It’s that time of year again where the festival of lights rolls around, and Hindus the world over start making preparations for the big day. It is always an exciting time when certain ethnic festivals come to town … the shops start selling gifts, treats, jewellery and the latest fashion. Everyone is busy getting their houses in tip top shape and decorating the front with strings of lights and oil lamps.
During Diwali (Deepavali) sweets and sugary confections come to the forefront and are made in vast quantities, both for serving to guests as well as being made part of an offering to the goddess Lakshmi. The Hindus believe that offering sweets to the goddess will please her greatly, and in return she blesses the worshiper with an abundance of prosperity and good luck.
Last year I made a feeble attempt at highlighting this most holy of holy Indian festivals by posting about Vade, but this year I am more prepared and I will be focusing more on the sweet stuff, coz sweets really are the stars of the show. There are probably too many Indian sweets for me to count but I do know the more famous ones: Kaju Barfi (cashew nut fudge), Gulab Jammun (fried dough balls soaked in syrup), Badam Halwa and Basbousa (semolina cake soaked in syrup). It is possible to make these at home but I think most modern families now buy their sweets from specialty sweet shops, where they display their sugary nutty confections on massive trays. Some of these sweets are so gorgeous and elegant that they are decorated with gold and silver leaf, while others contain copious amounts of crushed nuts, saffron and dried fruit. Delicious!
Today I shall be making Basbousa, which I can only describe as being sort of like a baked polenta cake which is then soaked in sugar syrup. The main ingredient here is semolina or sooji / suji flour. Traditionally a Somali dish, the Basbousa can be found in India, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Lebanon and even in Greece; slight variations apply.
Basbousa in Honey + Orange Blossom Syrup.
1½ cups semolina
½ cup flour
½ cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
¾ cup milk
½ cup ghee or veggie oil
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp orange zest
1 tsp orange blossom water
Preheat oven to 170°C and grease a 10 inch cake tin with oil.
Place semolina, flour, baking powder and sugar in a bowl. Pour in all the wet ingredients and mix well.
Pour into greased cake tin and bake for initial 10 mins. Then remove the tin and pre-score the top in a diamond pattern. Place raw almonds in the middle of each diamond. Return the tin to bake for a further 30 mins.
Meanwhile, prepare simple syrup by combining sugar and water and simmering it on medium heat. Add honey to prevent the sugar from crystalizing easily.
Once you obtain a nice simple syrup, take the pot off the heat and stir in the orange zest and orange blossom water. Set aside to cool.
After 30 mins the cake should have a nice golden brown colour to it. Remove from the oven and pour the syrup over the top. Tip the tin from side to side to evenly spread the syrup.
Return the tin to the oven and bake for a further 15 mins.
Remove the tin and cut the diamonds all the way through and set aside to cool. The cake will be a tad soft and crumbly if you try to take out the pieces when it is hot. Once the cake is cool and the sugars solidity you can remove the squares without damaging its shape.
If you think this recipe is excessively sweet, you are correct. I think having Indian sweets is quite the challenge for me since I prefer savoury flavours to sweet … and this one is definitely well beyond my sweet threshold. But little bits go a long way and I don’t mind having a little nibble here and there. You can always reduce the amount of sugar you put in the sugar syrup and maybe add orange juice to the mix. Either way, this cake thingy cake out really well and I would never in my wildest dreams think I could accomplish something like this. I always thought making Indian sweets was a complex process … who knew?
If you are not going to polish off the entire tray between yourself and your family then you should consider packing these up and handing them out as gifts. Considering the amount of sugar in this bad boy it is not prone to spoiling very easily. Storing it in an air tight container is sufficient, but if you live in a really hot country then by all means stuff the container in the fridge.
Stay tuned for more Diwali posts from me in the coming days until the 23rd, which is when Diwali actually is. I hope to do justice to all the dishes I will be featuring because I too am just learning the art of making these decadent confections. I will miss celebrating this festival with all my friends back home for the fourth year running, which kinda sucks, but I hope each and everyone has a happy and blessed festival ahead.
~ Enjoy! ~