Semolina cake drenched in sticky rosewater syrup

This cake is widely known as Basbousa. It’s a traditional Middle Eastern dessert. It tastes nutty, coconutty and sweet; paired with the delicious and distinctive scent of Rose water. It can be made days ahead as it actually improves with time. Cakes made with semolina are ‘healthy’ (-er than normal cakes), and have a great texture.

What was the reason for baking this beauty? GREED, and the dire need to fatten the world (well my colleagues and friends anyway).

Semolina cake


  • 335g semolina
  • 110g sugar
  • 30g desiccated coconut (preferably unsweetened)
  • 2tsp baking powder
  • 110g plain yoghurt
  • 55g melted butter
  • 115ml milk
  • Handful of flaked or whole almonds


  • 375ml water
  • 120g sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod or 1/2tsp vanilla extract
  • 2tbsp rose water
  • pinch of saffron soaked in 2tbsp cold water


  1. Mix together the semolina, sugar, desiccated coconut and baking powder in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Stir in the yoghurt, melted butter and milk to form a stiff batter.
  3. Spread the mixture into a lined baking tin, approximately 6×6 inches square. (Make sure you line the dish with greaseproof paper, otherwise you will have a nightmare releasing the cake after it has been baked!) Score diagonal lines to form a diamond pattern into the batter, and place the almonds in the middle of each diamond. Leave the mixture to rest for about 30 minutes.
  4. Preheat the oven to about 180C, and pop the cake in for 25 minutes, or until it starts to turn a lovely golden brown.
  5. While the cake is baking, make the syrup. In a small pan, bring the water, sugar, vanilla (pod or extract), rose water and saffron, along with it’s soaking water to the boil. Simmer it for about 5 minutes, and leave it to cool slightly.
  6. When the cake is ready, remove it from the oven, and re score the diamond pattern. It is important that you do this, so the syrup soaks deep into the cracks of the cake to completely smother each piece.
  7. While the cake is still hot, pour the syrup over the cake and allow the syrup to fully absorb into the cake. Cool it completely before you remove it from the tin.


  • Serve this cake with yoghurt sweetened with honey, and seasonal fruit.
  • When storing it for a few days, ensure it is in an airtight container.
  • Replace the rose water with orange blossom water, or any other flavoured syrup.

Cheats rasmalai

Another traditional Indian dessert, made without the traditional faff.

Rasmalai – dumplings made from milk powder (traditionally milk curd – like ricotta), submerged in sweetened milk, flavoured with cardamon, saffron and lots of nuts. The balls double in size when soaked in the milk. They become light, fluffy, puffs of creamy dough.

The traditional method can be found here – Love & Lentils. You will need a full day to make these babies from scratch.

Alternatively, you can try my ‘cheats’ method which takes under an hour.



  • 1 cup unsweetened milk powder (Nido) or dry milk – I used a tea mug as a measure
  • 1 heaped tsp baking powder
  • 1 levelled tbsp plain flour
  • 1tbsp ghee, melted (or any oil)
  • 1 egg, beaten


  • 1 litre whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar – I used the same tea mug as above
  • 5/6 whole cardamon
  • Pinch of saffron
  • Handful of chopped nuts (pistachios and almonds, or anything you like)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamon


  1. Place the milk, sugar, saffron and whole cardamon in a large pot, and bring it to the boil. Once boiled, leave it on a low heat for 10 minutes. 
  2. Meanwhile – in a separate bowl, mix together the powdered milk, flour and baking powder. Add the ghee (or oil) and mix well.
  3. Slowly add the eggs. Stop adding egg, when the mixture just starts to hold together. If the mix wont hold together, even after all the egg is added, add a tiny bit of milk. Don’t worry if the dough is a little crumbly – it’s better this way.
  4. Knead the dough for a few minutes.
  5. Make small balls from the dough (remember they double in size). Try to work with light hands, not squeezing the balls too tightly, as they may not cook the whole way through, yet making sure they wont separate when boiled. Don’t leave the balls out for longer than 5 minutes – cover with a damp tea towel if you absolutely must wait longer.
  6. Gently place the balls in the simmering milk. Turn the heat up to high, and bring the milk to the boil – watch it doesn’t make a mess!
  7. Once the milk has boiled, cover the pot, turn the heat down for about 10-15 minutes, or until the balls are fully cooked through. Here is where your dough balls become light fluffy dumplings.
  8. Leave the dumplings on the slowest flame for a further 2-3 minutes, to eliminate any chances of an uncooked dumpling (hard in the middle).
  9. Gently transfer them to a glass serving bowl, and sprinkle with nuts and ground cardamon.
  10. Chill in the fridge before serving.

Slightly adapted from The Chef in Me – Thanks C!