Basbosa (sometimes spelled basbousa) is an Egyptian dessert that is similar in many ways to pound cake. It is a thick, but moist cake. This recipe uses the flavors of coconut, rose water, and pistachios to give the basbosa a richer flavor. However, rose water and coconut are not always used in basbosa. As with most traditional foods, there are many variants of basbosa around the world. In many Middle Eastern countries there are desserts similar to this, sometimes orange flower water is used in place of rose water to give the cake a different flavor. It is delicious and rich, but leaves you feeling lighter than a typically rich chocolate dessert!
This variant was inspired by a recipe from the cookbook Share, which was sponsored by Women for Women International and explores cuisines from around the globe.
makes 9 -12 large pieces
for the cake
1 stick salted butter
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups cornstarch
1/2 cup dried coconut flakes
for the syrup
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2-1 teaspoon rose water (depending on your preference)
1/3 cup chopped pistachios for topping
Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a 9×9 pan with butter.
Melt the stick of salted butter in a microwave-safe container and let it cool off. Beat together the eggs, sugar, milk, cream, baking powder, and vanilla extract in a large bowl. When the butter has cooled off a bit, quickly beat it into the bowl, making sure not to cook the eggs. Add in the cornstarch and shaved coconut. Mix well until you have a batter.
Pour the batter into the baking pan and bake for about 30 minutes.
Next, make the syrup. Place the sugar and lemon juice in a small pot over medium heat along with 1/2 cup of water. Stir the mixture until the sugar is completely dissolved and then bring it to a simmer. Add in the rose water and let the syrup simmer for about three minutes.
I knew when I first decided to make this that I really wanted to include the flavor of rose water, and we did have some trouble finding it. We eventually found it at Whole Foods, but later saw that Lucky also carries it (and for a much lower price!). If you are near a Lucky supermarket or an area with a store that might just have an aisle for ethnic foods, I would recommend you check there first before making a special trip to the land of exorbitant prices at Whole Foods! Also, if you know that you can’t stand that perfume-y and floral taste of rose water, don’t add it in. You can use orange flower water, or even a floral honey if you want the depth of flavor without the strong floral notes.
When the cake is done, it will be darker around the edges and golden on top, but fully cooked in the center. You can put a butter knife through it to test.
Let the cake cool for about 5 minutes. After it has cooled, cut it into slices and pour the syrup over the entire cake. Top with pistachios and toasted coconut.