If you haven’t been acquainted with the cookbooks of Yotam Ottolenghi, I highly recommend you pick one up. I bought the all-vegeteables book Plenty, and more recently, Jerusalem, his collaboration with business partner Sami Tamimi, who is of Palestinian heritage. The book has the advantage of recipes from many of Jerusalem’s cultures without the disadvantage of all that hatred. Win!
As a professional writer in my non-blog life, I totally respect the amount of work that goes in to a book and the copyright richly earned. I’m afraid I won’t be sharing the book’s recipes with you. It is well worth $20 on Amazon – literally every recipe looks delicious and the photography is phenomenal. My choice for first recipe to cook might be a bit of an odd one: a semolina cake with coconut, drenched in orange flower water-tinged sugar syrup. It’s not something you typically see in America, and it was a bit of a risk to bring it to B’s dinner party. But the party featured foods from Iran, and aside from the orange zest/juice/marmelade, I had all the ingredients at home. Fitting the theme? Using up ingredients? More win!
The recipe also called for superfine sugar, sometimes called caster sugar. For years I would go to Sur La Table and buy this premium sugar, until the internets tipped me off that you can just put regular sugar in the food processor and pulse it a bit. Yes, yes. Good, good.
The recipe was incredibly simple, just putting together the wet and dry ingredients and combining them. The dry ingredients included semolina, unsweetened shredded coconut, flour, and baking powder, while the wet ones were oil, orange marmalade, eggs, OJ, and orange zest:
Combined, the ingredients get poured into two greased loaf pans lined with wax paper. The whole setup seemed ponderous, but once I got over the mental barrier of going to get the scissors and eyeballing the measurements, the actual doing was dead simple:
Once baked, you immediately drench the cakes with an orange flower simple syrup. I’ve had this bottle of orange flower water in my fridge for, em, years. I do love the flavor, but clearly I need more ideas about how to use it!
I was too busy brushing the cakes to remember to photograph the action, but here is the finished product:
I actually tweeted Yotam Ottolenghi to ask why my cakes might have been so flat compared to his. I was thrilled when he tweeted me back, although his suggestion that I use a taller pan wasn’t really the problem. It did make me check my baking powder, leading to the discovery that it was a year out of date. I’ve since replaced my baking soda and baking powder, but a subsequent attempt at this cake was only marginally taller. As the Gentleman likes to say in his Caribbean accent, “Who can say.” It still tastes phenomenal.
The cake is denser than many American cakes, but the flavor of orange and coconut and orange flower sweetness is quite unique. The next time you are lucky enough to be invited to a Persian food party, this cake is your man.