Known as ‘basbousa’ to the Arabs and ‘Ravani’ to the Turks & Greeks, this semolina cake is a popular dessert in the region.
This cake raises the question: ‘what makes something culinary tradition?’ For this dessert in particular, I suspect it is a combination of factors: local ingredients, eating habits and the ability of humans to incorporate that which is new into their own traditional methods. From what I understand, this dessert probably spread with the Ottoman empire into the areas where it is now firmly engraved into food tradition.
Nonetheless, since spring has started to slowly make its arrival known, I thought that this would be the perfect dessert to share. This recipe is very similar to the way my grandmother used to make it, except I perhaps add a little more coconut to make it light and more cake-like. I also separate the eggs and whisk the egg whites until stiff to help with this, but you could probably add the eggs whole.
A perfect partner with coffee, this cake has pleased people all around the Mediterranean and is exceedingly simple to make- do let me know if you give it a try!
For 24 squares (I used a 23 x 33 cm baking pan)
150 g unsalted butter, melted
250 g caster sugar
4 large eggs (yolks separated from whites)
200 g lukewarm whole milk
250 g self-raising flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
80 g desiccated coconut
120 g semolina flour
½ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
For the syrup:
300 g caster sugar & 200 g water
4 tbsp desiccated coconut, for decoration
Preheat the oven to 170 C. Grease and flour the baking pan.
In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites in a stand mixer at medium-low speed until foamy and increased in size, and then beat at medium- high speed until they become shiny, thick, and stiff. Set aside.
Cream the butter, sugar and salt in an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Gradually add the egg yolks one by one, beating continuously. Add milk, bicarbonate of soda and vanilla, as well as the coconut and the flour to the batter; beating at low speed until mixture is smooth. Add half the egg whites, folding gently with a rubber spatula until they are well mixed into batter. Fold in the remaining egg whites gently, and then pour the batter in the baking pan.
Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Leave to cool completely.
In a saucepan over medium heat add both water and sugar and bring to a boil; let simmer for 3 min and with care pour it slowly all over the cool cook. Sprinkle with grated coconut when cool again. Keep refrigerated.