Tuesday, May 7, 2013


Harissa is a type of dense dessert cake made in the Middle East. Not to be confused with harissa, the North African chili paste. The Arabic Wikipedia page for harissa mentions both, but the English one does not, which is why I am mentioning this at all.

Harissa is made from semolina instead of flour giving it a dense crumb. As with many Middle Eastern desserts, it's topped with rosewater syrup.

2 3/4 cups semolina
3/4 cups sugar
1 tbsp baking soda
Roughly 1.5 pounds of yogurt
About 1/4 cup of tahini
1 cup of whole blanched almonds

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 tbsp rosewater or orange blossom water

Preheat your oven to 370F.

Measure the dry ingredients. Add enough yogurt to make a dough. It will be have a thick consistency, but should be fluid enough to take the shape of the bowl instead of staying in a ball.

Next, grease the cake pan you are using very well with tahini. I think this recipe makes roughly one 14" diameter cake or two 9" cakes. Whatever, just don't fill it to the brim with cake batter and you'll be OK.

Bake 20 minutes, or until edges are tan. Don't let it brown yet. The cake should be mostly cooked but still white at this point.

Next, press the blanched almonds into the cake pan about three to four inches apart. Finish off the cake in the broiler for 15 minutes, or until the almonds and cake take on a deep golden color. The difference between a toasted almond and a burnt almond can be as little as one minute, so keep a close eye at this point.

Take out the cake and let it cool until it can be handled safely. While the cake is cooling, make the syrup. Add water, sugar and flavoring into a sauce pan and bring to a simmer until dissolved. Pour the syrup over the cake and serve.

Traditionally, harissa is cut into diamonds with the almond at the center.

You can use cream of wheat, but semolina or "smeed" is cheaper in Middle Eastern groceries than cream of wheat in US grocery stores.
It's best to use Arab yogurt, since it has a unique taste. Any full fat, plain yogurt will do.

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