I don’t know about you, but in my life, different people have their signature dishes that they are expected to bring to every event or occasion, without even needing to be asked. For me, I know each of my friends’ favourites and will make it for them when I host them, or I’m invited to theirs. This basbousa bil ishta is my friend’s signature dessert and whenever I see her, I know I am going to get a tray of this deliciousness. However, with covid keeping us apart, I had to get the recipe and start making it myself. Suffice to say, I have made this more times than I’d like to admit!
Basbousa is well-known across the Middle East, with some countries calling it hareesa or namoura, not to be confused with the North African hareesa, which is a chilli paste. Traditionally, it is a semolina cake doused in sugar syrup, known as ater, and each square is studded with an almond. However, over the years, people have been adding their own twist to it, stuffing it or topping it with less than traditional ingredients, myself included when I added figs to it. While the traditional version is perfect as is, the milk-pudding layer in the centre adds an extra bit of luxury and velvetiness that is perfect this time of year.
The best part of this dessert is that we tend to have the ingredients to hand, and it takes very little time to put this together and bake it. It is also very easy, you just want to make sure you mix the ingredients well together and use a good amount of tahini to grease your tray, as it cuts through the sweetness and adds a delicious nuttiness that compliments the flavours nicely. When making the ishta layer, you want to make sure you mix all of the ingredients off the heat first, being careful to scrape every bit of cornflour, as it tends to stick to the bottom of the pan. Once the ingredients are mixed together well, with no lumps, you can put it on medium heat and keep stirring until it thickens. When you put the other half of the semolina mix on top, you want to make sure it covers all of the milk layer, so that it doesn’t bubble over and burn. Bake this until golden brown and drench with as much syrup as you like, but make sure the syrup is room temperature and you pour the syrup over the cake as soon as it is out of the oven so that it absorbs the syrup properly. Top with a sprinkle of pistachios if you like and enjoy!
This is one of the easiest and most delicious desserts out there that is a true crowd-pleaser. Honestly, the hardest part about this dessert is waiting for it to cool before cutting it up and digging in!
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup oil
1 tsp vanilla
170 g ishta
¾ cup shredded coconut
¾ coarse semolina
1 tbsp baking powder
Tahini to grease tray
Pistachios, roughly chopped to garnish
170 g ishta
1 cup full fat milk
3 tbsp corn flour
3 cups sugar
2 cups water
2 tsp lemon juice
- To make the sugar syrup, add the sugar and water to a pot and turn on medium to high heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and bring the mixture to a boil.
- Allow the mixture to simmer for 3-4 minutes, then add the lemon juice. Leave another 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. This will make more than you may need, so store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a month.
- To make the ishta layer, mix together all of the ingredients in a small pot before putting on the heat. Make sure the corn flour is dissolved and mixed in well before putting on medium heat. Make sure to stir constantly until it thickens. Remove from heat and set aside.
- To make the semolina cake layer, in a large bowl, mix together the eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla. Mix well until it becomes lighter in colour. Add the ishta or extra thick cream and mix well.
- Add in the coconut, semolina and baking powder and mix well.
- In a tray greased with tahini paste, pour in half of the semolina cake mix.
- Pour the ishta layer over the bottom semolina layer, then spoon over the remaining semolina batter, making sure to carefully spread it over the ishta layer, covering it.
- Bake at 180 C (160 C fan-assisted) for about 20 minutes or until cooked through and golden.
- Spoon room-temperature syrup over the hot cake and garnish with pistachios if desired. Leave to cool, cut and serve. Enjoy!