How to Make Basbousa from the Middle East

What is basbousa

Basbousa is a sweet cake popular in the Middle East. Basbousa recipe is characterized by two main ingredients: semolina flour and the sugar syrup poured over it after cooking. Cooking basbousa varies as well: it can be cooked in a pan, or baked inside the oven. With the addition of another ingredient or two, basbousa changes its name and character. Coconut basbousa is one of its varieties with the addition of desiccated coconut, which is what you would in this post. Basbousa is considered an Arabic dessert, a (different kind of) cake, or simply sweets. It is also called basbousa cake or semolina cake.

Where is basbousa recipe from

There is no definite record of where the recipe came from; some say it is a Turkish dish, others say it is Egypt’s. However, the Middle East have varied basbousa recipes, each boasting of their authenticity. This one is interesting: basbousa is called harissa in Jordan, while harrisa is a completely different dish in other parts of the Middle East. Talk about being lost in translation! Ha ha! .

Basbousa recipe ingredients

All basbousa recipes, call for semolina flour – that is basic. Some use semolina by itself, while others add all-purpose flour (APF) for a nice mix. One of the reasons you would want to mix semolina with APF is the touch in the mouth – it is a bit finer and smoother, while without the APF, the finished basbousa is coarse. For some reason, coarse basbousa is what most expect because of how the syrup permeates between the spaces of the basbousa’s grains. Below are the 3 basic ingredients for basbousa:

semolina flour

This is the most basic. No basbousa recipe is without semolina flour. Semolina came from wheat. It is coarse when converted into flour. The same wheat used to make wheat flour – all-wheat flour being the most popular – pasta and even noodles. The color of semolina flour ranges from cream color to light brown, sometimes, it looks golden.

insert photos of semolina

plain yogurt

Yogurt is not only for the taste of the basbousa, it also makes the texture of semolina flour a little softer. Also, yogurt helps in making the semolina stick to each other. Yes, the syrup does the sticking work, but yogurt assists in the process as well.

sugar syrup

Sugar syrup is made by caramelizing granulated sugar with a little less than an equal amount of water using a saucepan over medium heat. Additional ingredients, such as vanilla essence, cinnamon, about a tablespoon of lemon juice, and powdered cloves. If you were to use cinnamon sticks and whole cloves, you can remove them after the sugar syrup is done by straining them or scooping them away using a spoon. If you have any simple syrup available at home, then you can skip this step and use what you already have.

other ingredients

baking powder

This is one basic ingredient as in any other cake recipe. After all, basbousa is another type of cake.

desiccated coconut

This ingredient is optional. Adding desiccated or shredded coconut to basbousa gives it a different taste somehow. Then this recipe becomes coconut basbousa by name, which is the recipe I am posting here. Unsweetened coconut is what I used in this recipe.


Nuts are optional as well, however, whole almond seeds are common in the middle of every cut/serving of basbousa. You can grind almonds, pistachio, or cashew nuts and add them during the first step of mixing.

Rosewater or orange zest

These, of course, are optional. If you love either rose or orange essence, this recipe is perfect for them. Add either of them while caramelizing the syrup.

How to cook basbousa

Because of the variations in basbousa recipe, it is expected that not only the ingredients vary, but the way of cooking as well.


Baking time is important in making basbousa. Do not be discouraged, though. I bet you that after you have tried it once, you would comfortably do it another time. It might be difficult to get right at the first attempt. I admit that I got it from trial and error. You do not need to go the same direction, I would share with you all the tips that I have in this post. The first foolproof way is to bake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees in the middle rack. The cake would be a little golden by then, and that is enough. Take the baking dish out of the oven immediately, otherwise, the texture would be hard.

On a saucepan

This is another way to cook basbousa without baking. Following the same directions as in baking, however, substituting “baking” with “cooking on a saucepan” using very low heat for around 50-55 minutes, and you have the same basbousa you would love to serve your family, friends, or even strangers in a potluck get-together.

How to serve basbousa

Basbousa when baked, are usually cut into diamond shapes or squares with the use of a sharp knife. This is done right after getting the cake out of the oven and before pouring the syrup on top. Watch how the syrup seeps into the hot cake, and all enjoy the feeling – it is like all your prepping time for the basbousa recipe have gone away. Decorate each piece with one whole almond in the middle, and your dessert or delicious cake is done!

You can serve basbousa with additional syrup on the side, for those who prefer it a little sweeter.

However, basbousa cannot be without the poured syrup after cooking because it might be bland and dry.

How to store basbousa

Basbousa is served either hot or cold, mostly cold. Cover your basbousa with a cake dome until serving time, and it is perfect. Another way to store it is to leave it in the same baking dish, cover with plastic wrap or aluminum foil and refrigerate. It might be a little hard but it would be equally delicious, especially after it gets to room temperature after a while.

How to keep left-over basbousa

Keep left-over basbousa as you would in the previous paragraph.

Cooking tips for basbousa recipe:

  • Use unsalted butter. Salt in butter might slightly change the taste of basbousa.
  • Substitute yogurt with buttermilk or plain milk.
  • Caster sugar is a good substitute for white sugar, however, cut the measurement to at least 2/3rd in the recipe.
  • Use hot water on the pan and add the sugar when caramelizing to lessen cooking time.

Basbousa with Coconut and Philippine Macaroon

Coconut basbousa is very much similar to Philippine macaroon, at least in taste, although they are done a bit differently. I baked these two recipes today. So that I can share them with you. Below is the recipe for coconut basbousa. Here is the recipe for coconut macaroon.

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