So, the holiday’s are here **jumps for joy**, which means that me and my indecisive self are struggling to decide which cookies to make and distribute to the neighbors this year. For inspiration, I was recently flipping through this ginormous cook book of nothing but cookies (ok, so it includes bars, brownies and tea cakes too), called The Great Big Cookie Book by Hilaire Walden. Anyway, I came across this recipe for basbousa, which is a Middle Eastern treat that can be eaten warm, or at room temperature with tea. Instantly, I knew that I had to at least try this recipe, even if it ultimately did not make my final cookie list. There are a good number of Middle Easterners in my community, so I thought that including these little treats in my gifting would be a sure way to impress the neighbors.
This recipe breaks all the rules, from how the ingredients are compiled – to how and when the tea cakes are cut. Be prepared to throw everything you have ever learned about baking out the window when making these little treats.
At first read, this recipe seems a bit unusual. The base of these treats does not start like typical cakes or cookies where you cream soften butter and sugar until fluffy. Instead, the butter is melted and the rest of the cake ingredients are dumped into the saucepan then poured into a cake pan. Additionally, this recipes base is primarily semolina, with very little all-purpose flour like in the typical recipes I am used to preparing. Regardless of my lack of experience using semolina in baking, I forged ahead and was delightfully surprised at the end result of these little goodies.
I will likely make this recipe again, but I would like to try a few variations to bring out the flavor of the coconut, lemon, and almond. I think that toasting half the coconut would give it a more pronounced, nutty flavor, but I wonder if toasting the coconut will compromise the texture of the basbousa.
Also, I thought that the lemon simple syrup was not as flavorful as it could have been. It did only call for one tablespoon of lemon juice (and of course I used fresh). I think that by including a half-teaspoon of the lemon zest along with the lemon juice will give the simple syrup that extra little kick. I would also like to try this recipe using lime for the simple syrup.
Also, I think that the almond that is placed on top of each individual tea cake needs to be toasted slightly. The bland taste of the untoasted almond did not do anything for me. The crunch from the almond, however, was a nice contrast to the dense, moist, chewy tea cake.
The combination of the coconut and the semolina in these cakes create this almost cornbread-like texture. What I particularly like about the basbousa is that you pour the cooled simple syrup over the warm, cut cake. After its allowed to cool, the syrup creates this thin, slightly crisp layer over the top that gives way to the chewy, dense center as you bite into the basbousa.
The flavors in the basbousa are somewhat muted, which I did not expect from a Middle Eastern recipe. Ok, maybe ‘muted’ screams ‘bland’, so I think it is better to say that the flavors are ‘delicate’ and not overly sweet (which you would expect with all that simple syrup that was sopped up by the warm basbousa. Bottom line is that this recipe for basbousa was a good base, but since my standards are impossibly high, I will make a few alterations the next time I make them.