Ode to Hareeseh
Hareeseh is a very old dessert, made primarily in Arabic countries of the Eastern Mediterranean (Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, & Jordan). I am particularly addicted to this cake, which may have something to do with the fact I consume vast quantities of coffee and tea throughout the day, and I find it the perfect accompaniment. You could say it’s the soft, pillowy, and sticky version of coffee cake, but that would not do hareeseh justice. It’s main ingredient is smeed, or semolina flour, which, when mixed with yogurt, lends this dessert an incredible dense but crumbly texture. What makes this cake even more attractive is that it can be simply made in one bowl and then baked into beautiful golden bars for a total cooking time of maybe 35 minutes. In Palestine (as in Syria) we sometimes add coconut flakes. I still don’t fully understand the history of coconut in hareeseh, but when I feel like impressing other impoverished grad students (like, oh-I-just-threw-together-this-deliciousness-while-I-translated-Freud-from-German) the addition of coconut is the way to go 🙂
4 cups smeed (semolina flour, or Farina)
1 1/4 cup full fat Greek yogurt
1 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups clarified butter (you can find this at an Indian grocer, or at Trader Joes)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons tahineh
1/2 cup blanched almonds
3 cups attar (simple syrup)
Dash of salt
For the Attar:
3 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons rose water or orange blossom water
- Mix together the smeed, sugar, and butter.
- Stir in the baking soda, baking powder, and a pinch of salt into the yogurt. Add to the smeed mixture and blend together thoroughly.
- Grease a 17″ x 12″ baking dish with tahineh. Pour the cake mixture into the dish, and smooth out the top. The cake batter will be thick enough to score with a butter knife dipped in water; cut into diamond shapes. Place a blanched almond on each piece.
- Bake the dish, uncovered, in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. While the hareeseh is baking, prepare the attar by boiling 3 cups sugar with 2 1/2 cups cold water. When the syrup reaches a boil, turn the heat to low and simmer with lemon juice until it reaches a thin honey consistency (about 5-7 minutes). When syrup is cooled to room temperature, 1 teaspoon rose or orange blossom water. You will want the attar to be cool when it is poured over the hot hareeseh.
- Take the cake out of the oven and let it stand for about 10 minutes. If the top of the hareeseh is not properly browned, you may set the oven to broil for a few minutes to achieve this result. Pour the attar over the surface and serve either warm or cold. Hareeseh is even better the next day, when the syrup has fully soaked into the cake.
*For those of you who wish to prepare this with coconut (Yes, Akram, in one fell swoop I have profaned tradition), simply add 1 cup of unsweetened coconut flakes to the batter.