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Gluten-Free Coconut Almond Flour Cake (Inspired by Middle Eastern Cake Harissa)

This dense, moist, and sticky sweet Gluten-Free Coconut Almond Flour Cake is subtly scented with rose water (or vanilla, if you prefer). It was inspired by the Middle Eastern Cake Harissa, Basbousa, or Namoura.
Course Dessert
Cuisine Middle Eastern
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Time to Let the Cake Absorb the Syrup 2 hours
Servings 7 servings
Calories 320kcal


Scented Sugar Syrup:



  • Prepare the Scented Sugar Syrup first. To do so, 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 the heat down slightly and boil 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the rose water or orange blossom water; let it cool to room temperature while you make the cake.
  • For the cake, preheat oven to 375F; brush the tahini on the inside of a 6-inch (15.25 cm) round baking pan.
  • Whisk together the almond flour, arrowroot starch, tapioca starch, baking powder, salt, 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.


  • Recipe adapted from the recipe for Coconut Semolina Cake (Harissa) in my cookbook, An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair (Tuttle Publishing; Nov. 2012).
  • If you can't find blanched almonds, you can easily make them yourself with whole almonds. (1) Place fresh, shelled (raw and unsalted) almonds in a heat-safe bowl; (2) pour in enough boiling water to fully cover the almonds; (3) let the almonds sit for 1 minute, then pour into a mesh sieve, rinse under cold water, and drain; and (4) hold one almond at the wide end between your thumb and forefinger and gently squeeze – the skin should slip right off.
  • For the scented sugar syrup, you can use orange blossom water, rose water, vanilla, or any other extract you like.
  • For the milk in the cake, I’ve successfully used whole milk, 2%, and plain unsweetened almond “milk”.
  • If you don’t have tahini to grease the cake pan, you can use clarified butter or coconut oil instead.


Calories: 320kcal | Carbohydrates: 32g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 21g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Cholesterol: 20mg | Sodium: 22mg | Potassium: 123mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 24g | Vitamin A: 242IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 90mg | Iron: 1mg