Harissa: Arabic Semolina Cake (a healthier version)

Harisa: Arabic Semolina Cake

One of the Arabic desserts I loved growing up was harissa, a semolina based cake traditionally made from ghee (or butter), white sugar and semolina. It is then doused in a sugary syrup called ater, made from boiling large quantities of sugar in water. We would always eat it around New Year’s Eve since there is a belief that eating something sweet makes the coming year sweet!

While I was visiting my family in Amman, my mother and I decided to reinvent it into a healthier version, using yoghurt instead of butter or ghee, brown sugar instead of white sugar, and a honey syrup instead of the sugar syrup. All my family who tried it agreed that they actually preferred this healthier version to the traditional one!

Semolina is a coarsely ground grain made from wheat. If you are not sensitive to gluten, it actually has some interesting health benefits, including iron, selenium and B-complex vitamins and is used in many Arabic desserts and cookies.

Ingredients (for about 6 people)

1.5 cups finely ground semolina (sémoule complète de blé dur fine in French)

1/2 cup dark sugar

1/4 cup orange blossom water (you can find this in the Middle Eastern section of large grocery stores like Coop)

1 cup natural, full-fat yoghurt

1/2 tsp baking soda

Almonds to decorate – remove the skins by soaking them in boiling water, then squeezing them out with your thumbs.


Mix the semolina with the sugar

Add the orange blossom water and mix.

Add the baking soda to the yoghurt and mix before adding this to the other ingredients.

Mix with your hands to create a smooth mixture.

Leave to rest for about 30 minutes.

Spread a thin layer of tahini (sesame paste used in humus) onto a tray about 20 cm in diameter.

Decorate with the almonds.

Put in the oven at 180 degrees Celsius for about 30 minutes or until it is almost done.

While the cake is in the oven, prepare the honey syrup:

Heat 1/2 cup honey with 1/2 cup water, add a dash of orange blossom water and bring to a boil. Add a squeeze of lemon once it has boiled and leave to cool.

Take the cake out of the oven, cut it in squares and pour the honey syrup over it. Put it back in the oven for another 5 minutes.

This healthier version of Harissa is delicious served hot just out of the oven but I also like it cold the next day! You can store it in the fridge for a few days (if it lasts that long!)

harissa, a semolina cake



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  • Hiba on Dec 17, 2013 Reply

    Hi Vanessa! Yes, I think you can use other semolinas – I want to try that as well, so let me know if you give it a try first!

  • Vanessa on Dec 17, 2013 Reply

    Yummy, yum! This looks delicious. I will try soon. Do you think other semolinas can be used, for example, millet or buckwheat semolina ?
    And I love colour tones of the first picture :-)

    • Hiba on Dec 17, 2013 Reply

      And thank you for your comment on the color tones – this was actually one of my grandmother’s plates!

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