There is something about recipe that has things like semolina, and pistachio nuts and honey in it. I feel inexorably drawn to ingredients like these, which have rich histories and are steeped in symbolism. At the best of times I tend to get embarassingly swept away with the alchemy of cooking. For me, a lot of the pull that I feel towards cooking, and particularly baking, is to do with the fun and mystery of mixing together a bunch of seemingly dissonant parts, and turning them into something delicious and beautiful. So you can imagine what I may get like when I am cooking with ingredients that are as ancient as semolina flour, almonds, pistachios and honey. I am ready to bring on the harem pants and beaded veils, and bust a move to some of that reedy snake-charming music. I do not own harem pants, nor does my boyfriend know how to play that snake charmer flute. So I will settle for watching Aladin instead.. Oh, that Genie…
The cake itself is a fine specimen of a syrup cake. I worry when making a recipe using honey about whether or not it might be too sweet. But there is a good balance here of citrus and vanilla scented cake with the honey and lemon syrup and slightly bi?tter pistachio nuts. The cake is dense and moist from it’s syrup sousing, but the coarsely grained semolina and almond meal in the batter provide a loose textured crumb, and it is this which stops the cake from becoming a soggy mess. If you are a fan of a cup of tea with honey and lemon, as I am, then you will probably love this cake. Especially if you have the luxury, as I did, of having it with a pile of raspberries and strawberries, and a big dollop of King Island Pure Cream. This was devoured so fast at the end of my mum’s birthday celebration that it is not pictured here. Instead this is a piece that I stole, and served with just plain raspberries and mascarpone cream.
?The cake is great for dessert after a middle eastern meal as the scents and aromas are so welcome following something that is tangy and spice-rich and herby. Even after a curry I think the subtle flavours and gentle sweetness of this would be welcome, although then I might serve it with yoghurt, as a curry meal can be quite rich. Anyway, I reccomend that you make this cake, whatever the occasion. It is beautiful, tasty, and not pretentious or difficult like a lot of desserts you might have with company can be. It goes fantastically with a cup of tea, and unlike a lot of cakes, even tastes good straight out of the fridge. So, maybe sit back, pull on a pair of pyjama pants, or whatever you have that is closest to harem pants, and enjoy a slice. Maybe hum the Arabian nights tune… Who needs travel to exotic climes when there is cake travel?
Semolina Syrup Cake with Nuts & Honey
adapted from Jamie Does, by Jamie Oliver, Penguin, 2010.
Serves at least 6
120g Butter, melted
3 Eggs, preferably free range, organic
Zest of 1 Lemon
1 tsp Vanilla Paste or Extract
90g Plain Flour
1 1/4 tsp Baking Powder
100g Pistachio Nuts
Juice of 1 Lemon
Grease a 25cm square cake tin and turn on the oven to 180C. Melt the butter and set it aside to cool. In a large mixing bowl combine the eggs, yoghurt, sugar, lemon zest and vanilla and mix them to combine. Next add in the dry ingredients, the semolina, almonds, flour and baking powder and mix just to moisten them. Finally add in the cool-ish melted butter and stir until it is all combined. Pour into the greased tin and bake in the pre-heated oven for about 20 to 25 minutes or until the edges are browned and coming away from the tin and a skewer in the middle of the cake comes out clean. When the cake comes out of the oven, set the cake in the pan on a wire rack to cool.
About 20 to 30 minutes before you want to eat the cake is the ideal time to make the syrup and nut topping. Roughly chop the pistachios and put them into a smallish saucepan on a low-medium heat, to toast. Once the smell of the nuts toasting wafts up to you, add in the honey, and give it a stir, closely followed by the lemon juice. Stir this to combine, and let it bubble down until syrupy. If it seems too thick, add a splash of water to thin it out. Once it looks about right, or after a minute or so when it looks slightly viscous, stab the top of your cake all over with a skewer or a small knife. Now pour over the syrup and nuts, trying to disperse them evenly, and then leave it for about 15 minutes to soak in.
When you’re ready to serve, slice up the cake and serve with some kind of berry and something creamy and make sure that everyone gets some pistachios. Mmmmmm.