This semolina cake soaked in flower water syrup is one of my favorite versions of the many traditional Lebanese and Middle Eastern semolina cakes (such as namoura and sfouf). You’ll need semolina farina and semolina flour, desiccated coconut, and flower waters along with organic roses for the sugared petal decoration. All roses are edible, by the way, but only unsprayed roses are suitable for eating; most grocery store or florist roses are sprayed. Any organic edible flower will be beautiful for sugaring and decorating.
There were rose bushes in the flowerbed along the side of the house on Wagon Wheel Lane, just near the big patch of nana, the mint. Mom planted them, and we’d take a walk around the house to linger over them.
I’d say it was there, as we inhaled their sweet perfume with our noses all the way into the center of the flower, that Mom told her girls that her grandmother’s name was Rose, Rose Elum, and that this Sitti was all rose sweetness. And there that we learned why Mom, Maryalice, like her own mom Alice, is truly in love with all things rose. I became a daughter like my mother in this way.
My rose devotion has never waned, forming a perfect arc of memory and nostalgia right up until the day I stood at my San Francisco stove cooking strawberries with rose water and knew here would be the title of my life going forward (oh, and my blog and my book).
Admittedly, I harbor a never-spoken jealousy of the name Rose, given to my cousin as Rosemary (and she is all that). Sometimes Dan will call me Rose for fun, but he doesn’t know that his knowing to call me this makes me complete, and his.
The rose is my perfect connection to my mother, and her mother, and hers, so that if I see anything of roses, I must have it for them, and for me.
The perfume is of roses, the windowsill is of roses, the sky is of roses, the china and silver are of roses, the phone and the clothes are of roses.
And of course, the food. The food is ever so gently, and sweetly, of roses.
Semolina Coconut Cake with Sugared Rose Petals
Semolina cakes are traditional in Lebanon and throughout the Middle East. This one is soaked in simple syrup scented with flower waters, and is my version of a wonderful cake made by my friend Suzy at The Mediteranean Dish. For the decoration, I was inspired by the beautiful rose cake at Saveur. Be sure to use unsprayed roses, or any unsprayed edible flower. Alternatively, decorate the cake with just the toasted coconut. Serve small pieces with strong coffee--this is a very sweet cake!
For the rose petals:
- Petals of two unsprayed roses
- 1 egg white
- 1 cup superfine sugar
For the cake:
- 10 tablespoons 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (I like cultured butter for this, such as Plugra)
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup unsweetened full-fat yogurt
- 1 cup fine semolina (semolina flour)
- 1 cup coarse semolina (farina, or Cream of Wheat)
- 1/2 cup desiccated coconut, toasted, plus ½ cup for garnish
- 1/3 cup whole milk
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
For the simple syrup:
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup water
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons orange blossom water
- 1 teaspoon rose water
Make the sugared rose petals ahead so they can dry for at least one hour. Whisk the egg white in a small bowl until it is frothy. Place the superfine sugar in a small bowl. Use a pastry brush to lightly but thoroughly coat a rose petal with the frothed egg white. Be sure to cover the edges completely. Dredge the petal in the sugar, gently shaking off extra sugar. Place the petal on a parchment lined sheet pan. Repeat this with all of the rose petals and set them aside to dry.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan, and line the bottom with parchment. In a large mixing bowl, mix the sugar, salt and yogurt with a large spoon. Stir in the semolina, ½ cup of the coconut, baking powder, milk, and melted butter, continuing to stir until combined.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for about 45 minutes, or until golden. Then place the pan under the broiler for just a few seconds, until the top is deep golden brown (take care; it can burn easily).
Make the simple syrup while the cake is baking. In a medium saucepan, combine the water and sugar over medium high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and flower waters. Cool the syrup to room temperature; this can be done swiftly by placing the pan in an ice water bath.
When the cake comes out of the oven, slowly pour the cool syrup over the hot cake, allowing the syrup to absorb completely. Cool for at least one hour before unmolding the cake from the pan.
Transfer the cake to a serving platter. Arrange the sugared rose petals on the cake to form a flower shape, starting with an outer circle of petals, then and interior circle of petals overlapping the outer circle, and a couple of petals in the middle.
Dust the petals and the perimeter of the cake with the remaining toasted coconut. Serve slices of cake at room temperature.