Addiction alert! This basbousa will give you a gastronomical orgasm

An accidental discovery that developed into a love affair: it will rob you of 20mins but repay with a trip to heaven.

Mahrukh Nadeem February 09, 2016
During my last winter break, I found the ultimate gratification for my sweet tooth cravings in Bahrain. It was an accidental discovery soon to develop into a love affair. I had stumbled on a yellow, crumbly cake hiding in my aunt’s kitchen. This was a cake not witnessed by me before as it defied my prior experiences with cakes.

I knew it was cake because of its smell but it hadn’t risen –  which is not a compliment for cakes. It was a crumbly scone-resembling cake drenched in sticky syrup.

It reminded me of the local Arabian Mahal-e-halwa. Curious, I convinced my cousin to enlighten me about this cake-like dessert.

It was called ‘Basbousa’ and was a traditional Middle Eastern sweet cake relished in Egypt. Upon inquiring what it meant she laughed it off by saying Arabs  use it the way English call a loved one ‘sweetie’ or ‘honey’.

Love the Arab way of  saying basbousa.

The reason for the cake’s quarantine status was my cousin’s lack of confidence due to her mistake of adding excess flour. I, posing as the messiah, offered to save the cake by tasting it. My reticent cousin finally gave me the golden sign by handing me a spoon.

And the messiah was consumed with gluttony and lust!

My mouth exploded with a cacophony of flavours. The flavours were a rainbow of khopra (coconut), sugar, sour yoghurt, lemon, rose water, and coarse semolina. All this was topped with crunchy almonds turning every bite into a gastronomical orgasm.

Recovering from my pleasure trip, I pondered upon the difference between the Middle Eastern or desi and the American palette. Looking for more indulgence, I decided to try the professional basbousa at a famous café. I experienced the same sinful pleasure with only the stiffness of the flour reminding me of the difference in the homespun and the professional basbousa.

The basbousa is a versatile dessert, as it is the perfect accompaniment to tea in a gossip session or as the final encore to a cosseted two course meal. It’s a godsend to ones like me who give in to every sweet craving they have.

On my return home, I became the experimenter of the magical basbousa looking for affirmations about its success from family and friends. My experimental forays ranged from adding egg to adding vermicelli or using varying ratios of flour and semolina to my cousin’s recipe.

The recipe below is mine perfected by the process of trial and error. It will rob 20 minutes of your life but repay you with a trip to heaven.

Addiction alert!


Semolina – 2 ½ cups

Sugar – 1 cup

Flour – ½ cup

Yoghurt – 4/5 cup or 200 grams (thick)

Butter – 1 tbs less than a cup or 200 grams (melted)

Baking powder – 1 tsp

Desiccated coconut – 1 cup

Photo: Mahrukh Nadeem

Photo: Mahrukh Nadeem

For the syrup:

Water – 1 cup

Sugar – 1 ½ cups

Lemon juice – 1 tsp

Blanched almonds – 10 to 15

Photo: Mahrukh Nadeem


1. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees.

2. Melt the butter in  the oven

3. Put coarse semolina, flour, baking powder, coconut and sugar in a bowl.

4. Mix the dry ingredients well, then add in melted butter and yogurt.

5. If it looks very hard, add in a few drops of milk but keep in mind the mixture should be stiff.

Photo: Mahrukh Nadeem

6. Grease the baking tray nicely.

Photo: Mahrukh Nadeem

7. Level the mixture out in the tray with the help of a spatula and a knife.

Photo: Mahrukh Nadeem

8. Cut the mixture into diamond shapes.

Photo: Mahrukh Nadeem

9. Pop it in the oven.

10. Put the water and sugar in a pan to create the magic syrup.

Photo: Mahrukh Nadeem

11. When the syrup looks thick and shiny add lemon juice.

12. The mixture should be runny and easy to pour.

13. Let the mixture cool.

14. Once the basbousa is baked, add the cold syrup to the hot basbousa.

Photo: Mahrukh Nadeem

15. Let the basbousa absorb the syrup.

Photo: Mahrukh Nadeem

16. Dip the almonds in leftover syrup and place an almond on each diamond.

Photo: Mahrukh Nadeem

Traditionally basbousa is served in the baking tray itself and I also don’t bother with fancy decorations, but you are free to experiment. Say your shukran and get ready for those extra layers around your waist line, since each 100 gram of this delish cake has approximately 230 calories in it.

But, hey you live once!!
Mahrukh Nadeem The author is an A level student who plans on becoming an architect in the future. She is a complete foodie and dreams of opening a restaurant someday. She tweets as @nadeem_mahrukh
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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guest | 4 years ago | Reply | Recommend What would an A level student know about orgasms....
HassaanM | 4 years ago | Reply | Recommend Great recipe. We make it with less sugar and more honey with some cinnamon sticks thrown into the syrup mixture. Gives it a more rich taste.
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