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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, 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 Inspiration: This recipe was 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).
  • Flavoring the scented sugar syrup. You can use vanilla or cinnamon instead of rose water or orange blossom water if you prefer.
  • Use tahini to grease the pan. I love using this unique technique of greasing a pan with tahini to bake a cake! Its primary purpose is to help prevent the cake from sticking, but it also imparts a touch of nuttiness to the cake. However, if you don't have tahini, you can just use butter or ghee (clarified butter) instead.
  • Let the batter sit for 10 minutes once it's in the pan. It will thicken a bit so it's easier to score. I definitely recommend scoring it before baking so it crumbles less.
  • The cake should be brown on top. If the sides are brown and the top isn't, broil the cake for a few minutes to brown the top.
  • Hot cake, cool syrup. For the cake to fully absorb the syrup, when you pour on the syrup the cake should be hot out of the oven and the syrup should be cooled to room temperature.
  • Storage: Once Basbousa is cooled to room temperature, wrap it with plastic wrap and store it overnight at room temperature. After that, you can store the cake covered in the fridge for up to 5 days more. Let it sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes before serving.


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