Basbousa cake is a sweet tradition for Rosh Hashanah with a pretty interesting history.
In the beginning of the 20th century, NILI was a Jewish espionage network which assisted the United Kingdom in its fight against the Ottoman Empire in Palestine during World War I. Sarah Aaronson, her brother Aaron, and their sister Rivka, together with Rivka’s fiancé Avshalom Feinberg, formed and led NILI from the town of Zichron Ya’akov on Mount Carmel. In the fall of 1917, the Turks were able to unravel the spy network resulting with the death of Sarah Aaronson and Avshalom Feinberg. A few years before being part of NILI espionage network, Avshalom wrote to Rivka a love song named “אלף נשיקות” (“A Thousand Kisses”) that later became one of the most iconic love songs in Israel.
Not far from Zichron Ya’akov, in the Arab and Druze villages of the Galil Mountains, basbousa cake was served for hundreds of years during celebrations of joy and love. Basbousa means “a thousand sweet kisses” in Arabic and, today, is a favorite throughout the Middle East.
This basbousa cake with halvah cream and semolina crumble continues the spirit of the holidays. The cake is made from semolina flour and is sweetened with rich and floral syrup. This recipe is inspired by the tradition of dipping apples in honey on the eve of Rosh Hashanah to symbolize the ultra-sweet year we hope God will grant us, and is inspired by the love and joy we share with our family and friends during the holidays.
For the cake:
- 4 tsp baking powder
- 4 tsp vanilla sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup semolina
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- juice of 3 oranges
- ¾ cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup coconut flakes
- 1 cup sugar
For the syrup:
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 6 cardamom pods
- juice of 1 lemon
For the semolina crisp:
- 7 Tbsp semolina
- 7 Tbsp margarine
- 7 Tbsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp flour
For the halvah cream:
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream or non-dairy whipping cream, such as Dairy Rich
- 8 oz halvah (good Israeli or Arab brand)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the eggs and baking powder with a hand mixer. Add the vanilla sugar, semolina, flour, orange juice, oil, coconut flakes and sugar and continue mixing. Don’t over mix it!
- Bake in a greased pan for 30 minutes (until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out moist but not liquid).
- While the cake is in the oven, prepare the syrup: In a small sauce combine the water, sugar, cardamom pods and lemon juice, cook until the sugar is dissolved and let cool.
- Once the cake is out of the oven and still hot, slowly drizzle a few Tbsp of the syrup on the cake, wait until the cake absorbs the syrup and continue until you finish the syrup.
- To prepare the semolina crisp: In a food processor combine all of the ingredients, and pulse a few times until all of the ingredients are combined and form crumbs.
- Remove from the processor and place into a sheet of plastic wrap; create a shape of a ball and let sit in the freezer for at list 20 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 300°F. Prepare a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper, and using a grater, shave the semolina crisp dough into crumbs. Bake for 20 minutes until the crisp browns lightly (check every few minutes that it’s not burning). Remove from oven, cool and break to medium-size crisps.
- To prepare the halvah cream: Place the whipping cream into a mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whisk the cream until stiff.
- Meanwhile, using a grater, shave the halvah. Shaved halvah in to the whipped cream and serve.
- Prep Time: 25 minutes
- Cook Time: 50 minutes
- Category: Dessert
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: Mizrahi