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

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

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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15 Responses to “A Mid-East Feast: Coconut Semolina Cake”

  1. #
    Carrie @ Bakeaholic Mama — October 29, 2012 at 8:12 am

    I have had a hard time finding semolina before! Seriously need some good grocery stores up this way! The cake looks awesome, and I love intensely sweet… so this may be one for me to try!

  2. #
    Faith — October 29, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    I’ve wondered about how this cake would turn out using AP flour – it looks like it has great texture! The thing with using semolina is that it makes for a *very* dry cake (it’s similar to cornmeal that way), which is why so much syrup is used to moisten it after baking. It results in a sticky-sweet, moist, and very dense cake that is very rich…and a small piece is enough for even the biggest sweet-lovers!

    I’m with you on Middle Eastern sweets – for the most part, pastries and cakes that are soaked in sugar syrup are too sweet for my liking (except for little cheese-filled fried pancakes called Qatayef — I LOVE them, lol!). I’ve noticed that Middle Eastern sweets are similar to Indian sweets that way. I find that I like Middle Eastern puddings and cookies much better than most cakes and pastries.

    So sorry that you had trouble finding ingredients! I’m not sure if there’s a Middle Eastern grocery store in your area (or even an Indian grocery store, since I’ve found these ingredients there too), but that’s where I usually get these things if I can’t find them in the international aisle at my regular grocery store.

    Thanks for a beautiful post, Rachel!

    • #
      Rachel — October 29, 2012 at 1:37 pm

      That’s so interesting to hear! I had no idea that the different flour could change the texture and flavor so much. But yes, it still definitely worked out even with the changes. Unfortunately I don’t think we have any specialty stores around that would offer the right ingredients. Just the area I live in. I could have ordered but shipping was going to be outrageous!

  3. #
    amanda @ fake ginger — October 29, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    Well it looks good! I can’t believe you couldn’t even find tahini – you should definitely move somewhere with better grocery stores. bahaha. One day you should make it how it’s meant to be. I think the semolina + tahini keeps it from being too sweet.

  4. #
    Jamie @ Thrifty Veggie Mama — October 29, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    The cake looks very moist. I can’t believe there were no carts available at the grocery store! Somebody didn’t plan that one very well. I shop with 2 kids so that would have been disastrous for me too

  5. #
    Katrina @ In Katrina's Kitchen — October 29, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    You did a great job with the ingredients you had! And too sweet? Pass that on to meeeeeeeeeee! :)

  6. #
    Gina @ Running to the Kitchen — October 29, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    I wish I could send you a piece of mine right now (I did actually find semolina in my normal grocery store…still in shock over that) because I have a feeling it’s just sooo different than the AP flour one in the most delicious way! I made them into mini muffins and halved the recipe (I didn’t need a cake that serves 12 sitting around my house while I’m locked inside during a hurricane!) and they are seriously beyond delicious. The flour like Faith said above is very dry and the syrup therefore soaks it perfectly and then once it sets the whole thing gets this exterior crunch that’s just awesome.
    Ok, I’ve rambled enough :) btw…thanks for the orange extract tip, I did the same b/c rose water was a no-go in Hannafords.

    • #
      Rachel — October 29, 2012 at 4:17 pm

      I’d have loved to try it the original way… Darn grocery stores messing with plans! I sure did try though!

  7. #
    Lisa — October 29, 2012 at 10:03 pm

    I’m sure you know but you can find all of these items online :) I think the orange water would probably be more delicate in flavor than the extract.

    • #
      Rachel — October 30, 2012 at 10:59 am

      I didn’t mind the orange extract actually. As for ordering items, I did look into it but with the cost of shipping and unknown arrival time it just didn’t seem worth it.

  8. #
    Julie @ Table for Two — October 30, 2012 at 10:55 am

    wow, even where I live, i doubt i’d be able to find rose water, orange blossom water..those seem crazy hard to find. your cake still looks great though with all the adaptations you made. you’re brilliant! dessert adaptations i fail at :)

  9. #
    Rachael {SimplyFreshCooking} — October 30, 2012 at 11:30 am

    I’m not much of a “sweets” person, but when I saw this on Facebook last night, I was like BRING IT!! Then I saw that it had coconut in it… sounds pretty great to me! :)

  10. #
    Tracey — October 30, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    Kudos for making it even though you couldn’t find so many of the ingredients. I probably would have thrown in the towel :) It looks really fantastic!

  11. #
    Jen @ Savory Simple — October 30, 2012 at 9:44 pm

    What a gorgeous cake!

  12. #
    Averie @ Averie Cooks — November 1, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    What a shopping trip(s). Ugh. I only use mainstream ingredients in my recipes and if something calls for ‘unique’, I cringe b/c your description with the warzone groc store on top of it all – so me.

    I have Faith’s book and have to get crackin’ on the recipes.

    Thanks for your honest review and trials with this one! I love a sugary sweet dessert – this is so me :)

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