Basboosa is a sweet semolina cake soaked in sugar syrup. As mentioned, it’s common in many countries of the former Ottoman Empire. So don’t be surprised to see it or a similar version in Middle Eastern, Greek, Lebanese, and Turkish cuisine. You bake the cake batter, which is sweetened with an orange flower water and rosewater-fragranced simple syrup, in a sheet pan. Then you cut the semolina cake into a diamond shape or square.
What is another name for basboosa?
Depending on where you are in the world, basboosa can also be called hareeseh/harissa, revani, shamali, and nammoura. They all relate to a semolina cake dessert.
Have you tried basboosa (or basbuusa/basbousa) before? You can trace the origin of the sweet, syrup-soaked semolina cake back to the Ottoman Empire when they used to prepare delicacies and sweet dishes in the Sultan’s palaces.
Basboosa went on to become popular in Lebanon and is now one of the country’s most important traditional sweets. The Lebanese love to add their own personal signatures to the dish, which might be nuts, cream, or coconut. The name basboosa goes back to the word “al bes”, which means mixing flour with ghee until they are completely mixed.
Now, when making basboosa, many chefs consider the semolina’s quality to make or break the dish. Today, some people prefer to use cornflour as a substitute for semolina, but seeing as it is a semolina cake, I recommend sticking to the traditional ingredient.
Once you get your first bite of the tender cake soaked in sugar syrup fragranced with orange blossom water and rosewater, you’ll see what I mean. Basboosa is the perfect combination of buttery, sweet, and nutty, thanks to syrup, ghee, tahini, and almonds. It’s the kind of dessert destined to melt in your mouth.
Many Arab countries offer basboosa today according to the mood and general flavor popular with their citizens. For instance, Egyptian basboosa includes rosewater instead of vanilla to flavor the basboosa. Meanwhile, some Gulf countries such as Bahrain and Yemen prefer to serve basboosa with date stuffing and in Saudi Arabia, it’s eaten hot straight from the oven and not cold as in Lebanon.
Whichever way you make it, I hope you enjoy this basboosa recipe. It’s very quick and easy to make. Below the directions, you’ll find helpful notes and advice, including some fun variations.
How do you serve basboosa?
You can serve the cake as is or with an extra dollop of yogurt or whipped cream if you like.
How do you store leftovers?
When stored in an airtight container at room temperature, basboosa can last up to 10 days.
Can you make vegan basboosa?
Yes, you can make vegan basboosa. Most vegan recipes substitute yogurt for applesauce to bind the ingredients together. You can also use coconut sugar/cane sugar, vegan butter, and coconut oil/vegetable ghee. The remaining ingredients are otherwise vegan-friendly.
Here are some variations to make this basboosa cake recipe work for you:
Add 1 cup of unsweetened coconut flakes to the cake batter.
Substitute the yogurt for sour cream if that’s all you have on hand.
Decorate the cake slices with roasted or blanched almonds, pistachios, pine nuts, or cashews.
You can use orange blossom water, rosewater, vanilla extract, almond extract, or none of the above. It’s totally up to you.
You can substitute the ghee for melted unsalted butter. However, ghee is essentially clarified butter and gives this dessert a richer, nuttier flavor, which is why I recommend using it if possible.
For a cinnamon syrup, add 1 cinnamon stick while cooking the syrup, and then remove it before pouring the syrup over the cake.
You can substitute the tahini for ghee or baking spray/flour. But once again, the tahini adds essential flavor.
If you find the cake batter to be too thick (it should be fairly stiff though), you can add a dash of milk or buttermilk to thin it out. If it’s too thick your basboosa may turn out dry.
In the US, if you can’t find semolina, the best alternative is farina (this is just what they call coarse semolina in the States).
For the basboosa, in a large bowl mix the semolina, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
To the mix add the ghee, butter, and yogurt. Mix the ingredients well with your hands until everything is well combined. Let the mixture rest for 15 minutes.
Grease a circular pan with the tahini, add the mixture to the pan and flatten it.
With a knife, draw 24 diamond shapes on the mixture. Place an almond on top of each diamond, then let the pan rest for 10 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F while the pan rests.
Bake the basboosa for 30 to 35 minutes, until the cake starts to set up.
While the cake is baking, make the syrup. In a cooking pot, stir together the sugar, water and lemon juice, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, and simmer the mixture for 10 minutes.
Stir in the rose water and orange blossom water, if using. Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside to cool to room temperature.
Remove the pan from the oven, cut through the diamond shapes that were drawn on. Bake the basboosa pieces for 15 to 20 minutes, until they are golden brown.
Remove the pan from the oven, and pour the sugar syrup over the basboosa pieces. Allow the pieces to cool to room temperature, then serve. Basboosa may be stored at room temperature, tightly wrapped, for up to 3 days.
Farah is a Lebanese recipe developer who was born in Kuwait and moved to Lebanon to continue her studies in Beirut when she was 17 years old. She has a background in sales and marketing. Farah discovered cooking when she started taking care of her little brother and sister when her mom was travelling away. She fell in love with Lebanese cuisine and its complexity of culture. Farah cooks with passion and love. All of her friends can’t wait to be invited for lunch or dinner to her house just to taste her meals! She enjoys travelling and trying traditional street food. Having a great time with the people you care about and enjoying a tasty meal is what she calls a good life.