These easily-made cakes (you just stir everything together) are typical of sweets found in the cuisines of the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean, where ground nuts (pistachios, almonds, walnuts) and semolina are widely used. Their slightly gritty texture works beautifully with the infused sugar syrup, another common feature of cakes from that part of the world. Be sure to use coarse semolina not semolina - or durum wheat - flour, which is used for making pasta.
- 100 g almond meal
- 220 g (1 cup) castor sugar
- 250 g (2 cups) fine semolina
- 75 g (½ cup) plain flour
- 1½ tsp baking powder
- 310 ml (1 ¼ cups) milk
- 125 g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- double cream, to serve
- toasted slivered almonds, for serving
- 3 oranges
- 440 g (2 cups) castor sugar
- 8 cardamom pods, crushed
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 100 ml lemon juice
- 3 tsp orange flower, or to taste
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Preheat the oven to 170ºC Lightly grease a non-stick 12 cm x 12 cm mini-cake (brownie) pan with 6.5 cm x 6.5 cm x 2 cm (⅓ cup capacity) squares. Combine the almond meal, sugar and semolina in a large bowl. Sift in the flour and baking powder and stir to combine well. Combine the milk and butter in a small bowl then add to the dry ingredients, stirring until a smooth batter forms. Fill the 12 mini cake pans (you will have a little batter left over) then bake for 25 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the middle withdraws clean. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes then turn out and place, in a single layer, in a large dish. Bake the remaining batter in the same way. Pierce the cakes all over with a metal skewer.
Meanwhile, for the syrup, use a sharp knife to cut the rind from the oranges in wide strips. Cut off as much of the white pith from the strips as possible then finely slice the peel into matchsticks. Bring a small saucepan of water to a simmer, add the rind and cook for 2 minutes or until softened then drain well. Rinse under cold water then drain again. Juice the oranges and add water, as necessary, to make the amount up to 250 ml (1 cup). Combine the liquid, sugar and spices in a saucepan and slowly bring to a simmer. Cook over medium heat for 8-10 minutes or until reduced and thickened slightly.
Remove from the heat, add the lemon juice and orange flower water. Strain the hot syrup over the cakes, discarding the spices and reserving the orange peel shreds. Stand the cakes, turning them occasionally so they evenly absorb syrup, for 2 hours or until the syrup has soaked in. To serve, spoon any syrup in the base of the pan over the cakes then top each with a spoon of double cream and some of the reserved orange peel shreds and toasted almonds. The cakes will keep, without the cream topping, in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
Photography, styling and food preparation by china squirrel.