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Semolina Cake (Revani)

This dense, sweet cake benefits hugely from being made the day before you want to eat it, allowing the semolina to soak up the syrup and soften, explained Rebecca Seal, author of the cookbook Istanbul. There is any number of variations from across the country and surrounding regions—some stud the top with almonds, others sprinkle it with pistachios. You can also make it with orange blossom water or grated coconut. It’s delicious served with fresh berries, as in this recipe; their tartness cuts through the sweetness of the cake. A slice is a lovely foil to a short, strong cup of rich Turkish coffee or a cup of black tea.

Ingredients:

For the syrup:

  • Generous 1 cup (9 oz./250 g) superfine sugar
  • 1 cup (8 1/2 fl. oz./250 ml) water
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon

For the cake:

  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz./125 g) superfine sugar
  • 2/3 cup (5 oz./150 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 heaping Tbs. plain Turkish or Greek-style yogurt
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 1/4 cups (5 oz./150 g) fine semolina 
  • Scant 1 cup (3 3/4 oz./110 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbs. baking powder

  • Berries and a little clear honey for serving

Directions:

Preheat an oven to 350°F (180°C). Line an 8-inch (20-cm) square cake pan with parchment paper. 

To make the syrup, in a saucepan, combine the sugar and water and heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and boil until reduced and syrupy, about 10 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice. Let cool before using.

To make the cake, in a bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff.

In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until thick and pale and the whisk leaves a trail when lifted out of the mixture. Slowly add the cooled melted butter to the egg yolk mixture, whisking all the time. Add the yogurt, lemon zest and semolina and mix thoroughly. Sift the flour and baking powder together, then gently fold into the mixture with a metal spoon. Finally fold in the egg whites, taking care to knock out as little of the air as possible.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 30 minutes, then check the cake. If the top is browning too fast, lower the oven temperature by 10 degrees or so. Bake for another 10 minutes and then check again. The cake is done when it has risen, is golden brown and the center springs back when lightly pressed.

Remove from the oven. With the cake still in the tin, cut it into diamond-shaped pieces and pour over the cooled syrup. Let the cake absorb the syrup for at least 4 hours and preferably overnight. Remove from the tin and serve with fresh berries. For extra indulgence, drizzle with a little clear honey. Makes 1 cake. 

Adapted from Istanbul, by Rebecca Seal (Hardie Grant Books, 2013).