Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Orange Cardamom Cake

This is an adaptation of shamali, a honey cake recipe from my Cypriot friend Nadia (who also provided this salad recipe). Like the ever-popular baklava, this cake is first baked and then saturated with sugar syrup. The main ingredient is semolina (known as sooji in North India and rava in South India) which is wheat endosperm. There are two types of semolina – durum wheat semolina which is used to make pasta, gnocchi and couscous and farina (known by the trade name Cream of Wheat in the United States) used in desserts and served as a hot breakfast cereal.

As a child, my mother made a semolina dessert that we called siro, though more commonly known as sooji halwa. The term halwa is Arabic-derived and refers to a large variety of confections popular in the Balkans, Central Asia, Middle East and South Asia. Semolina halwa begins by sautéing the semolina in butter or ghee, adding a sugar syrup, and folding in dried fruit and nuts. Sesame halwas, are made with sesame seeds or tahini (sesame paste). They are less sweet, more crumbly and have a nutty flavor.

This cake brings together the intense taste of orange, which I have come to better appreciate as a dessert flavor during my time in England, and cardamom which is a familiar taste from my childhood. It is dense so will serve many more people than a regular wheat-flour cake. It is best served with Greek yogurt, vanilla ice cream or unsweetened whipped cream flavoured with a dash of orange flower water or Cointreau.

Serves 12-16

2 1/2 cups semolina
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cardamom powder
1 cup canola or corn oil
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 oranges
5 eggs
1 cup milk, warm
1 tablespoon orange flower water (optional)
1/2 cup honey
1 1/4 cups water

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease a deep 9-inch pan and line with parchment.
2. In a small bowl, mix semolina, baking powder and 1 teaspoon cardamom.
3. In a large bowl, beat oil and 1 cup sugar. Add zest of 2 oranges and beat well. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat after each addition. Add milk and orange flower water (optional), and beat again.
4. Let the batter sit for 10 minutes. Mix well, pour into the pan and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
5. When the cake has cooled to room temperature, cut into 12-16 pieces using a sharp knife. This cake is very dense so small slices are recommended.
6. In a small pot over medium heat, dissolve 1 1/2 cups sugar and honey in water. Add the peel of 1 orange (optional) and 1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder and bring to a boil for 10-15 minutes until syrup forms.
7. Remove syrup from heat and gently pour over cooled cake until absorbed. You may have to pour it in two or three batches to allow for full absorption.
8. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve with yogurt, cream or ice cream. You can use fresh orange rind or the sugar-soaked orange peel as a garnish.


Anonymous said...

oh and the treat a week recipe looks fantastic!! what a great way to adapt it. Usually I have issues (many I know) with food recipes being changed from the
traditional way but this looks sensational. I think the reason why I like it is that there is geographic rational behind the flavourings, if you catch my drift.

-- Nadia

Nic said...

This cake looks and sounds incredible! drooling right now...

Anonymous said...

YUM! Yes this looks like a very fancy and sexy version of sooji halwa (which we call kesari).