked to soft and sweet perfection, these mini cakes are then drizzled with a Saffron Orange Syrup that soaks right in. Oh the aromas…
This recipe is adapted from BBC GoodFood Middle East and makes 10 mini cakes. Here’s what you need:
For the cakes:
- Hazelnuts – 100 g, ground
- Roasted Semolina – 50 g
- Sugar – 150 g
- Baking Powder – 1 & 1/2 tsp
- Zest of 1 Orange
- Juice of 1/2 Orange
- Eggs – 3 large
- Vegetable Oil – 200 ml
- Saffron – 6 strands (see tips below)
For the syrup:
- Sugar – 1/2 cup
- Water – 1/2 cup
- Zest of 1/2 orange
- Saffron – 2 strands
Here’s how you make these delightful little Orange Saffron Syrup Cakes:
- Make the cake batter: Preheat the oven to 180 °C/ 355 °F. Generously grease a cupcake baking tray. In a large bowl, combine eggs, oil, saffron, orange zest and juice. Add in the ground hazelnuts, roasted semolina, sugar and baking powder and fold the batter until it all comes together.
- Bake the mini cakes: Pour the batter into the greased cupcake tray, until each cup is three-quarters full. Pop the tray into the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
- Make the syrup: While the cakes bake, combine sugar, water, orange zest and saffron in a pot and place on medium heat. Let the syrup come to a boil, and let it continue simmering for a few minutes thereafter, until it is slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Strain and reserve the candied orange zest.
- Serve the cakes: When ready to serve, drizzle 2-3 teaspoons of syrup over the cakes and garnish with candied orange zest and chopped pistachios. This dessert is best served warm or chilled.
Orange. Saffron. Syrup. Cakes. As I type these words, the sweet perfume of these cakes comes to mind, an enveloping fragrance that enchants you. It’s no secret that citrus cakes, while baking, fill the home with an irresistible aroma. But add to that some saffron, and the scent is that much more enticing!
The flavours deserve a whole other blog post, but I’m going to try to squeeze it all in one paragraph for your reading pleasure. First we have orange zest and juice which are tart and enlivening, breathing life into this dessert. Then there’s the saffron which brings a pleasurable pungency with faint floral notes, the kind of nuance that would classify this dessert as ‘spiced’. The nuttiness of the hazelnuts and the taste of roasted semolina boost it all up to create a seamless, rich flavour profile.
I will admit that there is A LOT going on in the flavour department of these mini cakes. And usually this would scare me away. I’m on team simplicity any given day! But these flavours, though complicated and a tad risky, work beautifully and I cannot fault it. So if you’re easily intimidated by an abundance of ingredients, don’t be. This works, trust me.
The syrup is, simply put, liquid gold! It is glossy, sticky and sweet, with the wondrous scent of orange and the subtlest hint of saffron. Usually Middle Eastern desserts – and quite many Indian desserts – are doused with sugar syrup and soaked in it; which sadly ends up in cloying confections that are hard to enjoy. With these Orange Saffron Syrup Cakes, you don’t need to go that far. Just two-three teaspoons of syrup drizzled over a mini cake will seep in, to give the right amount of sweetness to complement that citrus-y tartness.
The textures too are bang-on! This flourless cake (YES! It is flourless!) gets its light but coarse texture from the hazelnuts and the semolina. With a little help from the drizzle of syrup, the cakes turn moist and gooey, perfectly pudding-like.
Tips to nail the recipe every single time:
- Cooking with saffron is tricky. Saffron comes from different parts of the world, and the scents vary in strength. It is a generally strong spice and using it sparingly is the way to go. Make sure you take a whiff of the saffron before you add it into the recipe and stay light-handed with it.
- If you’re not a fan of saffron, you can leave it out completely. Just the orange works great. If you’re feeling adventurous, you could substitute saffron with cardamom. Yum!
- If you dislike the flavour of hazelnuts, you could substitute them with ground almonds. This will provide a similar texture. And almond and orange is a delicious combination.
- The recipe above yields a not-too-sweet dessert. If you find that the dessert isn’t sweet enough for you, you can add a teaspoon of syrup at a time to adjust it according to your tastes.
- Roasted semolina is available in most grocery stores. However, if you don’t find any, you can dry roast regular semolina in a pan. Pour 2 cups of semolina in a pan without any oil and place it on medium heat. Keep stirring continuously as it browns quickly. When the semolina has turned a pale golden hue, take it off the heat, cool completely and store in an airtight container.
Some orange desserts I think you’d love…
I can keep gushing about these Orange Saffron Syrup Cakes, but we’re not here for that. We’re here for good food and amazing desserts and this recipe definitely qualifies. Give it a chance. It’s celebration appropriate and a truly sweet and decadent ending to a wonderful festive meal shared with family and friends. (Psst, also, it’s a great treat to make sans any occasion too! 😛 )
Here’s wishing all my muslim sisters and brothers, and everyone celebrating, EID MUBARAK! May you and yours be blessed with love, laughter and happiness always! ❤
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