Thursday, June 28, 2007

sweet little squares

popular in all middle eastern countries, this cake is always a favourite amongst adults and children. made from fine semolina, butter and yogurt, it is doused with the typical sugar and water syrup right after baking and left to soak it up, leaving a moist wonderful treat.

depending upon the country in which it is made, or the ethnic group who is making it, these sweet little squares go by different names and sometimes contain ingredients such as shredded coconut and, in the sefardi way, ground nuts and spices. typically, each square is adorned by a single whole blanched almond or a small mound of finely ground pistachio added before serving. this version is a lebanese-type one and is made in thin squares; it goes by the name of nammoura. it can also be called basboussa, tishpishti, revani, gâteau de semoule or hrisa. one of my favourite things about this cake is that tehini (sesame) paste is used to coat the pan instead of butter which gives an amazing final flavour to the cake. of course, you can still use butter but it won't be the same.

the cake is comprised of two components — the att'ar or syrup and the cake itself. the whole cake takes a little forethought as you need to make the syrup first and let it cool to room temperature since the cake uses part of this syrup as the sweetener. once all put together, the cake rests for several hours for the syrup to be fully absorbed and the flavours to mingle.

nammoura can be made either in thick squares or thin ones. this one is thin, my personal preference. if you want them thick, then double the ingredients and follow the same directions. for this version, you'll need a 6 ½ or 7 inch pan, either square or circular. i wouldn't use an 8 inch pan as it will be too large for this amount and result in a cake which is hard and too thin. look at the dollar stores or grocery stores for disposable aluminum smaller ones if you don't have this size baking tin. if you do double the recipe, use an 8 or 9 inch pan for thick squares or the larger 9 by 12 inch pan for thin ones.

nammoura ~ gâteau de semoule
טשפשטי ~ هريسة او نمورة او بسبوسة

sweet little cake squares made from semolina, these are utterly delicious. each square is accented by a nice single almond and the taste of nutty sesame paste. the corner pieces are the best! a must for afternoon snacks or "tea", make sure you start in the morning as it needs to sit for several hours before serving. they will keep, covered, on the counter for only a day or two — if there are any remaining!

makes 16 small squares

ingredients for syrup:

1 2/3 c white sugar
3/4 c water
1 tbsp lemon juice

2 tsp orange flower water, opt


combine sugar, water and lemon juice only and bring to boil. once the sugar is all dissolved, lower the heat to low, or enough heat to maintain bubbling.

cook the syrup for 10 minutes and remove from heat. add the orange flower water if using. the syrup should be a very thin syrup. it will thicken slightly on cooling.

once cooled, start the cake.

ingredients for cake:

1 c fine semolina
2 tbsp ground almonds, opt.
3 tbsp shredded coconut, opt.
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 heaped tsp baking powder

1/4 c butter, softened
1/2 c full fat yogurt

3 oz cooled syrup

tahini sesame paste or butter

blanched whole almonds,
enough to equal number of squares OR
3 tbsp finely ground pistachio*


combine the semolina with the other dry ingredients. the ground almonds and coconut are optional but very good.

add the softened butter and cream it with the dry ingredients. add the yogurt and blend again with mixer.

add the syrup last and blend well.

you can add everything together all at once but you need a big bowl, as it gets messy when you start to blend everything together.

preheat oven to 350F.

take the tehini paste or butter and add enough to coat the pan you are using. make sure to coat the pan well with the tahini. you should be able to see it shmeared on.

place the batter in the pan and spread it evenly.

now take a knife and mark your squares by scoring. you do not want to go all the way through. this is just to mark the squares.

place a single almond in the middle of each square and press it in slightly. *if using finely ground pistachio, skip this step and see end of recipe.

bake the cake for 35 minutes @ 350F.

remove cake from oven. raise the heat to 375 F.

take a knife and cut through all the squares.

return the pan to the oven for another 20 to 25 minutes or until it's golden brown.

remove from oven and while still hot, pour the cold att'ar (syrup) over the squares.

let it sit for several hours to absorb. this is essential! don't eat before!! *if using finely ground pistachio to decorate each square, let the syrup absorb fully and just before serving place about 1/4 heaped teaspoon of it in the middle of each square.

serve with coffee or tea or whatever drink makes you happy.



Vcuisine said...

Hi BB, nice presentation as usual. You are so fond of ME desserts i feel. Their sweets are really nice with less sweet and more nuts. This one is delicious BB. Definitely in my to do list. Tks for sharing. Viji

Lydia said...

Nice decription and photos burekaboy! Great sweet!
The way we do ravani in Greece is similar (no coconut is involved...) The only difference is that we leave the cake to cool down and reach room temperature - same with syrup and then pour the syrup into the cake. The whole idea is that both sweet and syrup should not be hot so as to be better absorbed.

burekaboy — said...

hi viji - thank you. hope you do try it; i'm sure you'll like it. it is one of the few versions [that i know that's really good] with no eggs in the ingredients. this one is a bit on the sweet side because of the syrup but it's only served in small squares. ME things are part of my culture/tradition so i guess that's why you see so much of it on my blog :)

hey lydia :) - thank you very much for the nice words ;) it's one of my favourites. i remember having ravani at my friend's house after school (often!) but that it was different from the one we make -- much thicker and not as dense but equally as good.

the way we do it is always either hot syrup to cold pastry or cold syrup to hot pastry (cold = room temp); this is supposed to allow maximum absorption. of course, as you mention, there are different ways to do it depending upon who is doing it :)

i don't like the extra "stuff" in mine, plain is best in my opinion :) guess it's what you're used to, also....

thanks for the comment, lydia.

Richa said...

what a beautiful sweet that is! and your clear instructions makes it seem easy to do :) would like to try this!
on another note, i finally got the grinder, will test it and let you know about it. i'm sure will definitely be used a lot in my kitchen :)

Nafeesah said...

Beautiful pictures! The first time I tasted this was almost 8 years ago at a friends of mines house in Yemen, Her stepmom had made it. I fell in love with it immediately but did not get the recipe unfortunately and ever since that time I have tried soooooo many recipes but they never turn out that good...good yes but never the same.

BB so far your recipes have delighted me so much, so I'm having high hopes :p I Will be trying this God willing!

burekaboy — said...

hey richa :) - YAY! you finally got it. i'm sure you'll love it and it'll make cooking easier for you. lemme know what you think. happy grinding :)

re: cake, thanks. it's a good dessert if you have a sweet tooth ;p

nafeesah - i've tried quite a few versions also. this one is definitely worth giving a try (IMO). not sure if it will match what you remember though. often, we try something and it's never the same afterwards -- the same kind of thing happened to me, too, years ago. i knew i shoulda asked; still regretting it! :( oh well, incentive to keep trying new ones! LOL. hope you like it, if you decide to make it but make sure to use the tahini for the pan; it makes a HUGE difference.

Princess Jibi said...

you make making this thing look so easy...

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Yours looks very classy! I love basboussa...

UrbanBaker26 said...

Hi, your recipe looks divine.also, i like the fact that this sweet is made from semolina and not the usual all purpose flour.i really wud like to try it on some festive occasion. In India, there's a festival every month or so.LOL. however, there's one question. how does one make tahini paste at home? or is it only commercially prepared? Thanks

burekaboy — said...

PJ - it is very easy to do :))

rosa - thanks ;) you & me both.

hi urbanbaker26 - glad you like how it looks and hope you give it a try. LOL, sounds like the jewish calendar ... almost every month we have some holiday and excuse to eat!

i like semolina in desserts/cookies or how it is used in indian recipes but i do not like it how it is used here in north america in these porridge-y kind of cereals. tastes like baby food! yuck :o

as for making your own tahini, it is very simple and yes it can be done at home. all you need is sesame seeds (til) and vegetable oil. don't use any oil with a strong flavor. you could probably also use something like the south indian kind of sesame (UNroasted) oil; never the asian dark kind. i suggest following the directions here. you can adjust the amounts; it keeps well in the fridge. (i actually made some and have to make a write up with pictures for the near future but for now, just follow those directions .... it's basically the same thing i do). hope that helps and you enjoy the cake. let me know how it works out, if you have a chance.

UrbanBaker26 said...

hi BB.thanks for the quick info on tahini.also,i understand that ur measurement system is different than much wud 1 cup semolina translate into grams?thanks.

burekaboy — said...

urban baker - hi there :D

sorry about that ... the measure for 8 oz or 1 c of semolina (sooji) is 170 grams. hope that helps and all goes well :)

burekaboy — said...

urban baker - just wanted to add that i meant 1 c and not 8 oz. an 8 oz measure would convert differently into grams. the 170g for the sooji is by weight.

there is a link under 'information sites' in my sidebar called "convert it"; this is a very, very useful conversion tool for measures and weights (the conversion tool is at the bottom of the gourmethsleuth page so scroll down when you go to the link). the only thing is to be very general in your search; ex. if you want brown sugar then you must search only for sugar first and then choose brown sugar. while it does not have every single item in the world, it does have a lot more than other sites and is very specific.

UB26 said...

Hi BurekaBoy.thanks once again for the detailed and patient reply. ive used gourmetsleuth earlier for conversions of many ingredients...must have been absent minded when i asked abt semolina conversion.anyways,cud not find sesame oil at the local grocery market. will make do with ordinary vegetable oil i guess. am trying this one with my 2 cousins...will let u know how it turns out.thanks once again for all the information. (

burekaboy — said...

hi UB26 - no problem :) glad to help; gourmetsleuth is very helpful. hope all turns out great :) and you like the cake. reg oil is fine for the tahini paste.

UB26 said...

Hi BurekaBoy,
finally tried your recipe for namourra. there were just few mistakes we had made.for eg. seasme seeds while roasting had become the resultant paste was brown and not white as seen in your pictures of the
same. do you think it makes huge difference in the end product? another small change was to use rose water instead of orange flower water.
secondly, had overbaked slightly!!(used 7 inch pan) infact they were already browned after 35 min.! anyways, we put it back for like further 15 minutes. my aunt's oven must be running too hot i guess. she noticed that it was rather "extra browning".LOL.. and immediately took it out from the oven.
anyways, after pouring the syrup ,the recipe was salvaged. one fourth of it was gone before it cud soak the syrup...yeah.. yeah....we noticed that you are against eating it immediately.LOL. however,after 3-4 hours it was wonderfully moist. i must say here,that it was really good and scrumptious. unfortunately,none of us have had this sweet before, so we did not have any reference point.but we liked wht we were eating!
most north indian sweets are made from mawa/khoya, so semolina was a refreshing change. will def try this again.
practice, might just, make us perfect! thanks for sharing a delightful "sweet" recipe and patiently answering all the queries! Cheers!

burekaboy — said...

hey UB26 - thanks for the feedback about how things went with the recipe. don't worry about the small "mistakes" -- that is how we learn (for the next time) and i make mistakes all the time ;P

i'm sure the sesame paste was fine even if it was darker. if you ever do make some again, just lightly toast it until it's slightly golden and oily. it takes practice.

oven temperatures are difficult to gauge which is why i always recommend having a little oven thermometer to make sure. as for cooking the nammoura, i would say maybe lower the temperature a notch next time around (325F); the cake should only be a light beige colour after 35 minutes. it should be a dark golden brown colour when finished baking NOT darkish brown. see the pictures in my blog as an example. the edges however may be dark which is fine (as long as there is no burning).

haha, i know, it's hard to wait ... i told you so! :)) i am glad however that all was "salvaged" and you enjoyed the dessert. as long as the cake was moist and the syrup was absorbed, it sounds perfect. btw, people also use rose water instead of the orange water for this dessert. hope you give it another try in the future making those little changes. all will turn out great :))

Ahmed said...


Your blog is great.I only have one comment.all of the oriental sweets you make are better when you use ghee instead of butter as we use it in Egypt.I can send you alot of Egyptian recipes.

burekaboy — said...

ahmed - ahalan! thanks for the visit and comment about my blog :)

you're very right, the sweets are MUCH better when using samneh as opposed to regular butter. many people here in north america however are not familiar with it and it is not a 'standard' pantry item. there are some recipes (yet to be posted here) that i ONLY use samen in because they do not work the same with regular butter.

i appreciate your suggestion :) and yes, with pleasure, you can send (email) me egyptian recipes. i'd be interested to see them.

btw, who is mary?! LOL (you mention that name in your msg to me but it's a girl's name and i'm definitely NOT a girl! ;p)

Urban said...

Hey BB,I tried this recipe for Nammoura again ! It def turned out better than last time.And I also noticed the difference by adding full amount of sugar syrup as opposed to my reduced sugar version of it last time!
unfortunately, could not get hold of tahini,so just went ahead with butter.
practice is really paying off.LOL.
also, I read the comment about using it true?does it taste better than wht it already is? So how does one get to substitute it for butter?hope u had a great weekend!warm regards- URBAN

burekaboy — said...

hi urban :) - glad to hear of your success. yes, you definitely need to add the whole amount of the syrup in this recipe; it will eventually be all absorbed and make a wonderful texture. don't worry about the tahina paste; butter works fine.

a lot of middle eastern desserts use a type of ghee which is called "samen". the kind of ghee used is different from the indian one in that it's not made the same way. btw, i'm going to post the difference between the two very shortly so stay tuned for updates. i'm sure you could use indian ghee with no problems. just measure it out when it's semi solid and not liquid. it may be worth a try. let me know if you ever do, and how it turns out using it.

Neha said...


I tried this cake yesterday evening, it turned out great except it tastes eggy! hmmm...there is no egg in it... I suppose we can taste the yogurt and semolina and not the coconut. Not sure what went wrong. Do you think a little bit of Vanilla extract will help next time. Well I used frozen shredded coconut after dry roasting it in the oven. However the texture is great exactly like restaurant one but need to get the taste right. I wish I could send you pictures but not sure how to do it.

Great recipe...been lurking around for a while finally got my courage up to try something I have been craving for over a couple of years now.


burekaboy — said...

neha - hi there. sorry for the delay in answering. glad you decided to try something and leave a comment on your experience.

i'm a bit stumped as to why it would taste eggy - as you know, no eggs at all in this one! it shouldn't really have an eggy flavour - perhaps it has something to do with the coconut? i don't put it so i can't say for sure that could be the culprit but i don't see why it would. wondering if the flavour stayed the same the day afterwards? could it be the type of ingredients you used??

i'm happy to read you liked it in spite of this! you're the first person to tell me this.

hope the next time around it comes out the way you were hoping. maybe try making it plain as i do here and then adding coconut as a garnish? wishing you good luck!

Neha said...

Hey BB,

Finally figured out what went wrong. I didnt have any rose water or orange blossom water on hand so my syrup was not flavoured. Took it to a party at a friend's house and about 10 people tried it.
We all came to the conclusion that it was probably the yogurt that was smelling eggy after baking, due to the lack of flavouring in my syrup.
Well, lets see, gotta go to the Indian store and pick up some rose water for next time or maybe I will add some cardamom to the syrup in true Indian style.

Also I had a request, I tried this wonderful bread called pogaca at a Croatian cafe here in Seattle yesterday. And I have been looking for a recipe for it but haven't found a usable one. If you know how to make it, it would be great if you could post it.

Great Blog! Keep posting!

burekaboy — said...

hi neha - i've NEVER made it without using flavouring in the syrup -- i still find it bizarre it would have such a flavour! good to know.... yes, make that trip to get the rose water. orange flower water is VERY good, too. you can also probably use something like kewra flavouring like you'd put in the syrup for gulab jamun along with the cardamom seeds :))

as for the pogaca, no, i have posted anything for it (yet). i know exactly what you're talking about (i think!). email me, i have a recipe - an eggless one if i'm not mistaken.