Basbousa cake is a delicious, fragrant Middle Eastern dessert with a velvety smooth texture. Make this farina cake and impress everyone at the table!
A traditional Ottoman sweet cake that originated in Turkey and is made throughout the Middle East, this version is Egyptian. I received this recipe from a vendor's mom from the Khan el-Khalili. The Khan el-Khalili is a famous bazaar and souq in Cairo. Talk about fun, amazing shops and foods to try, but that's another story...
When you want to impress dinner guests or make a special dessert for your family, it’s the perfect time to make Egyptian desserts.
What Makes Basbousa Cake Unique
Unlike traditional recipes made with all-purpose flour, basbousa is a farina cake. Farina is a cereal grain. If you’ve ever had a bowl of Cream of Wheat or Malt-O-Meal, you were eating farina porridge.
While this basbousa recipe calls for farina (as do many others), you may see some recipes that use semolina flour.
What’s the difference between semolina and farina?
Both semolina and farina are made from hard wheat, but semolina is specifically made with durum wheat. Semolina has a coarser grain and more gluten than farina.
This makes semolina fantastic for making pasta, but it creates a very coarse textured cake. The texture of farina cake is velvety smooth and soft.
- Sliced before baking
One of the classic characteristics of this Egyptian dessert is the unique star pattern on the top. To prevent the dessert from crumbling as the design is being made, it’s sliced before baking.
- No eggs
Eggs provide structure to desserts, but they also act as a leavener, meaning they help the batter or dough to rise. Basbousa cake is meant to be dense, so the eggs are replaced with yogurt, which provides structure but has no leavening ability.
Ingredient Notes and Substitutions
- Coconut- Shredded coconut adds texture and sweetness to the dessert but it’s an optional ingredient. If you want to omit it from the recipe, it doesn’t have to be replaced with anything.
- Flavoring- There are several flavor options for basbousa cake, including vanilla extract, rose water, orange blossom water, and almond extract. I use orange blossom water, both for flavor and for a wonderful fragrance. If you’re planning to use a different flavor, omit the orange zest from this recipe.
- Ghee- Rather than using regular butter, we use ghee, which is similar to clarified butter. You can use melted butter or clarified butter, but the rich, nutty flavor of ghee makes a big difference.
- Tahini- Tahini is a thick sesame seed paste that adds another layer of nutty flavor to the dessert. It isn’t as sweet nut butters tend to be, and it’s full of antioxidants and healthy fats.
- Plain yogurt- Although Greek yogurt is often used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes, it is thicker than traditional yogurt. So, stick with traditional yogurt for this recipe.
- Nuts- Typically, a garnish of blanched almonds is placed on top. Feel free to substitute any nut you prefer. Pistachios are a popular option.
Cutting a Star Pattern Into the Cake
If the thought of cutting the star design into the cake makes you nervous, you can slice it any way you’d like. Creating the design isn’t difficult though. Use the images below as a guide.
- First photo: After pressing the basbousa cake batter into the pan, use a sharp knife to cut the cake into quarters
- Second photo: Wipe your knife clean, then cut each quarter in half.
- Pink dashed lines: Wipe your knife clean again and make a V cut about one third from the center of each quarter..
- Fourth photo: Wipe your knife again and cut the large pieces (big "+" sign in middle, to make another V cut about one third from center in each quarter, connecting to the rim of the dish to make a star shape.
Basbousa Recipe Video
For step by step instructions, be sure to watch the video located in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
Basbousa Cake Recipe Tips
- Don't over bake.
The top should be golden brown, but remove the dessert from the oven before the edges are too brown. Otherwise, the texture on the outer edge will be crispy, dry, and crumbly.
- Add the orange sugar syrup while the dessert is still warm.
- Cover the pan with foil and let the basbousa cake cool before serving.
The syrup needs time to soak in. Wait at least 30 minutes before serving. If you're able, wait until the next day to serve it. The flavor will be even better!
- 1 ⅔ cup farina
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup unsweetened coconut shredded
- 1 ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ cup ghee melted (See Note 1)
- ½ cup plain yogurt
- 1 tbsp honey
- 2 tsp tahini
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 2 tbsp honey
- ½ tsp orange water (See Note 2)
- 1 tsp grated orange zest
- 16 blanched almonds (See Note 3)
- Heat oven to 350F. In a deep bowl, combine dry ingredients and mix well.
- Melt the ghee and transfer to a small bowl. Mix with the yogurt, honey and tahini to incorporate.
- Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and mix again to combine thoroughly.
- Spread the basbousa mixture evenly in a greased (See Note 4) round 10" baking pan (See Note 5).
- OPTIONAL: Cut a design as pictured (See Note 6) or cut into diagonal diamond shapes.
- Distribute nuts as pictured on top of the basbousa batter or a design of choice.
- Bake for 20 minutes on the middle shelf, top will be a golden brown.
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the syrup ingredients to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Remove basbousa from oven and pour the syrup evenly over the top and allow to soak and rest for an hour before serving.
- Butter can be substituted for the ghee.
- Rose water or vanilla extract can be substituted for the orange water. If using rose water, omit the orange zest.
- I use marcona almonds. Pistachios or any nut you prefer may be substituted for the almonds.
- Use ghee, butter or cooking spray.
- I use either a 10" round baking stone or my quiche pan. Feel free to use a rectangle 11x9" pan or a 9x9" pan (for a taller basbousa).
How to cut the design as shown:
After pressing the basbousa batter in the pan, use a sharp knife and cut it into quarters (first photo). Wipe your knife and cut each quarter in half (second photo). Wipe your knife again and make a V shape about one third from center in each quarter, see the PINK dashed lines. Wipe your knife again and cut the large pieces (big "+" sign in middle, see third photo) to make a V shape about one third from center in each quarter, connecting at rim of dish to make a star shape.
*The information shown below is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist's advice.