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Harissa (Semolina cake)

Harissa is a traditional Middle Eastern sweet cake that originated in Egypt and is called Basbousa in Egyptian dialect; whereas it is called Harissa in the Syrian dialect which means (mashed or crushed). The semolina cake is features in Middle Eastern as well as Greek cuisines.  

It is the favorite traditional dessert in the Syrian cuisine for all occasion especially during Ramadan after Eftar. It is very easy to cook harissa, it may look like a simple cake but its unique flavor and texture will make from this plate your favorite dessert. It is made from semolina and is sweetened with orange flower syrup in addition to some drops of rose water. The result is a delicious moisty flavored semolina cake.


3 cups semolina

3⁄4 cup unsweetened butter, melted

3⁄4 cup sugar

1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking soda

1 cup plain yogurt

1⁄2 cup whole blanched almonds or pistachio nut (to garnish)


4 cups sugar

3 cups water

1⁄2 small lemon, juice of (or equivalent citric acid)


1- Mix the semolina, the sugar and the butter in a large bowl. Use your hands to corporate the butter with the other ingredients until mixed well.

2- Mix the yogurt and the baking soda in a separate bowl, and wait a few minutes until the yogurt doubles in size.

3- When the yogurt has doubled (or almost) pour the yogurt mix on top of the semolina mix.

Use your hands again to mix.

4- After you combined the two mixes, press the mix down on a small pan or baking dish.

5- Cut a diamond or square design in the cake with a butter knife (If using almond place one in each piece).

6- Bake at 400 degrees for 30min to 45 mins until it take a bronze brown color.

7- Pour cold syrup on top while it hot so it can absorb all through.

8- If using ground pistachios sprinkle a little on top of each square.

FOR the syrup:

- Mix all the ingredients for the syrup and place in saucepan on high until it boils. If using citric acid use only the tip of a teaspoon.

- Then reduce the heat to medium for 45 min to 1 hour until it coats a metal spoon, then poured on the cake once it’s baked.