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Zohar Cake

Variations of this sweet dish can be found across the Arab world and the former Ottoman Empire. This fragrant version is similar to the Egyptian semolina cake, Basbousa - meaning ‘small kiss’ in Arabic. This is one of those desserts which is easy to make in large batches so you’ll often find it being sold by street vendors from a push trolley or in neighbourhood bakeries. During the period of the Ottoman Empire, Basbousa was very popular for special occasions among both the Muslim communities for the month of Ramadan and Jewish communities for Rosh Hashanah. This version Tomer makes is vegan, so it’s a good one to make as a batch to satisfy both vegan and non-vegan friends alike.


Semolina as a dry ingredient - learn how to bake with alternatives to flour, understanding their hydration levels and how they will affect the final texture of the dish.

Tray Baking - understand how oven baking in a tray will result in a different rise, level of browning and crumb structure.

Stewing fruit - learn how to use the natural pectin  in fruit to create a partially set sauce, as well as balancing the acid level with sugar.

Serving Size
Serves: 4-6


  • 120g semolina
  • 78g all-purpose flour
  • 170g sugar
  • 1/3 teaspoon bicarbonate soda
  • 2/3 teaspoon baking powder
  • 240g oat milk
  • 120g olive oil
  • 6g apple cider vinegar
  • zest from 1 orange & 1 lemon
  • for sprinkling: lavender or fresh oregano / marjoram / thyme


  • juice from 1 orange & 1 lemon
  • 100 sugar
  • 10g orange blossom water

Rhubarb Compote

  • 4 rhubarb sticks
  • 200g water
  • 200g sugar
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon orange blossom (zohar) water
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1x pastry brush, 1x whisk, 1x microplane grater, 1x ceramic roasting dish, 2x large mixing bowls, 1x spatular, 2x high-sided pans, 1x  chef knife, 1x large chopping board, 1x fine sieve, 1x flat spatular


No pre-lesson preparation needed.

Cooking Method
Step 1

Right so we are all set to make our cake. Set your oven to 170°C/340F°. Grab your ceramic dish and grease it with some olive oil and a sprinkle of semolina.

Into one of our mixing bowls, add the oat milk, sugar and olive oil, as well as the tiny splash of apple cider vinegar. Mix this well and leave to settle for a bit. Into your second bowl add the semolina, all purpose flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Into the same bowl zest in your orange and lemons. Mix the wet ingredients one more time helping some of the sugar to dissolve.

Step 2

Gently whisk through the dry mixture and then pour the wet ingredients into the dry, whisk gently and then using a spatular, fold the mixture through ensuring there are no lumps remaining. Pour the batter into your greased ceramic dish.

Once it's been decanted into our tray, sprinkle the lavender from a height and in it goes to the oven for 30 - 35 minutes of baking.

Step 3

Now we have time to make a quick rhubarb compote, slice into 2 inch pieces and then into a high sided pan add the sugar and water. Place onto a medium heat and allow the sugar to dissolve and then our rhubarb can go in. Meanwhile, let's squeeze our orange and lemon for the syrup that will be brushed on top of the cake. Squeeze the citrus juice through a fine sieve to remove any pulp straight into a clean pan.

Once you hear your sugar and water boiling (and the sugar is dissolved) add your rhubarb and return to a low heat. To the citrus fruit juice, add the second lot of sugar and place on the heat alongside your rhubarb (we aren't looking to cook this too much, just to dissolve the sugar). Now we need to wait a little bit.

Step 4

Our Rhubarb should be cooking for a few minutes, just to soften ever so slightly but be really tender with a compote texture. Our syrup should be clear with all the sugar dissolved and with it off the heat we can add a drop of orange blossom water (10g or the cap) (taste and add as much or as little as you like). Gently wiggle it, have a sniff and that's it. Our cake should be roughly 20 minutes away.

What we are doing now is waiting for the cake to finish cooking, then we will bring it out, leave it to sit and then gently, gently brush it with the syrup, portion it up and add our compote.

Step 5

Have a quick clean down and spoon the rhubarb compote into a bowl for later.

Now, I think our cake is ready. It should have a gorgeous colour, be set and some beautiful fragrances filling your kitchen. Leave to settle for a couple of minutes and then lightly brush the syrup over the cake. The smell will be out of this world. Use your instincts with when adding the syrup, it will absorb most of the syrup but add as much as you like.

Once you've added your syrup, we now want to give it a good 10 - 15 minutes to absorb and set before cutting it up and digging in.

Step 6

Right guys, the cake has been resting for 10 - 15 minutes, grab a flat spatular ready to portion our cake. I'm serving this with some Hackney Gelato pistachio ice cream. We have our pistachio ice cream, our beautiful semolina cake and the rhubarb compote, let's get going.

We should have 6 nice portions here, so go generous with your pieces, scoop out a portion directly onto your plate, and then a nice scoop of our ice cream of choice. Finally some of our compote.

Grab a spoon and dig in, that looks absolutely lush!

Tomer Hauptman
's Notes

Step 1

Feel free to use your brush to grease your dish, this will help us portion the cake once baked.


Semolina is a type of flour made from durum wheat and it is much coarser than traditional flours you may see.

Apple cider vinegar

The touch of vinegar in this recipe helps us create a reaction with our bicarbonate of soda and give our dough the lift we need. The reaction takes place between the acid and the bicarbonate of soda, releasing carbon dioxide into the dough causing pockets to be created making our mixture expand.

Although we don't use a large amount of semolina in this recipe, remember it does swell up, go fluffy and absorb a lot of the moisture in the cake giving it it's body.

Step 2

Our batter will be more on the liquid side, but our cake will begin to set once baked and the semolina begins to puff up.

This cake can be easily scaled to your liking - keep the ratios the same but doubling or tripling the amounts as needed.


A plant originally from the Mediterranean (and U.K) it is loved for its floral smell, its used more commonly in soaps and candles than foods (comes from the latin for "wash") but as we learn today can be used to garnish or infuse sweets (like cakes and ice creams) to add its qualities.

When you make this cake again, try using other herbs such as, thyme or marjoram.

Step 3


Often mistaken as a fruit, this vegetable became popular in the U.K in the 19th century but was often traded for medicinal purposes in China. The stalks have also been used in much of the middle-east in stews with spinach. The development in growing techniques (often in dark sheds) has helped cooks grow sweeter more tender stalks.

Our syrup will only be citrus and sugar which will give it a sharp edge that goes well with the sweet cake.

Step 4

Orange blossom water

Coming from the flowers of bitter or seville oranges, these have been used for millennia across the middle east to flavour sweet treats and other dishes. The flowers are boiled in water, the steam is then caught and then condensed into a liquid.

I love orange blossom water and the fragrance it brings to the dish. Add as much as you would like, tasting as you go.

Allow the cake to colour and get some texture on top.

Step 5

We don't like to heat the syrup with the orange blossom water too much because it can reduce its fragrance and pungency.

We want our rhubarb compote to have some pieces of whole rhubarb and then some which have cooked down slightly to help create a sauce.

When pressed, the cake should feel spongy and set, and have a spring to it when gently pressed.

If you are without your pastry brush, gently pour the syrup over the cake from your pan or with a table spoon. If you have a brush definitely use it as it allows us to apply and soak the cake more evenly.

This smell brings back so many memories of being back home in Israel.

Step 6

I fancied adding something creamy to our cake, in my freezer at the time I had some Pistachio Hackney Gelato. This is a small independent business in London. I recommend you add a scoop of your favourite ice cream to finish this dish.

The first slice is always the most difficult to get out but this cake is meant to be rustic and a bit rough around the edges so don't worry too much.

Always try some of the crispy bits from the bottom of your tray.

Get Creative
  • Citrus fruit - Get creative with your citrus fruits for the syrup. Try using limes, lemons and grapefruits. This is a great way to adapt the flavour of the dish.
  • Compote - Work with the seasons with your fruit for the compote, try using apples or pears as well as smaller berries like strawberry and raspberries.
  • Garnish - I love adding nuts to my Zohar cake, simply toasted in a dry pan and then sprinkled on top to add some texture to the dish.
  • Wheat
  • May contain traces of Milk and Soya
  • Oats
  • Always check the packaging as allergens may vary depending on the supplier.
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Tomer Hauptman
I prefer rustic, hearty, authentic heritage food and have stepped away from the over-plated more towards food with emotion and history.