My friend, Victoria, says this cake is the love of her life. It is an Arab Semolina Cake, sometimes spelled harissa or harisa or haresa. I was happy to make it as part of her family cookbook project.
Trust the instruction that has you mixing with your hands – it is the easiest way to incorporate everything, so embrace your inner child and get your hands busy! It definitely helps to measure out all the ingredients first, so you don’t make too big a mess. And press it down well – it won’t hold together unless you make sure you compress it to 1 inch thick (again, best results from using your hands).
Arab Semolina Cake
3 cups semolina
3/4 cups (1 1/2 sticks) butter, melted
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup grated coconut
1/2 cup whole almonds or slivers for decoration
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 tablespoon orange blossom water
Preheat oven to 400˚F
Mix yogurt and baking soda in a bowl and wait until yogurt doubles in size.
In a large bowl, mix all other cake ingredients together with wet hands.
When the yogurt has almost doubled in size, pour it on top of the semolina mix and use your hands to mix well.
When the mixture is well combined, press it tightly into a buttered 9×13 pyrex baking dish. The unbaked cake shouldn’t be more than 1 inch thick, so press it well.
Cut diamond or square designs with a butter knife and place an almond on top of each piece.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until dark brown.
Mix sugar and water together in a saucepan, bring to a boil, stirring regularly. Reduce the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes, or until it coats the back of a spoon. Add orange blossom water and stir well.
Pour boiling syrup on a very hot cake.
Let cool down before serving.