Chai-Spiced Pumpkin Basbousa

This sweet and sticky autumn dessert is equal parts pudding and cake.

  • Serves


  • Cook

    1 hour


By Majed Ali

Published on November 18, 2022

At its simplest and most traditional, basbousa—also known as namoura and harisa—is a semolina cake soaked in sugar syrup. The fluffy crumb absorbs the syrup resulting in a crumbly-yet-moist pudding that’s widely loved throughout the Middle East. Home and pro bakers in the region have adapted this cake over time and there are numerous variations. Some add shredded coconut and some flavor the sugar syrup with orange or lemon peel. Others include a floral whisper with the addition of rose or orange blossom water. For this recipe, though, I also drew inspiration from the West. 

Back in the fall of 2017, I was living in Houston, nursing my dad who had been diagnosed with cancer. I missed the flavors of home and yearned to sit with loved ones in our majlis back home, savoring small pieces of basbousa with cups of spiced afternoon chai

In the U.S.—as elsewhere in the world—fall is peak pumpkin season, and when I visited Houston’s neighborhood grocery stores, I couldn’t take my eyes off the mountains of multicolored fresh specimens, shelves upon shelves of pumpkin spice products, and the pyramid-shaped display of canned pumpkin purée. Pumpkin is an important ingredient in Persian Gulf regional cuisine—I grew up eating it in stews, soups, and puddings. But in the UAE, canned pumpkin doesn’t really exist. There, cooks prefer making pumpkin purée from scratch, either by boiling it until soft, or roasting it in the oven until charred and faintly smoky. This simple and nostalgic pumpkin spice cake works well using either the canned or roasted version. Serve it warm or at room temperature with a drizzle of cold cream, or a dollop of labneh or crème fraîche.


For the basbousa:

  • 9 Tbsp. melted unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
  • 1¾ cup fine semolina
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. fine sea salt
  • ¼ tsp. nutmeg
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • ¾ cup plus 2 Tbsp. pumpkin purée
  • Finely-chopped pistachio, or any nut, for garnish

For the chai syrup:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 chai teabags
  • 5 green cardamom pods, crushed
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh orange juice


Step 1

Make the basbousa: Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350° F. Grease an 8- by 8-inch square cake pan and line the bottom and two sides with a sheet of parchment paper, leaving 3 inches of overhang on two of the sides.

Step 2

In a medium bowl, whisk together the semolina, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg. In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter, sugar, and vanilla. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then continue whipping until the batter is frothy, about 2 minutes. Gently fold the dry ingredients into the butter mixture just until no dry streaks remain, then fold in the pumpkin purée. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the surface, and bake until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, 25–30 minutes. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Step 3

Meanwhile, make the chai syrup: In a small pot, stir together the sugar and 1½ cups water over low heat until the sugar has completely dissolved, about 2 minutes. Add the teabags, cardamom, cinnamon stick, and cloves, bring it to a boil, then turn the heat down to maintain a strong simmer. Cook until the syrup is concentrated and deeply flavorful, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove and discard the spices, then transfer the teabags to a small sieve. Hold the sieve above the saucepan, pressing on the teabags to extract as much liquid as possible, then discard them. Stir in the butter and orange juice, then set the syrup aside to cool to room temperature.

Step 4

 When the cake has cooled, poke it all over with a toothpick, around 12 times. Pour the cooled syrup over the cake, cover loosely with foil, and set aside for 1 hour to allow the cake to absorb the liquid. Slice the basbousa into 12 pieces and serve warm or at room temperature. Basbousa keeps well in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Note: While canned pumpkin works well in this basbousa recipe, I prefer the flavor and texture of oven-roasted pumpkin purée. To make your own, start with two small sugar pumpkins, slice them in half lengthwise, then scoop out and discard the seeds (or save them for another use). Transfer the pumpkins, cut-side-down, to a large baking sheet, transfer to a 400° F-oven and roast until the flesh is very soft and slightly charred in places. Set aside to cool to room temperature, then use a spoon to scoop the flesh away from the skin. Using a fork or potato masher, smash the flesh to a purée. 

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