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Semolina Yogurt Cake with Three Names: Harisseh, Namoura, or Basbousa

posted on: Feb 27, 2019

By: Blanche Shaheen/Arab America Contributing Writer

Imagine a moist dense cake with the tang of yogurt, a lemony sweetness and a hint of rose. The cake is so popular it goes by three different names all over the Levant. The Lebanese call this cake Namoura, the Palestinians call it Harisseh, and the Egyptians call it Basbousa. No matter what you call this cake, the flavor is universally delicious. Farina and semolina add a grainy texture, almost like cornbread, to sop up the fragrant simple syrup.

This cake is also egg free, and you can adjust the sweetness by adding the amount of attar or sugar syrup you wish, although the tradition is to add all of the syrup. You can also add any variation of dried fruit, nuts, or coconut in the batter to give the cake a more complex flavor and texture. Using tahini to grease the pan gives an additional nutty flavor to the bottom and edges of the harriseh. I used to fight with members of my family for the tahini rich bottom of this cake.  

For the recipe technique, click on the video below:

Ingredients for Semolina Yogurt Cake:

3/4 cup of sugar  

3/4 cup of melted unsalted butter or clarified butter (known as ghee)  

2 cups farina

1  1/2  cups semolina flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 2/3  cups plus 2 tbsp full-fat Greek yogurt (do not use nonfat)

½ c blanched whole or slivered almonds

¼ cup tahini (sesame paste available in health and Middle Eastern food stores)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Make sure the melted butter or ghee are at room temperature. Stir together the farina, semolina, sugar, and butter (or ghee) until well combined.  In a separate bowl stir the baking soda and baking powder into the yogurt. Wait about 10 minutes for the yogurt to expand. Then gently fold the yogurt mixture into the semolina mixture until smooth.  Grease a 13 by a 9-inch baking dish with the tahini. Pour the semolina mixture into the pan and smooth top with the 2 tbsp of yogurt. Cut into diamond or square shapes along the top of the batter, and place an almond (or any other nut of choice) onto each piece. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until browned on top. Meanwhile, prepare the attar syrup. Let the syrup cool. Let harissa stand for 10 minutes after baking, and then pour the sugar syrup evenly over the cake. Let the cake sit for a good 15 minutes before serving so that the syrup gets absorbed by the cake.

Attar: Simple Syrup For Middle Eastern Desserts

Lemon juice prevents crystallization of this versatile syrup, and you can store any unused syrup in a jar in your refrigerator for up to a month.

Base ingredients:

2 cups of water

2 cups of sugar

2 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp rose flower water (optional)

In a small saucepan and bring 2 cups sugar and 2 cups water to a boil. Lower the heat slightly, stir with a spoon until the mixture coats the spoon then add the rose water and 2 tbsp lemon juice. Let cool.


Blanche Shaheen is a journalist, food writer, and host of the cooking show called Feast in the Middle East. She specializes in Arab cuisine of the Levant and beyond  You can check out her cooking video tutorials and cultural commentary on growing up Arab American at    Her recipes can also be found at: