Syrupy almond-semolina cake – revani or basbousa

Revani cake

Some time in the late-1990s, I cut this recipe out of a newspaper. The writer was definitely Andy Harris, the paper was possibly The Independent. I went through a phase of making it loads then, I don’t know, it just seemed to get forgotten. I’ve no idea why, as it’s great. Just my sort of thing – quite dense and textured thanks to its use of almonds and semolina and moist thanks to a flavoursome syrup poured over after baking.

The name Harris used was revani, and he wrote about it as a Greek cake. Actually it’s a common through much of the Eastern Mediterranean, Levant, Maghreb and Middle East and is also known by the alternative spelling ravani, and by other names such as basbousa, hareesa/harisa, namoura and kalbelouz. Some versions appear to feature coconut. I don’t fancy this as syrup is spiced up with cinnamon, cloves and orange and in tandem with the flavour of almonds, I think the coconut would be a bit much.

I’ve added a little orange blossom water to the original recipe. In part to boost that orangey-ness, but also as I find it’s the sort of ingredient that gets pushed to back of the cupboard and forgotten until it’s a decade over its best-before date. So I want to keep using it. Harris’s recipe featured brandy, but I don’t have any, I’m not sure what it would add, and I’m pretty certain that when this cake it made in Muslim nations it wouldn’t contain any booze.

Fitting in with my interest in feast day foods too, it may also eaten by Coptic Christians in Egypt and beyond for their Great Lent and Christmas celebrations. Though this info seems to be lurking on Wikipedia, unverified, and repeated elsewhere by lazy bloggers. Oh, oops. I’m struggling to confirm it, and don’t know any Copts.

Syrup
350g granulated sugar
700g water
1 cinnamon stick
6 whole cloves
Zest and juice of 1 orange
1 tbsp orange blossom water (optional)

Cake
200g granulated sugar
225 g unsalted butter
6 medium eggs (about 300g beaten egg)
110 g plain flour
175 g semolina
1 tbsp baking powder
110 g blanched almonds [or ground almonds, see below]
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 tsp almond essence
Extra blanched almonds to decorate

1. To make the syrup, dissolve the 350g sugar in the 700g water in saucepan over a low heat.
Revani cake syrup
2. Add the cinnamon stick, cloves and orange zest and juice and simmer for 15 minutes.
3. Take the syrup off the heat and allow to cool. Stir in the orange blossom water, if using.

Revani cake ingredients

4. In a large bowl, or with a food mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until creamy and light.
5. Beat the eggs with the vanilla and almond essences, then gradually add the egg to the creamed mixture, incorporating well.
6. If using blanched almonds, chop them finely – either by hand or in a food processor. Alternatively use ground almonds – you won’t have quite such an interesting texture but it’s easier. I used a mix this time round – 40g ground almonds and 70g blanched almonds, chopped.
7. Sieve together the flour, semolina and baking powder. Add the chopped almonds/ground almonds.
7. Add the flour mix to the creamed mix and blend well.
8. Preheat the oven to 180C.
9. Grease a rectangular tin, about 32x20cm.

Revani cake batter

10. Spoon the batter into the tin, smooth it, and put in the oven for about 30-40 minutes, until firm and browned.

Revani cake - score a diamond pattern

11. Remove from the oven and score a diamond pattern in the top with a sharp knife.

Revani - pour syrup over, straining out the spices

12. Pour the syrup onto the warm cake – through a sieve or strainer to catch the spices and zest.

Revani - decorate with blanched almonds
13. Decorate the diamonds with a blanched almonds.
14. Allow to cool and serve at room temperature for tea or as a dessert. The latter can be souped up by being served with honey-sweetened Greek yogurt or poached fruit.

Revani, basbousa

A note on photography
When I thought I’d broken Fran’s camera last week, actually I’d just broken the lens thread. Phew. So we got a new (well, second-hand) lens. It’s an 18-200mm F/3.5-6.3, so Fran could use it more for landscapes and stuff.

I’m not a photographer, and struggled enough to learn how to use the kit lens effectively, but now I’m struggling again. I can’t quite get in close enough, suspect I won’t be able to rely on the autofocus as much, and doubly suspect I probably could do with a faster 35mm or 50mm prime lens or something with a better macro. Gawd knows. It’s all changed so much since I got my photography O-level in 1986….

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