Basbusa – Moroccan Semolina Cake

AriCooks, cake, Dairy Free, dessert, Jerusalem

Although the cafe may not be the hippest hang-out in town , I have to hand it to my boss, Linda. Fifteen years in business and we do a slamming lunch rush almost every single day. Holidays are completely crazy (I’m already getting nervous about Shavuot), and we make almost every single thing from scratch. When you work with the same folks every day, cranking out orders and baked goods, it is inevitable that everyone will get to know each other pretty well, and fairly quickly.

The chef, Mali, whom I work alongside each day, is a fast-working, savvy veteran of the hotel-kitchen industry who has been running the cafe’s kitchen for 7 years. She is a trained pastry chef (our main commonality) as well as a savory chef, with surprising patience for her staff, and little for anyone else. She is also Moroccan, an identity which she carries like a flag, making more than a few comments about Ashkenazim and their tiresome palates, customs and social skills. Like a lone crusader of truths, she dispenses Moroccan folk-wisdom (and a great deal of Mali-isms) throughout her day, both amusing and confusing the staff (mainly me). Although I take her worldview with a grain of salt, her recipes are no joke. This family recipe for semolina cake is just one example of the kind of  wisdom I am glad to take from her, and am excited to share with others.

Mali’s Moroccan Basbusa Cake

This cake is also called one-one-one cake because most of the ingredients are in 1-cup quantities, which makes this recipe very easy to cut in half. Basically, this cake is a separated sponge, with a simple syrup poured over it right after it is removed from the oven. Because its ingredients are so straightforward, I think you could play around with flavors if you wanted to. Perhaps add some citrus zest to the batter, or almond/orange blossom water. 

For the cake:

6 eggs, separated

1 cup oil (Mali uses canola, I used half canola, half olive oil)

1 cup orange juice

1 1/2 cups sugar, divided (I used less, see below)

1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

1 cup semolina

1 cup flour (I used half whole wheat)

pinch of salt (my addition)

for the syrup:

the syrup is essential!

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

Make the cake:

In a large bowl, mix the 6 yolks with the oil, juice and one cup of sugar (I used about 1/2 a cup, instead). Add the flour, coconut, semolina and a pinch of salt and mix until just combined.

In a separate bowl, whip the whites until foamy, then add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar (I used 1/3 cup) SLOWLY, whipping as you add, until the whites have reached soft peaks.

Fold the whites into the batter (careful not to over-mix, or you will deflate your whites) and pour the batter into a wide, shallow, greased pan (I used a glass 9 x 13 inch pan, coated with Pam spray).

Bake at 170°C/350°F until golden brown and firm/springy to the touch ~ 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, boil the sugar and water in a small pot for a few minutes.

When the cake comes out of the oven it may be very puffy, and almost higher than the pan. Very slowly and carefully pour the syrup over the entire cake, making sure it is getting distributed evenly.

Allow the cake to cool for a bit and the syrup to fully absorb before serving.