Several years ago we had an Israeli-themed dinner at the synagogue, and I was in charge of making the desserts. A couple of weeks ago, we had a Jerusalem-themed event, and I ended up making the same set of desserts again, because I enjoyed them so much.
One of the recipes is these Tahini Cookies from Yotam Ottolenghi, who is amazing. Another are these Kadorei Shokolad (Chocolate Balls), which my Israeli friends agree are wonderful and traditional. I rolled half of the balls in desiccated coconut and the other half in nonpareils; both are wonderful, and they give color and contrast to the cookie trays. I scoop the balls using a #60 cookie scoop [I own two different ones, I’m so addicted to cookie scoops!], a dozen or so at a time. I roll them smooth, coat in the desired coating, then put in the fridge to harden once I’ve finished the batch, otherwise they’ll be a little too soft.
For the last recipe, I decided to make a syrup-soaked semolina cake, of which there are numerous variations throughout the Middle East. This is both similar to, and nothing like, the whole orange loaf cake recipe I posted earlier this year.
It starts off the same, boiling oranges in water until soft, then pureeing them. The base includes flour and semolina like before, but this time ground almonds, ground pistachios, and desiccated coconut are also added. Instead of blitzing everything in the processor, almost all the ingredients are simply stirred in by hand. And the main difference is that here, the eggs and sugar are whipped until very light and voluminous, then carefully folded into the batter.
While the cake is baking, a fragrant syrup of water from boiling the oranges, sugar, cinnamon, and fresh orange juice and zest is made. This syrup is poured over the hot cake, making it incredibly rich and moist.
If I’m putting this out on trays, I wait until it’s stone cold, and then freeze the cake for at least an hour, which allows me to slide it out of the pan without breaking. I cut it into fairly small pieces, and garnish the top with pistachios and almonds.
I am sure that when I first made this, I baked it in a half-sheet pan. This time, the batter seemed like it would overflow the half sheet, and I instead opted to bake it in a half-sheet-sized cake pan instead. Given that most of us don’t have one of these lying around, I would recommend baking it in two 9×13″ pans, or halving the recipe.
Adapted from Jewish Soul Food by Janna Gur
- 2 navel oranges, scrubbed
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1-1/2 cups half-and-half (For non-dairy version, use coconut milk or non-dairy creamer)
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1-1/4 cups semolina (usually marked “semolina flour;” can substitute cream of wheat or cream of farina if necessary but is a different product)
- 3/4 cup (100 g) blanched almonds
- 3/4 cup (100 g) pistachio nuts
- 3/4 cup desiccated coconut
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 6 eggs
- 1-1/2 cups (11 ounces/300 g) sugar
- 1-1/2 cups water from boiling oranges
- 1-1/2 cups sugar
- 1 scant teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Juice and zest from one navel orange