This cake, arguably the most well-known in North Africa and the Middle East, has countless variations. Chef Kamel Saci of Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria likes his mother's version here: The semolina cake baked with dried coconut and sweetened condensed milk and then soaked in a fragrant lemony syrup with orange blossom and rose waters added after baking. The candied rose petal garnish is optional (you can simply sprinkle the toasted coconut over the cake), but if you make it, be sure to ask your florist for organic roses, which aren't sprayed with chemicals or pesticides.
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- 1 cup (7 oz.) granulated sugar
- Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
- 1⁄2 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1⁄4 cup orange blossom water, preferably Carlo
- 2 tbsp. rose water, preferably Carlo
- 1 cup vegetable oil, plus more
- All-purpose flour, for dusting
- 2 1⁄2 cups (14 1/2 oz) fine semolina
- 1 cup desiccated coconut
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs, plus 1 egg white
- Petals from 2 organic pink roses
- 1 cup superfine sugar
In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar with the lemon zest and juice, the orange blossom and rose waters, and 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until slightly reduced, about 15 minutes. Remove the syrup from the heat, pour through a fine sieve to remove the zest, and let cool completely.
Heat the oven to 375°. Lightly grease and flour a 9-inch springform cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk the semolina with 3⁄4 cup coconut, the baking powder, and salt until evenly combined. In a large bowl, whisk the sweetened condensed milk with the 1 cup oil, the vanilla, and 2 eggs until smooth. Add the dry ingredients and stir to combine.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes.
Transfer the cake to a rack, drizzle half the cooled syrup over the cake, and let stand until the syrup is absorbed, 30 minutes. Pour the remaining syrup over the cake and let cool. Transfer the cake to the refrigerator and chill for at least 8 hours.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the egg white until frothy. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat the rose petals in egg white and immediately dredge in superfine sugar until well coated. Transfer the rose petals to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and let dry at room temperature for at least 4 hours.
When ready to serve, unmold the cake, transfer to a cake stand or plate, and arrange the rose petals over the top in concentric circles. In a small skillet, heat the remaining 5 tablespoons coconut over medium and cook, tossing, until lightly browned and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer the coconut to a bowl and let cool. Sprinkle the toasted coconut over the rose petals and cake before serving.