Namoura, also known as basbousa or harissa, is a delicious Middle Eastern semolina cake that is soaked in flavored syrup. It is generally cut in diamonds or squares and each piece is topped with an almond.
What Is Namoura?
Known in Lebanon as namoura, this cake takes on many names and forms around the world. It is generally composed of semolina, sugar, butter (sometimes oil or ghee), leavener (baking soda/powder). Some recipes will include milk while others recommend yogurt. The Egyptian version, basbousa, will generally also include coconut.
Namoura is soft and crunchy at the same time. It has a slightly gritty texture from the coarse semolina. But it is wonderfully soft and moist from the syrup. The syrup, flavored with orange blossom water or rose water is a rich simple syrup. It is composed of 2 parts sugar and 1 part water. The syrup is prepared in advance and poured onto the cake as soon as it’s out of the oven.
Namoura is generally served in small portions as it is quite sweet. I have to warn you though, you might find yourself eating ten “small” portions in one go!
This cake is very easy to prepare and does not contain any eggs. Let’s briefly go through the process of making namoura, so you can see how easy it is!
Making Namoura, General Overview
- Prepare the syrup and set aside to cool down completely.
- Mix the semolina and melted butter and let it rest.
- Add the baking powder, baking soda and salt.
- Dissolve the sugar in yogurt and rose water and add it to the semolina mixture.
- Pour into a greased baking dish and let it rest for 15 minutes while you preheat the oven.
- Decorate with almonds and bake.
- Pour cold syrup on top of the hot cake.
- Semolina: Namoura is generally made with coarse semolina, giving a crunchy texture to the cake. I’m using a combination of coarse and fine semolina, for a slightly softer texture but you can use only coarse if you’d like. Most recipes call for simply combining all the ingredients together. I preferred Suha’s dishes take on this. We will first add hot, melted butter to the semolina and let the mixture rest for a few hours. Soaking the coarse semolina in butter overnight will soften it, and give it a wonderful texture. This step isn’t absolutely essential and you can skip it if you are in a rush.
- Butter: We’ll be melting the butter, before adding it to the semolina.
- Yogurt: This recipe calls for yogurt. Some namoura recipes use milk instead of yogurt. Apparently, pastry shops are more likely to make namoura using milk powder. The flavor and acidity of yogurt can vary so milk powder is used to ensure that the flavor remains the same.
- Sugar: You’ll need white granulated sugar for the namoura cake and for the syrup. I personally love the level of sweetness in the recipe. But you can adjust the amount of sugar if you feel like the cake is too sweet for your liking. But do it in small increments as the cake might become a bit rubbery if you reduce the amount of sugar too much.
- Chemical leaveners: We’ll be using both baking powder and baking soda to leaven the cake a little. I’ve tried using only baking powder but felt like there was an unpleasant tanginess from the yogurt. The baking soda will react with the acid and neutralize it, reducing the tanginess.
- Water: To make a rich simple syrup, you’ll need 1 part water for 2 parts of sugar. So we’ll be using 3/4 cup water and 1 1/2 cups sugar.
- Flavorings: A Middle Eastern dessert wouldn’t be complete without the orange blossom water and rose water. Most recipes will either call for one or the other. I use both: the rose water in the cake and the orange blossom for the syrup. You can adjust based on your preferences and what is available to you. I wouldn’t recommend skipping the flavoring altogether however, as it really makes the namoura shine.
- Lemon juice: We’ll be adding just a little bit of lemon juice to the syrup, to prevent crystallization.
- Tahini: To grease the pan. This is completely optional but it does add a nice subtle flavor to the cake. And makes the task easier! No need to melt any butter. But if you don’t have any, just use melted butter instead. It’s best to also flour the pan (and tap off the excess) if using butter as the cake tends to stick.
- Salt: Just a pinch, to enhance the flavors.
Okay, now that all our ingredients are ready, let’s make the namoura!
How to Make Namoura, Step-by-Step
Prepare a rich simple syrup
- Pour the water and sugar in a medium-sized pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve the sugar. The sugar should have dissolved before the syrup starts to boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir if you notice that the sugar hasn’t properly dissolved. Try not to get any sugar on the edges of the pan so that it doesn’t stick and harden.
- Once it starts to boil, lower the heat (medium-low) and add the lemon juice.
- Keep heating for about 10 more minutes or until slightly thickened. The longer you cook the syrup, the thicker it will be. It shouldn’t be too thick so that it is easily absorbed by the cake. Keep in mind that the syrup will get thicker as it cools down.
- Remove from the heat and set aside to cool down, before adding the orange blossom water.
Tip: To know if the syrup is ready, dip a spoon in then lift it. If the syrup flows back down in a stream, it’s not thick enough. Keep heating it. If it starts to trickle down drop by drop, it’s ready.
Soak the semolina in melted butter
- Place the butter in a medium-sized (microwavable) bowl and heat in 20-second increments until melted.
- Add the semolina (coarse and fine) and stir with a spoon or spatula until fully combined. The mixture will look like wet sand.
- Cover and let it rest for 6 hours or overnight. This step is optional but strongly recommended for optimal texture. If you really don’t want to wait that long, let it rest for 30 minutes.
Prepare the namoura cake
- Brush a 20 cm (8 inch) square baking dish with tahini. If you don’t have any tahini, grease with melted butter and flour the baking dish, or the cake will stick and fall apart when you try to slice it.
- Using a fork (or a spatula), break up all the chunks formed in the semolina mixture.
- Add the baking powder, baking soda and salt and mix until fully combined. You can sift the leaveners over the semolina mixture if you prefer. Make sure there are no lumps in the mixture before moving on to the next step.
- In a small bowl, mix together the sugar, yogurt and rose water.
- Pour over the semolina mixture and mix with a spatula until smooth. The batter will be quite thick, like dough.
When you combine all the ingredients together, the yogurt which is acidic will start to react with the baking soda. The mixture will start to feel a little foamy.
Transfer to the baking dish
- Transfer to the prepared baking dish. Using the back of a spoon, spread the namoura evenly. Smoothen the surface with the spoon or slightly wet hands.
- Cover and let it rest for 15 minutes while you preheat the oven to 180°C (356°F, conventional setting).
Bake the namoura
- Lightly score the surface of the namoura with a knife, dividing it into squares or diamonds. You can cut all the way through if you find it easy to do.
- Press an almond in the center of each slice. Pressing the almond into the dough will prevent it from floating around once you add the syrup!
- Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes then move to the top third of the oven (level 4 out of 5 for example). Bake for 10-15 more minutes, or until golden brown. Moving the cake to a higher shelf during baking will promote browning. You can keep it on the middle shelf if you prefer.
Cover in syrup
- As soon as the namoura is out of the oven, cut the pieces all the way through. Then pour the syrup over it.
- Let it rest for at least an hour before serving, or until all the syrup has been absorbed. Don’t move the namoura around once you’ve poured the syrup. Wait for it to be fully absorbed or you might end up with a thick layer of syrup on the surface.
Using A Different Baking Dish
Different thickness: I’ve found it best to bake the namoura in a 20 cm (8 inch) square baking pan. But if you’d like the slices to be thicker, you can also use a 16 x 20 cm (6 1/3 x 8 inch) baking dish (pictured above).
Half portion: If you’d rather make a smaller portion, you can divide all the amounts by two. Bake in a 15 cm (6 inch) circular pan.
Double portion: If you want to make more namoura to serve a large crowd, you can double the amounts. Bake in a 30 cm (12 inch) circular pan for about 45 minutes, or until golden brown.
And that’s it! You can store the namoura in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week. Although I doubt it will last that long! Enjoy!