Our every day life drifts us away from our natural being at times, but we are still so connected to our basic instincts when it comes to our sense of smell. Scents remind us of places, events and most importantly it remind us of our loved ones.
I remember childhood stories in which a special scent of a magical flower made a queen or a king overcome an illness and everybody lived happily ever after. It makes me smile to remember myself as a teenager, after a breakup, sleeping with a boyfriend’s T-shirt to make myself feel better.
In the Jewish Havdallah service as we say goodbye to Shabbat (our day of rest), we smell the scent of cinnamon and cloves and other sweet spices to help us gather extra strength to start another week. I make dishes that make our house smell just like my childhood memories with my Savta (grandma) to make myself feel she is still around.
This cake is one of those magical dishes that the scent alone takes you somewhere else…
The scent that fills the house in every step as this cake is being made is incredible… It starts as I gather the ingredients and continues with my fingertips as I scrape off the orange zest; it peaks of course in the oven sending the aroma all over the house and continues when cooking the syrup to top it…
This classic combination of citrus and sweet spices flavors reoccurs in Tunisian cakes and desserts; but it is not only the unique citrusy taste and aroma that make this cake so exceptional, it is also its surprising texture that amazes me every time.
My family has such love for this traditional Tunisian Semolina-Orange cake that throughout the years as it has been a regular part of our lives, it earned many titles and nicknames: ‘Citrus Cake’, ‘Savta’s (grandma) Cake’, ‘Crunchy Crumbs Cake’, ‘The end Cake’, ‘Havdalah Cake’…
Now, don’t worry about getting your mixer out or separating eggs…
There are recipes for certain ‘high maintenance’ cakes or ‘spoiled brat’ dough out there, which require precise measurements and extreme attention to details in its making. The good news is that our cake here, even though it is total royalty in aroma and taste, it is basically a mixed cake that doesn’t require exact measurements or extra care when making. If you’re not a ‘Super Baker’ (or if you are), you will find this cake to be ‘low maintenance’ and very friendly.
You will need:
1½ cup Semolina
1 cup Flour
1 cup Almond/Hazelnut/Peanut Mill (or you can grind them yourself)
2 tsp. Baking Powder
¼ tsp. Salt
2 tsp. Cinnamon
¾ cup Sugar
1 Stick of Butter (100+ gram) Melted
1 tsp. Vanilla Paste
1 Orange – Zest and Juice
¾ – 1 cup Milk (depends on the orange juiciness)
For the syrup (‘Asal’):
1 cup Sugar
1 freshly squeezed Lemon Juice (about a tablespoon)
½ – ¾ cup Water
1 tbsp. Brandy
1 tsp. Rose water or 1 drop of Rose extract
As in many mixed cake – mix the ‘dry’ ingredients and the ‘wet’ ingredients separately, and then combine. If you’re trying save on too many dirty dishes here- like myself, I have good news for you: it can all be done in one bowl!
Start with the dry ingredients in a large bowl: flour, semolina, almond (or any other) mill, baking powder, sugar, cinnamon and salt, mix well.
Add orange zest and melted butter and mix again to distribute the fat equally.
Then add vanilla paste and milk.
Mix again…see the consistency…?
Use an 8’’ cake pan sprayed with non-stick cooking spray and transfer to a warm oven at 375° F for 30-40 minutes. Now, it is perfect time to make yourself a cup of coffee and stat making the syrup.
In a small saucepan over medium heat combine sugar and water and bring to a simmer while mixing well. When sugar is completely dissolved into water and small bubbles surface add lemon juice. Continue on medium heat and notice the syrup become slightly sticky. Check texture by holding one drop of the syrup between two fingers and see if a thin string will form when separating them. Turn off heat to add brandy and rose water/rose extract.
Yay… you just made ‘Asal’ – a traditional Tunisian syrup!
(After the 30-40 minutes) Take out the cake of the oven and cut half way down to equal-sized pieces.
Apply syrup with a baking brush all over the cake (and especially the edges, it’ll get them a little crunchy and extra sweet). Put back in the oven for 5 more minutes.
Combine all ‘dry’ ingredients first: Flour, Semolina, Nut Flour, Baking Powder, Sugar, Cinnamon and Salt.
Add Butter and mix well then add the rest of ‘wet’ ingredients: Orange Zest, Orange Juice, Vanilla Paste and Milk.
Bake in a 375° F for 30-40 minutes in an 8’’ cake pan sprayed with non-stick Cooking Spray.
Take out the cake of the oven and cut half way down to equal-sized pieces.
Make the syrup by combining Sugar, Lemon Juice, Water, Brandy and Rose Extract.
Apply the syrup on the cake with a brush.
Put back in the oven for another 5 minutes.