This pistachio rose water semolina cake is one of the best desserts I’ve ever made.
I found the recipe a month or two ago on the New York Times Food page. If you haven’t been there already, you should check it out. It’s a great resource for home cooks and aspiring bakers.
The recipe comes from Yotam Ottolenghi, one of my favorite chefs. You might know him from his cookbooks including Plenty or Jerusalem. He’s Israeli-British and he lives in England, where he has a number of successful restaurants.
I saw Ottolenghi speak in person a few years ago when I was living in D.C. I remember someone in the audience asked him about substituting ingredients in his recipes. He smiled and then said diplomatically, don’t expect it to taste the same.
Those words have stuck with me. I’m a big believer in adapting recipes to what you have available or what’s cheaper at the grocery store. But there are some things in a recipe you can’t change. It’s like trying to build a house with a different floor plan than the one you agreed on. It won’t be the same.
Which brings me to this cake. I did tweak the recipe a little. I left off the candied rose petals and I topped the cake with dried ones instead. I also decided not to make the rose cream to serve it with, because I thought the cake would be sweet enough and delicious enough on its own.
However, I followed the rest of the recipe to the letter. I used fresh lemon juice, rose water, semolina, and almond flour. I didn’t make any substitutions because I trusted Ottolenghi’s recipe and I thought deviating from it would ruin the finished product. When you’re cooking with very particular ingredients like rose water, it pays to use what the recipe calls for.
This cake is moist (even though I hate using that word), sweet, flavorful, and complex. It benefits from the combination of flavors including citrusy lemon, fragrant rose water, and nutty almond and pistachios. It’s the kind of cake you could eat at night for dessert, OR for a snack in the afternoon with tea or coffee. Honestly, you could also eat it for breakfast.
When you get to the part of the recipe when you pour the warm sugar syrup onto the hot cake, don’t despair. It seems like a lot of syrup, which the original recipe notes. But, as the recipe says, the cake can take it. The syrups adds more lemon and rose flavor to the cake and makes a denser crumb.
So yeah. If you’re looking for a bright, beautiful, fragrant cake to make to distract yourself from a never-ending winter, this is the one. The NYT calls it a “labor of love,” which is more or less true. It’s involves a lot of steps but if you have a stand mixer and some extra time, it’s easy enough to make.
Here’s a song that reminds me of this cake. It’s also good for Mondays when you don’t want to get out of bed.