Tu Bishvat — often known as the Jewish New Year for trees — celebrates the coming of spring and the seven species of fruits, vegetables, and grains known to have flourished during biblical times in Israel.
With a bounty of tempting options among the seven — barley, wheat, olives, pomegranates, figs, grapes and dates — it’s easy to be inspired. This cake is made with semolina, the inner portion of durum wheat before it has been pulverized to make flour. Its gritty texture lends an alluring bite to the cake, which also uses olive oil instead of the more typical butter or margarine. Although almonds are not one of the seven species, the sight of almond blossoms on trees in Israel is a sure sign that spring has arrived — hence the hint of almond flavor in the cake. While it is delicious served alone, consider topping each piece with a dollop of strained Greek yogurt.
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup honey
1 Tablespoon almond liqueur (or 1 teaspoon almond extract)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup vanilla soymilk
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (about 1 teaspoon)
1 cup light olive oil, or canola oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup ground almond meal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 cup semolina flour
Combine honey, sugar, and lemon juice and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until sugar is dissolved and mixture has thinned, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat and cool.
Preheat oven to 350F. Combine semolina flour, almond meal, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl, stir well with a fork and reserve. Using a hand mixer or electric stand mixer, beat oil and sugar over high speed until sugar is dissolved and mixture has slightly lightened in color, about 2 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, about 2 minutes total. Add soymilk, lemon zest, almond liqueur, and vanilla and beat to combine. Add dry ingredients and beat to combine, about 30 seconds. Pour batter into a lightly greased 9 x 13-inch baking pan and bake cake for 30 minutes, until top is browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Slowly pour syrup over top of cake and let cool completely.