Basbousa swiftly became one of my favorite desserts because of how easy it is to prepare, yet how impressive it looks when finished. Egyptian desserts often consist of a cake or pastry and syrup (looking at you, baklawa and kunafa), and basbousa is the same idea; in this dish, the addition of yogurt mellows out the sweetness, yielding a cake that’s super-satisfying but still light enough that you’ll have room for seconds.
Using ghee (or samna, as it’s called in Egypt) as the cooking fat here is key. While you can use melted unsalted butter as a substitute, ghee, which is essentially clarified butter, has a richer, nuttier flavor that really makes this dessert stand out in a crowd. There are a variety of ways to make basbousa—some recipes may include adding shredded coconut or doing away with the yogurt altogether; I’m certainly biased, but I prefer this method, as it boasts a short ingredient list, allowing the combination of ghee and semolina to shine. Best of all, it’s a one-bowl wonder.
This is a relatively forgiving bake, but the secret to making the perfect basbousa is getting the timing of the syrup right: You want the syrup to be hot and ready to pour just as the cake comes out of the oven, so keep your eye on the timer.
- Prep time 35 minutes
- Cook time 35 minutes
- makes about 18 squares
(½ cup plus 1 tablespoon) melted ghee, plus more for greasing the pan
(about 1½ cups) semolina flour
(1 cup) granulated sugar
(about 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons) plain whole-milk yogurt, plus more for serving
Whole roasted almonds, for decorating (optional)
(1 cup) granulated sugar
(1 cup) water
(1½ tablespoons) lemon juice (from about ½ a lemon)
- Heat the oven to 350°F and grease a 7x11-inch baking dish (or an 8- or 9-inch square baking pan) with some of the extra melted ghee.
- Combine the semolina, sugar, baking powder, yogurt, and ghee in a bowl and mix with a spoon or your hands until combined into a wet cookie-dough-like texture.
- Press the mixture into the prepared baking dish, flattening it out into an even height with a flexible spatula if need be. Cut into about 18 squares or diamonds. (You can cut more or fewer to your desired size; this won’t affect the baking.) If using almonds, lightly press one into the center of each square.
- If using a 7x11-inch pan, bake for 35 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out dry. (If you're using an 8- or 9-inch cake pan, the baking time will increase. Continue baking until golden brown.)
- When the cake has 15 minutes left to bake, make the syrup. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as it boils, add the lemon juice, stir, and turn off the heat.
- Remove the cake from the oven and immediately pour the hot syrup evenly over the surface. Using a knife, cut the shapes again if they need a touch up. Cover with foil and set aside so the cake can absorb the syrup and cool completely, at least 25 minutes or up to overnight.
- Serve the cake plain, or with an additional dollop of yogurt.