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Basbousa Recipe aka Harissa Dessert (Middle Eastern Coconut Semolina Cake)

Basbousa Cake, also known as Namoura or Harissa, is rich and dense with a rustic texture from semolina, and a sticky sweetness from rose or orange blossom-scented sugar syrup.
Course Dessert
Cuisine Middle Eastern
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Time to Let the Cake Absorb the Syrup 2 hours
Servings 12 servings
Calories 358kcal


Scented Sugar Syrup:



For the Scented Sugar Syrup:

  • 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, swirling the pan occasionally. (The syrup will thicken more upon cooling.)
  • Turn off heat and stir in the orange blossom water or rose water; cool to room temperature, then use.

For the Cake:

  • Preheat oven to 3750F (1900C); brush the tahini on the inside of a 10-inch (25 cm) round baking pan.
  • Whisk together the semolina, baking powder, salt, sugar, and coconut in a large bowl. Stir in the butter and milk until combined.
  • 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).
  • The Scented Sugar Syrup can be flavored with vanilla instead of rose water or orange blossom water if you prefer.
  • Cool the Scented Sugar Syrup to room temperature before using, since this allows the syrup to thicken.
  • When you pour the Scented Sugar Syrup onto the cake, the cake should be hot (right out of the oven) and the syrup should be cool, so that the cake fully absorbs the syrup.


Calories: 358kcal | Carbohydrates: 50g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 16g | Saturated Fat: 10g | Cholesterol: 23mg | Sodium: 20mg | Potassium: 224mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 27g | Vitamin A: 286IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 80mg | Iron: 2mg