Harissa aka Basboosa (Semolina Cake)

sugarandgarlicsugarandgarlic2013-46This is a typical Middle Eastern dessert very popular in Egypt. I love my mom’s recipe because it is so light and not overly sweet like many Middle Eastern desserts may be. The homemade syrup that soaks into most Middle Eastern desserts is usually quite heavy and has rose water or orange blossom water added to it. This syrup is simple and light and instead uses a dash of lemon juice. If you actually like the rose water ( I don’t!) you can add it in lieu of the lemon. 

sugarandgarlicsugarandgarlic2013-40Harissa is made with semolina flour, which you can find in any Middle Eastern market, Italian specialty shops, or other specialty grocery stories. If you cannot find it, a good substitute you may use is the Cream of Wheat cereal mix. Just make sure it is not the instant variation as that grain is too fine. 

For the syrup you simply dissolve sugar in water and boil it until it becomes thick, then add some butter. You want to be sure not to overheat as we are not making caramel here!

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sugarandgarlicsugarandgarlic2013-39The batter is so incredibly easy you will want to get up and make this as soon as you read it! All you need is semolina flour, baking powder, yogurt, butter, coconut, sugar and sour cream. No eggs! You mix all of these together into a nice thick and creamy batter and spread into a 9 inch rectangular pan. Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes. In no time, you will have gorgeous little semolina squares to enjoy for dessert!

sugarandgarlicsugarandgarlic2013-41Harissa is baked with an almond on top of each slice and cut into squares or diamonds. This sweet semolina cake  pairs perfectly with coffee or tea.

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Harissa aka Basboosa
A perfectly sweet and delicious Middle Eastern dessert perfect for tea time!
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
45 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
45 min
For the cake
  1. 2 c semolina
  2. 1 c sugar
  3. 1 stick or 1/2 c butter
  4. 1 c finely shredded coconut
  5. 1 tsp baking powder
  6. 1 c yogurt
  7. 2 tbsp sour cream
For the syrup
  1. 1 1/2 c sugar
  2. 2 c water
  3. 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  4. 1/2 stick or 1/4 c butter
  5. 1 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees (F).
  2. First make the syrup as it needs to cool and thicken before pouring onto the baked cake. Pour the sugar and water into a pot and bring to a boil. Allow to boil until the mixture thickens. Do not carmelize. Squeeze a couple of drops of lemon into the boiling mixture.
  3. When the liquid has reduced a bit, add the butter and vanilla and stir well. Remove from heat once the butter has melted and allow to cool.
  4. For the cake, mix all the ingredients together in bowl until well combined. Cover with a towel and allow to sit for 30 minutes.
  5. Spread into a 9" baking pan and place a halved or slivered almond on top where you will slice each square. Bake for 30 minutes until the top is golden.
  6. Once you remove the pan from the oven, pour the syrup over the entire cake, evenly, while the cake is still warm. Allow it to absorb; you might not need to use all of the syrup. Slice into squares or diamonds and enjoy!
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5 replies
  1. Madeleine
    Madeleine says:

    I would like the original Harissa that was made in Alexandria Egypt when I was a girl without coconut can you help

    • Noha
      Noha says:

      Thanks for visiting Madeleine, but the traditional Egyptian recipe does use coconut. I have confirmed this with several relatives. If you want to try omitting the coconut you could do that. If you know the name of the shop you had this at I could do a little more research for you to see if one of my aunts knows how to make it that way:) in any case, this recipe is very easy and delicious, give it a try!

  2. Madeleine
    Madeleine says:

    Thanks Noha for your reply as I was a child leaving in Alexandria I don’t know the name of the shop but will ask my cousin as he may. I shall write again shortly, by the way are you from Egypt?

  3. Madeleine
    Madeleine says:

    Hi again and thank you for your reply. Unfortunately my cousin cannot recall the name of the bakery only that they used to make the Harrissa and Bouhatsa and one could eat in or takeaway .
    The shop was în Alexandria. If you know anyone in Alex , they may know.
    I would appreciate your inquiry. Thank you again

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