A Mid-East Feast: Coconut Semolina Cake

Let me start out by stating that this is by no means a semolina cake. The recipe is, but mine isn’t. My attempt to find the ingredients started out weeks ago. I figured while I was picking up supplies for the other two recipes from Faith’s cookbook I’d look for the special ingredients for this one.

My first attempt to find them went like this: normal grocery shopping trip with my youngest two on a dreary day while my oldest was in school. We get there to find a company there to clean the shopping carts. Aka: spray down and apparently soak every inch of every shopping cart and not have a single dry one in sight, nor a single towel available to dry down the carts. Brilliant idea right? Especially for those customers who happen to have young children. Fast forward to the realization that they have projects going on throughout the store that are making several aisles completely inaccessible, including the international aisle. I wasn’t able to locate semolina flour in the health food baking section or in the regular baking aisle. First trip was a giant fail.

A week or so later I checked two more stores in every possible location these ingredients would be. Again, a fail. And finally I checked my regular store again, figuring since I couldn’t access the international the first time I’d give it a whirl again and just see. Nope. So… this isn’t a semolina cake in the slightest bit and on top of that, I wasn’t able to find tahini, rose water or orange blossom water.

Due to all of the changes I had to make to this recipe, I can’t judge the recipe at all appropriately. I can say that it was ridiculously easy to whip up. It surprised me that not a single egg was called for, as with typical cake recipes… eggs are kind of a must. This is clearly not a typical cake recipe in any sense however.

The final result of this easy (altered ingredient) cake was a very spongey and intensely sweet cake with shredded coconut throughout. I love sweets. I do. I have a huge sweet tooth, but this was just too sweet for me. And a personal preference, as mentioned with these Italian cream cupcakes, I don’t like shredded coconut at all or at least not in a dessert. It creates a peculiar consistency that just doesn’t work for me. But that’s not saying this is bad or that any sweet coconut dessert is, it’s purely a taste preference. My girls loved this cake. If you’re a huge coconut fan and love extra sweet and moist desserts, this is absolutely something you should try. And if you can’t find the called for ingredients, know that you can very easily substitute more commonly found items as noted below.

In case you missed the previous recipes made from Faith’s new cookbook, An Edible Mosaic, check them out:
Spiced shawarma chicken wraps
Zucchini fritters

Notes: I substituted 1/2 tsp orange extract for the 1 tbsp rose or orange blossom water. I greased my pan with Pam for baking instead of tahini. I used all purpose flour instead of semolina flour. These changes were all due to lack of ingredient availability in my area. And lastly, I made my cake in an 8 inch square pan instead of a round pan.

Coconut Semolina Cake
HARISSA

Recipe courtesy of An Edible Mosaic:  Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair by Faith Gorsky (Tuttle Publishing; Nov. 2012); reprinted with permission.

Serves 10 to 12
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 35 minutes, plus 2 hours to let the cake absorb the syrup after cooking

Semolina cake ingredients:
2 batches Scented Sugar Syrup (double the recipe below)
1 tablespoon tahini, to grease the baking pan
2 cups (305 g) fine semolina flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ cup (115 g) sugar
½ cup (115 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1½ cups (375 ml) milk
1 cup (75 g) desiccated, unsweetened coconut
3 tablespoons blanched almonds

Prepare the Scented Sugar Syrup.

Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C); brush the tahini on the inside of a 10-inch (25 cm) round baking pan.

Whisk together the semolina, baking powder, and sugar in a large bowl. Stir in the butter and then the milk until combined, and then fold in the coconut.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and spread it out evenly; let it sit for 10 minutes.

Score the batter into 1-inch (2.5 cm) square or diamond shapes with a sharp knife, periodically dipping the knife in hot water and drying it off before continuing to score the batter; place 1 almond in the center of each diamond.

Bake until the sides and top are golden brown, about 30 minutes. (If the sides are brown but the top isn’t, you can broil the cake for a couple minutes to brown the top.)

Once out of the oven, cut the cake along the lines you scored. Slowly pour the cooled syrup onto the hot cake. Let the cake sit at room temperature 2 hours to absorb the syrup before serving.

Scented Sugar Syrup
QATER

Yields about 1 cup (250 ml) of thin syrup or 2/3 cup (160 ml) of thick syrup
Preparation Time:  1 minute
Cooking Time:  10 minutes

Scented Syrup Ingredients:
1 cup (225 g) sugar
½ cup (125 ml) water
½ tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ tablespoon rose water or orange blossom water

Add the sugar, water and lemon juice to a medium, thick-bottomed saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium heat, giving the pan an occasional swirl and skimming off any foam on the surface.

Turn heat down slightly and boil 2 minutes (if you want thin syrup) and up to 5 minutes (if you want thick syrup), swirling the pan occasionally. (The syrup will thicken more upon cooling.)

Turn off heat and stir in the rose water or orange blossom water; cool to room temperature, then use.

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