This dessert made with medium-ground cornmeal is a great option if you’re looking for a cake soaked in a fragrant syrup. Each bite is packed with orange flower flavour, which makes it a great accompaniment to tea or for an afternoon snack. Best of all, it’s an easy dessert to make, requiring just a little time to make sure that the cake batter soaks in the pan before putting it in the oven. Furthermore, it contains no flour, making it a great alternative for people that have gluten sensitivities.
I learned this recipe from the Jean Talon market cookbook, which honours North African shops carrying most of the ingredients required for this dessert. Fortunately, with the changing face of many large cities, you should be able to find these ingredients in well-stocked supermarkets and in specialty shops.
For the syrup:
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 large lemon should contain enough juice)
- 4 tablespoons orange flower water
- 1 tablespoon butter
For the cake:
- 4 tablespoons tahini (sesame seed paste)
- 1-1/2 cups medium-ground semolina (corn meal)
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup plain yogurt (make sure to use a make that has no added sugars and a fat content of at least 7% preferably)
- 3 tablespoons melted butter
- ½ cup blanched almonds (whole or slivered)
Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Measure out your ingredients to make sure you have anything within reach.
Start by placing the almonds on a roasting pan (I prefer to line mine with aluminum) and in the oven for 5 minutes, just until they start lightly colouring. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Make a syrup by placing the sugar and water in a saucepan and heating until it boils and turns transparent in colour. Once it starts boiling, reduce the temperature so that it simmers for about 10 minutes.
Remove from heat and add the lemon juice, orange flower water, and butter. Set aside to cool.
Take a 13X9 inch pan and spread the tahini paste as if you were buttering the pan, making sure that you get an even coat all around the bottom and edges.
In a large bowl, mix the semolina, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Once mixed, add the yogurt and butter and mix in with a large spoon or spatula. It will have a very thick consistency and require some mixing to make sure you do not have any pockets of dry semolina. Pour into the tahini-coated baking sheet and smooth out the surface.
Sprinkle your almonds evenly over the top and let cake rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Place in the middle rack of your preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until it reaches a nice golden brown colour. You will also notice a faint line of shrinkage around the edges of the baking sheet.
Remove from oven, place on a cooling rack or over a dry rag, and carefully, cut in squares or rectangles with a knife.
Pour the syrup that you had set aside while the cake is still hot, carefully to avoid any splattering, and leave the cake to cook to room temperature as it absorbs the syrup.
You can serve these pieces individually, or as I did a couple of times, by layering with fresh cheese and fruit paste.