57. Iranian Pistachio Cake

Iranian Pistachio Cake - powered by pistachios

Iranian Pistachio Cake – powered by pistachios

How delicious are pistachios? Ever since I’ve ventured to Greece and gorged myself on Baklava and Pistachio Gelato in Italy I’ve longed to flavour more with the glorious green god of nuts. I could eat them every day and love the Middle Eastern desserts which feature the beauteous nuts. Thank god I remembered to buy shelled pistachios this time round as this contains a HUGE amount of pistachios! No more lonely hours spent cracking nuts in the kitchen or broken nails for me.

How many pistachios can you cram into one cake?

How many pistachios can you cram into one cake?

I was looking for an especially decadent cake for my friend’s birthday and the Iranian Pistachio Cake offers everything I was looking for. A delicious, moist, sweet sponge with a hint of exotic spice. I know Pistachios aren’t cheap, so you could try substituting them for your favourite nuts (or whatever you have in your cupboard) instead. Maybe almonds, cashews or even hazelnuts? They would also be gorgeous versions of this cake.

Start with beating the butter and sugar together...

Start with beating the butter and sugar together…

As with most cakes the Iranian Pistachio Cake begins with beating the sugar and butter together until light and fluffy. Adding as much air as possible to get that wonderfully tender sponge.

Grind up your nuts, salt and spices

Grind up your nuts, salt and spices

Then for the fun part, smashing up the nuts! Blitz the pistachios with an electric blender/food processor until they’re finely ground. Careful not to grind them too much though as the nuts will release their oils and end up as a pistachio paste which will deflate your cake (or if you keep going you could make your own raw nut butter). I  ground my cardamom along with the salt for extra friction in a pestle and mortar and then added it to the nuts and blitzed them all together to ensure the spice was evenly distributed and fine.

The eggs should then be beaten into the butter one at a time. Beat the mixture until very fluffy and increases in volume.

Whisk in the eggs one at a time

Whisk in the eggs one at a time

Combine the ground pistachios, spice and salt with the flour and baking powder in a separate bowl. Measure the milk into a jug and add the vanilla paste. Fold one third of the flour into the butter mixture followed by a third of the milk. Fold in a third of the flour followed by another third of the milk alternately until all of the ingredients are fully incorporated into the batter.

Pistachio Cake ready and waiting

Pistachio Cake ready and waiting

Carefully pour the cake batter into a greased cake tin so you don’t knock any of the precious air out of the sponge. I wanted to test out my new fluted brioche tin to make the cake look a little more fancy. (Hope you like my holiday souvenir! I managed to squash 3 cake tins in my suitcase from Portugal! Is it just me who brings baking equipment home from holiday?) I love the moulded shape. Using a smaller tin means the cake requires a longer baking time in the oven but I think the dramatic shape is well worth the effort.

Fully baked Iranian Pistachio Cake chilling

Fully baked Iranian Pistachio Cake chilling

After almost an hour in the oven the cake was thoroughly cooked.  I patiently waited 30 minutes before tentatively opening the oven to check if it was done and continued to check every 10 minutes with a skewer that the cake was cooked. The edges did start to brown, so I resorted to a cap of tin foil to protect the top of the cake from burning. You could bake the cake in a bundt tin or a 9 inch round tin. and should take a little less time to cook. You will need to bake it for probably around 30-40 minutes if you’re using a larger tin as the cake will be thinner and require less cooking time. The final cake is a deep brown in colour and springs back when touched.

Rosewater sugar icing

Rosewater sugar icing – the perfect consistency!

Cardamom is a regular character in Eastern cakes and desserts. It compliments the delicious pistachios with it’s subtle spice. Traditionally this cake doesn’t ask for any icing, but I thought something sweet would be a welcome addition. I added my own rosewater glace icing to sweeten the sponge. I always struggle with glace or water icing, with it often ending up runny, resulting in soggy cakes and never endingly wet icing. If I was hoping to make a syrup I would be able to do this with my eyes closed. Desperate to get it right, I actually measured my liquids before adding them to the icing sugar! Using my kitchen aid I beat the icing sugar adding the rosewater one teaspoon at a time to ensure I didn’t over egg the pudding, as I’ve learnt from experience you can’t take extra liquid out if you get a bit too enthusiastic with the bottle…

Genuinely thick rosewater icing

Genuinely thick rosewater icing

Triumph! I succeeded in making a thick pipeable rosewater icing for the first time ever!! Hurrah! If anything it could have been a tiny bit more runny so that it could run down the sides of the cake giving a natural trail in it’s wake. Next time I may add a smidge more rosewater to make it slightly more runny. But hey I’m not complaining! I was aiming for an rosey flavoured iced bun effect and that’s exactly what I got.

Crushed pistachio topping

Crown of crushed pistachios

Smashing up a handful of pistachio in the pestle and mortar I got a bit artistic, adding a crown of crushed pistachios whilst the icing was still sticky so it holds the nuts in place once set. I didn’t want it to look too pristine, so I threw some nuts at the edges of the cake too allowing the crumbs to stick to the icing tracks too.

Happy Birthday Mel!

Happy Birthday Mel!

I loved this cake, so much so I helped myself to 2 slices. (Me? Greedy?) It makes a wonderful alternative to the traditional chocolate birthday cake. A grown up cake full of flavour. Sweet, light and spicy with a tiny crunch to it powered by pistachios. It feels wonderfully exotic with every waft of cardamom balanced against the gentle rose icing. I will most definitely be baking this cake again.

The perfect pistachio slice

The perfect pistachio slice

Each slice glows with the subtle green flecks from the pistachios, contrasting beautifully against the white icing. The cake cuts smoothly and is really robust, so it travels well. (Just in case like me you end up regularly carrying cake around to surprise people with.)

Iranian Pistachio Cake recipe

Iranian Pistachio Cake

Things I used to make my Iranian Pistachio Cake

  • 170g butter
  • 200g sugar

Beat until light and fluffy

  • 3 eggs

Beat in the eggs one at a time until pale and fluffy

  • 180g (3/4 cup) of pistachios
  • 1 tsp of ground green cardamom (this was 9 or 10 cardamom pods)
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Blitz the pistachios, spice and salt together until finely ground

  • 140g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder

Stir the pistachios into the flour and baking powder

Fold one third of the flour mix to the butter and eggs

  • 110ml (1/2 cup) milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Add the vanilla to the milk

Fold one third of the milk to the butter and flour mix

Alternate adding flour and milk to the mix and continue until all ingredients are incorporated

Pour into a greased (and lined if your tin will allow for this) tin and bake at 180 degrees C for 50-60 minutes until a skewer comes out clean from the centre of the cake.  Put a tin foil hat on the cake if it starts to darken too much.

Icing

  • 170g icing sugar
  • 10 tsp rosewater
  • handfull of crushed pistachios
  1. Beat the rosewater into the icing sugar one teaspoon at a time to ensure you get the right consistency. Thick yet runny icing.
  2. Smash the pistachios up to rough pieces and decorate the cake as you wish
  3. Devour with a glass of champagne (if it’s an especially decadent occasion) or proper cup of strong coffee would work wonderfully too. Enjoy!
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37. Moroccan Basboosa (Semolina Slice)

Basboosa Baby

Lauren of Arabia

J’adore Morocco, the heat, the people, the beauty, the adventures into the Sahara and camping out under the stars. The food and desserts are amazing. I ate many a tagine and honey soaked sweets when we visited Marrakesh.

into the desert we go

Food Heaven

Having purchased the worlds largest bag of semolina I needed a recipe to put it to good use. I have vaguely horrific memories of semolina pudding every day for as part of of our school dinners and me disliking it so much I pretended to sneeze into my bowl so I could have it removed. But the dinner nannies soon wised up to my rouse and refused to let me get away with refusing semolina.

Thankfully my taste palette has refined somewhat since I was 6years old. I now even eat peas and broccoli!

Basboosa all lined up and ready to go

Basboosa is a middle Eastern dessert and seems to be from Morocco and Egypt too. It reminds me of Baklava which I love and you may remember me attempting to make from scratch…

Thankfully Basboosa doesn’t involve the shelling of hundreds of pistachios or the creation of millions of layers of paper thin filo pastry! This is one quick bake the I will be definitely repeating in the future!

Sugar and water to bubble into a syrup

I began with the syrup. Unfortunately I didn’t have an orange flower water so I ad libbed and utilised the lemon and orange extracts I have in my cupboard. I think rose water would work just as well too.

The key to this bake is sugar. And LOTS of it. The syrup requires a lot of simmering to reduce it to about 2 cups worth but it still seemed very watery to me. I put faith in my Marks and Spencer recipe and hoped for the best.

1 KG of semolina!!!

While the pan bubbled merrily on the stove I measured out 1kilogram (yes 1 KG!) of ground semolina! (I checked about 4 times that I had read this right as it seems like a massive amount and just about fitted into my biggest mixing bowl!

Precariously full bowl of sandy semolina

Adding in the sugar the mixing bowl was precariously full and could only be mixed with my bare hands, a spoon would just have tipped things over the edge completely!

Butter and milk on the stove

Then to gently warm the milk and butter on the stove until the butter melts completely.

Thoroughly melted butter and milk

Once it’s thoroughly melted (and hopefully a little less frothy than mine) it’s  ready to add to the semolina. This was a delicate process. There didn’t seem to be enough liquid to bring the dry semolina and sugar together into a paste at all.

Bind us together – oh butter sugar and semolina

Nevertheless I perservered and gingerly (the milk was a bit hot) took to mixing it by hand again until lo and behold I had a semolina paste!

Pastey Semolina

Tipping the bowl upside down into my greased and lined deep baking dish the semolina required a little coaxing to flatten it out completely into all the corners.

bowl shaped semolina paste – into the tray you go

Once it was relatively flat I smoothed the surface with a wet hand and squashed it down into the tin to avoid any bubbles or gaps in the bake.

Flattened and smoothed semolina

Taking the syrup off the stove  (I added a dash more orange extract as I realised I had added it too early and it may have mostly evaporated…) popped it into the fridge to chill it, ready for it’s next job.

Syrupy and ready for a good chilling

With a sharp unserated knife I attempted to score the semolina into equally sized diamond shapes (this befuddled my brain somewhat so I ended up with all sorts of shapes and sizes).

Zig zags in the semolina (supposedly diamond shaped)

I popped the tray in the oven then quickly realised I forgot to pop the almonds onto each diamond! Quick as a flash I studded each piece with a blanched almond and threw it back in the oven.

Studded Semolina – check out those blanched almonds (better late than never)

Then a cup of tea and a spot of Mary Poppins is all you need to do whilst the bakes for an hour and a half! (Mary Poppins is optional but it was choice du jour)

Soaked in Syrup

Once the semolina is golden brown and firm to touch it’s ready for a final slice with sharp knife and a good drowning in chilled orange syrup. I poured half of the very liquid syrup over the baked semolina and worried that it was a bit too much! It definitely required a break for absorption! Half an hour later I poured the rest of the syrup over and let the Basboosa relax and take it’s time to drink up the sweet orange flavour.

Totally soaked basboosa

Once it’s all absorbed it’s ready for eating! I REALLY loved this bake. It’s baklava-esque and shortbread-ey. Just the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea. It has quite a distinctive crumbly texture which some may not enjoy, I suppose it could be a bit dry if you didn’t pour all of the syrup over it too.

But as it’s a wheat derivative it has CARBS and is full of SUGAR so this is a perfect pre run treat. (I’m now running what I had always considered to be beyond my wildest dreams… 10 miles! Who’da thunk it? Admittedly this was by accident as I got hopelessly lost one afternoon/evening but I now know that I can do it! And I now have a freezer stocked full of this sugary pick me up.)

Basboosa Baby

This recipe makes a LOT of Basboosa, about 23 pieces – or more if you cut it into smaller pieces. It is very sweet so you probably don’t need a huge slice but it also keeps really well. Once the syrup crystalises it has a lovely glittery sugary crunchy top too. 🙂

I hope you like it as much as me!

Things I used to make Basboosa…

  • 1 kg ground semolina
  • 2 1/2 cups of sugar (550g)
  • 1 cup milk (250ml)
  • 125g butter
  • 1/4 cup blanched almonds (40g)

Syrup

  • 3 cups water (750ml)
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 and 1/2 cups sugar ((330g)
  • 2 teaspoons of orange extract  (or Orange blossom water/rose water)
  • 2 teaspoons of lemon extract

Equipment

  • one 20cm x 30cm x 5cm baking tray
  • oven at 140 degrees c (fan assisted oven) 160degrees C normal oven