Syrup Soaked Orange Semolina Cake

Tray of desserts for a Jerusalem-themed event

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.

Another tray of desserts for a Jerusalem-themed event

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. 

Chunks of oranges after being boiled to soften

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.

Ground almonds and pistachios, flour, semolina, desiccated coconut, and baking powder - ready to become cake!

Mixing the pureed oranges into the batter

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.

Whole eggs and sugar whipped until pale and fluffy

The whipped egg and sugar mixture is 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.

Semolina cake in its pan and ready to bake

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.

Beautiful orange and cinnamon syrup, ready to soak into the semolina cake

Pouring the syrup over the cooked and still-hot semolina cake

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.

Syrup Soaked Semolina Cake, left to cool

Syrup Soaked Orange Semolina Cake

Syrup Soaked Orange Semolina Cake

Adapted from Jewish Soul Food by Janna Gur

    For the cake:
  • 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
    For the syrup:
  • 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
  • Fill a medium pot halfway with water. Add oranges and boil until softened, about one hour. Remove oranges from pot, and reserve cooking liquid for syrup.
  • Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
  • Put the almonds, pistachios, and 1/2 cup of flour in a food processor. Process until the nuts are ground down into a fine meal, adding 1/4 cup flour if necessary to prevent the oils in the nuts from forming a nut butter (if the mixture is starting to clump, add extra flour). Scrape out the nut mixture and set aside in a bowl.
  • Roughly quarter the oranges, then cut each quarter in half. This helps to check for seeds (remove any that are found) and also helps the orange break down uniformly. Put the orange pieces in the food processor and pulse until it is a coarse puree.
  • Combine the vegetable oil and half-and-half in a large bowl.
  • Combine the flour, semolina, ground almonds, ground pistachios, and baking powder in a separate bowl. Stir into the oil mixture. Add the pureed oranges, and stir until uniform.
  • Beat the eggs and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on high speed for 8 minutes, until pale and fluffy. Gently fold the beaten eggs into the semolina batter, doing it in two or three stages as you would folding egg whites into a batter.
  • Pour the batter into a half sheet cake pan (or two 9x13" pans) that has been lined with parchment and sprayed with nonstick spray. Bake for 20-35 minutes, or until the cake turns golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out dry with a few crumbs adhering.
  • While the cake is in the oven, prepare the syrup. The reserved orange water will smell bitter or strange, but it works great in the syrup so don't worry about the smell. Bring the orange water, sugar, and cinnamon to a boil in a small saucepan. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Put the zest and juice of an orange into the syrup, and stir to combine.
  • When the cake is done, remove from the oven and pour the syrup over the cake. Be careful to pour evenly over the cake. Cool completely and store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *