Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 13, 2017

© Linda Pugliese

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Syrian semolina and nut cake

Classic confections that'll transport you to the Middle East

Nabak is a little Syrian town not far from Damascus that’s famous for its h’risseh. The name of this cake is confusing as it also describes a Lebanese savoury dish, a kind of porridge made with wheat and meat. In Syria, however, there’s no mistaking the name for anything but this delectable syrupy sponge cake topped with mixed nuts. This irresistible dessert is very simple to prepare.


1¼ c. (310 ml) semolina flour (regular, not fine)
6 tbsp. (90 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ c. (60 ml) superfine sugar
1½ c. (375 ml) whole-milk yogurt
¼ tsp. (1.25 ml) baking soda
1 tsp. (5 ml) tahini
1/3 c. (50 g) blanched almonds
1/3 c. (50 g) hulled unsalted pistachios
1/3 c. (50 g) walnut halves
1/3 c. (50 g) unsalted cashews
1½ c. (375 ml) fragrant sugar syrup, at room temperature (instructions follow)


Put the semolina, butter and superfine sugar in a mixing bowl, and work together using a spatula until well blended. Add the yogurt and baking soda, and mix until you have a firm batter.

Using the tahini, grease a 10-inch (25-cm) round cake pan with sides about 1¾ inch (4.5 cm) high. Spread the batter evenly across the prepared pan. Flatten it gently with the back of a spoon. Cover with plastic wrap, taking care not to let the plastic touch the top of the batter, and let rest in a cool place for 3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C) for about 20 minutes.

Scatter the nuts all over the surface of the batter and bake until the cake is golden, 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and pour the syrup all over. Don’t worry if the cake looks as if it’s swimming in the syrup; it will absorb it all. Let the cake stand for 30 minutes to soak up the syrup. It may seem like too much syrup, but the cake needs it all. Of course, if you lack the Middle Eastern sweet tooth, you can decrease the amount. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 day. Serves 8 to 10.

Fragrant sugar syrup


2 c. (500 ml) superfine sugar
1½ tsp. (7.5 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 c. (125 ml) water
1 tbsp. (15 ml) rose water
1 tbsp. (15 ml) orange blossom water


Put the sugar, lemon juice and water in a saucepan, and place over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to help the sugar dissolve. Boil for 3 minutes, and then add the rose water and orange blossom water. Mix well and remove from the heat. Let cool before using unless the recipe instructs otherwise. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Bring to room tem¬perature before using. Makes about 11/2 cups (375 ml).

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