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Basbousa: Coconut and Semolina Cake Bars

December 29, 2011

In the hunt for a recipe to make for the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap, I flipped through The Great Big Cookie Book’s 250 some odd pages of pictures and recipes. For the cookie swap, piroulines won because they were challenging for me to make and because I thought they’d look pretty packaged up for my cookie swap recipients.

Basbousa (aka coconut and semolina cake bar)

When I read the recipe initially, I somehow managed to tell myself that the piroulines would be easy to make. The recipe for basbousa somehow struck me as being more complex because it called for making a simple syrup.

I could not have been more wrong. And clearly, my ability to read a recipe and accurately judge its complexity is flawed beyond measure.

Basbousa, described in the cookie book as a Middle Eastern dessert or tea treat, were stupidly easy, especially since I took the time to arrange my mise en place for once.

In terms of taste, these had a not-too-sweet, light coconut flavor with a cake-ish texture that reminded me of a good sheet cake. I’ll definitely be making them again, especially for potlucks or when I need a simple dessert to make on a weeknight when I get the itch to bake, but don’t have the energy for something too complicated.

The only change I might make is to add some coarsely chopped almonds to the cookie batter itself. The almond on top of each cookie bar added after baking gave the cookie bar some needed crunch and a little more depth to the flavor overall that I liked.

makes about 16 cake bars (because calling them cookies doesn’t seem so right)
Adapted from The Great Big Cookie Book (because, again, their directions aren’t so clear)

For the simple syrup
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice

In a small sauce pan, combine all three ingredients and bring to a boil over medium heat. Simmer for a about 8 minutes. Let it cool down a bit and then refrigerate it.

Following this process, I was able to set my mise en place for the next part and nearly have the cookie dough ready to go into the oven by the time the syrup began to come to a simmer. However, times will vary if you set your syrup mixture on the stove at a higher or lower temperature. So just keep an eye on the syrup as it sits on the heat and then comes to a boil and simmers. And whatever you do, when it does come to a boil, be careful. There are few things more painful than having hot simple syrup burns.

For the cake bars
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (I used a whole wheat white flour)
1 1/4 cup semolina (A type of flour that you typically hear about in association with pasta. Bob’s Red Mill makes a good option, in case you’re wondering.)
1 1/2 cup grated coconut (I just used the sweetened kind you can buy in a bag.)
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
whole almonds to decorate the top

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Get out an 8-inch square cake pan and grease it with some nonstick spray (I like PAM’s nonstick spray for baking.)

Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Remove the pan from the heat. Add all the other ingredients and mix it together thoroughly.

Pour it into the cake pan and make sure it’s evenly spread out in the pan. The mixture will be a bit thick, so you may need to use your hands to get it in the pan evenly.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes.

When the cake bars are done, cut them immediately into squares or diamonds. Pour the chilled simply syrup over the top and decorate each one with an almond (or two, if you want).


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