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Fig and Ishta Basbousa

This recipe takes the typical and beloved basbousa and elevates it to something even more delicious!

Figs are my absolute favourite fruit and I try to eat as much of them as possible while they are in season. While I love eating them as they are, I also like to incorporate them into other dishes. This recipe takes the typical and beloved basbousa and elevates it to something even more delicious!

Basbousa or hareesa, as we call it in the Levant, is a semolina cake soaked in simple syrup. This should not be confused with North African hareesa, which is a spice mix. The word basbousa comes from the Arabic word, “bassa”, which is the word for wetting or combining flour with a liquid or fat. As for the word hareesa, it comes from the Arabic word “harasa” meaning “to mash”.  This dessert is made all across the Middle East and there are so many different variations of it, including ones stuffed with dates or chocolate. It is linked to many holidays and celebrations, such as Ramadan and Eid, but for me, it reminds me of my grandmother and how she would make a huge tray of it for her guests, both announced and unannounced. She somehow had a sixth sense about when she would receive unannounced guests and always had a fresh tray of hareesa ready for them! Her nephew had a huge fig tree that I would climb and pick figs from every summer in Jordan and these two memories are what inspired this dessert.

In this recipe, the figs need to be poaching, this not only softens them, it also sweetens them when they aren’t the sweetest and also infuses the syrup with a delicate fig flavour, which we will then pour onto our cakes. I like to peel my figs after poaching them because I prefer not to bite into the skin when eating the cakes, but this is a personal preference and you can skip this step. If you feel your syrup is quite watery, you can let it simmer for a few minutes to thicken up and reduce. Do not reduce it too much, as it continues to thicken as it cools.

Once the cakes are baked and ready, you want to pour your cooled syrup on them immediately. You want about a tablespoon or two on each. This may look like a lot, but the syrup will continue to soak as it cools and will be absorbed all the way through. Once they have cooled, enjoy with a hot cup of mint tea!

Ingredients

Makes 10-12

Simple Syrup

  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 5 large figs
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

Ishta (cream)

  • 375ml milk
  • 2 tbsp powdered milk
  • 2 tbsp corn flour
  • 100g sugar
  • 100g ishta

Batter

  • 170g yogurt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 100g shredded coconut
  • 125ml oil
  • 200g semolina
  • 100g sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder

Instructions

  1. Begin by poaching the figs. In a small pot, place the water and sugar on low heat and let it come to a simmer. Drop the figs in and flip them over periodically, making sure each side is submerged in the syrup at some point. Once they are soft, remove from the syrup and set aside to cool. If your syrup is watery, let it simmer and thicken for a few more minutes then add a squeeze of lemon and set aside to cool
  2. Next, we make the cream layer or the ishta. Place all the ingredients except the canned ishta in a pot and whisk until everything is combined. Then heat it on medium heat until it thickens. Add the canned ishta and whisk quickly to avoid lumps. Set aside to cool.
  3. To make the hareesa batter, mix together the yogurt and baking powder and set aside. Mix the rest of the ingredients together, then add the yogurt mix, which will have become frothy.
  4. In a lined cupcake tray, add about a tablespoon of the batter and press it into the bottom. You don’t want to make this layer too thick so that all the layers can fit in the liner. Next, add the ishta. Make sure you keep it in the middle and avoid the edges, otherwise it will bubble up and burn. Then add the fig, I add about half a fig for each cake and then top with enough batter to completely cover the fig and cream.
  5. Bake at 165 C for about 15 minutes, or until cooked through and slightly browned.
  6. Once the tray is out, immediately add 1 ½ -2 tbsp of the syrup on each cake. Then leave to cool. The syrup will be absorbed as the cakes cool. Once cooled, enjoy with a cup of hot mint tea!
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