Google Plus Facebook Pinterest Twitter

Middle Eastern Traditional Cakes

Posted 06/01/2009 by Liz Hinds

orange dessert bread

The Middle East covers a wide spectrum of countries and cultures but in the space we have here we just want to give you a general feel for the baking of the region and, hopefully, it’ll encourage you to explore the different traditions in greater depth. (Claudia Roden is the name to look for on the Middle Eastern cookery bookshelves.)

Traditional Middle Eastern cakes are very often served more like a dessert accompanied with a big dollop of natural yoghurt or crème fraiche. These traditional cakes are often soaked in syrup and are best enjoyed in small portions with a cup of strong Arabic or Turkish coffee.


  • 450g (1lb) fine semolina
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 110g (4oz) unsalted butter
  • 225g (8oz) icing sugar
  • 2 free range eggs
  • ½ cup water
  • about 20 blanched split almonds
  • 450g (1lb) caster sugar
  • 240ml (8floz) water
  • 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 180ºC (160ºC Fan Oven / 350 F / Gas Mark 4). Grease a rectangular cake tin, about 8” x 12”.

Sieve together the semolina, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Set aside.

Melt the butter and then beat in the icing sugar until creamy. Beat in the eggs. Mix in ½ cup of water. Stir the sifted semolina in and beat until you have a smooth batter. Pour into the prepared cake tin. Score diagonal lines across the top of the cake creating diamond shapes. Place an almond in each diamond. Bake for about 40 minutes or until the cake is firm and golden.

Meanwhile place the caster sugar in a small saucepan with 1 cup of water. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved then add the juice of the lemon and bring to the boil. Boil for about 10 minutes or until syrupy.

When the cake is removed from the oven, gently spoon the syrup over it. You may not need all the syrup: stop spooning when the cake has absorbed all it can. Allow to cool in the tin before turning out and serving sliced into diamonds.

Fruit Cake

  • 225g (8oz) dates
  • 75g (3oz) dried figs
  • 225g (8oz) sultanas
  • 110g (4oz) pistachio nuts
  • 110g (4oz) hazelnuts
  • 1 lemon
  • 110g (4oz) plain flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa
  • 275g (10oz) caster sugar
  • 3 free range eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 50g (2oz) mixed peel
  • 50g (2oz) glace cherries

Preheat the oven to 150ºC (130ºC Fan Oven / 300 F / Gas Mark 2). Grease and base line a loaf tin.

Roughly chop the dates and figs and place in a large bowl with the sultanas, chopped nuts and the finely grated zest of the lemon. Mix together. Sieve over the flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa. Stir in half the caster sugar. Lightly beat the eggs and the vanilla essence. Add to the dry mixture and stir well to combine. Pour into the pan and bake for about 1 hour until well risen and golden. A skewer inserted into the middle should come out clean. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile put ½ pint of water into a small saucepan and add the remaining sugar. Heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil for about 10 minutes or until you have a thick syrup.

When you have removed the cake from the tin, cover the top with the mixed peel and cherries. Drizzle the syrup over.

  • Instead of the peel and cherries, use a mixture of other glace fruits for a more festive look.

Orange Cake

This is adapted from a Claudia Roden recipe.

  • 2 large or 3 medium-sized oranges
  • 6 free range eggs
  • 250g (9oz) ground almonds
  • 250g (9oz) caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

Wash the oranges well. (Try and get organic oranges if you can.) Place them in a large saucepan and just cover with water. Slowly bring to the boil and then simmer, covered, for about 2 hours. Add more water if necessary.

Let the oranges cool enough for you to be able to handle them and then cut into quarters. Remove the pips before whizzing the oranges, including the peel, in a processor or blender for a few seconds..

Preheat the oven to 190ºC (170ºC Fan Oven / 370 F / Gas Mark 5). Grease and base line a 10” tin.

Separate the eggs. Whisk the yolks with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the pulped orange, almonds and baking powder.

Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Fold into the cake mixture. Pour into the tin and bake for about 1 hour or until well risen and golden. If the cake starts to brown too much, cover with greaseproof paper or foil.

Allow to cool and sprinkle with icing sugar before serving.

One Response to “Middle Eastern Traditional Cakes”

  1. Leila says:

    I am Egyptian and you have added an incorrect recipe for basbousa. Here is the TRADITIONAL Egyptian and Middle Easter recipe 3 cups semolina (or Cream of wheat) 1 cup sugar 1 cup coconut 1 cup yogurt 1 teaspoons baking powder 1 teaspoons baking soda blanched almonds or hazelnuts . 2 cups sugar 1 1/3 cups water 5 drops fresh lemon juice Cooking Instructions Preheat the oven to 350F. In a bowl combine all the ingredients (semolina, sugar, coconut, yogurt, baking powder, and baking soda) and stir until well mixed. Grease 11 x 17 inch rectangle pan and put batter on it. Decorate the surface with blanched almonds or hazelnuts (filberts). Let it stand for 2 hours. Bake until golden (30 minutes). Remove from oven and pour syrup(warm) on the pan and return the pan to the oven for 5 minutes. Allow to cool, then cut into squares. For the Syrup Prepare syrup by putting the sugar and water in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil while constantly stirring to dissolve the sugar. Let it boil until it becomes clear. Add few drops of lemon and let it boil for a minutes or so. Add the butter and and let it warm.

Leave a Reply