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Gluten-Free Coconut “Semolina” Cake (Edible Mosaic)

by Jeanette on October 30, 2012 · 12 Comments
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Corn "Semolina" CakeRecently, I was asked to participate in a virtual Mid-East Feast to celebrate the upcoming release of An Edible Mosaic, authored and photographed by my fellow blogging friend, Faith Gorsky. Brandy from Nutmeg Nanny is organizing this month-long event where a group of fabulous foodie bloggers has been sharing a different recipe for the past three weeks. So far, we’ve made Zucchini Fritters and  Spiced Chicken Shawarma Wraps.

This week, we all made a Middle Eastern dessert – Semolina Cake.

I actually made my first Semolina Cake from An Edible Mosaic a few weeks ago. A good friend of mine made one for a birthday celebration last year, and I remember asking for the recipe, but alas, I never made it. Now that one of my kids is gluten-free, I can’t serve Semolina Cake to our family, so I wanted to try a version using some sort of gluten-free flour.

Since I had never made a Semolina Cake before, I decided it was best if I first made Faith’s recipe using semolina flour so I could get a sense for what the texture of the cake should be. Our local Greek market had semolina flour so it was easy enough to find. Semolina cake has a coarser texture and is denser than most cakes. Faith’s recipe calls for a sugar syrup which keeps the cake moist and goes nicely with the dryer cake.
Corn "Semolina" Cake
As I pondered what flour to try substituting for semolina flour, I remembered that I had made cornbread last year using corn flour. In fact, I had read an article that corn flour was the secret to Southern cakes. It has a unique texture that is coarser than regular flour. I actually mixed some cornmeal in with the corn flour to give the cake even more texture, although I think I would make it with 100% corn flour next time. The cornmeal added a little crunch which is great in cornbread, but might be unexpected in a cake.

The first time I made this Semolina Cake, I used Faith’s sugar syrup recipe, choosing to use just half of what was called for in the recipe as our family doesn’t eat super sweet desserts. I served this to a good friend of mine when she was over for lunch one day and she loved it. So, I sent her off with the extras since I knew I was going to have to make a gluten-free version.

The second time I made this cake, in addition to substituting corn flour for semolina flour, I chose to use honey in place of sugar in the sugar syrup. I also substituted coconut oil for the butter and almond milk for dairy milk. I have to say that, while this may not be the original Semolina Cake, it was really good. I actually preferred the honey syrup to the sugar syrup. Scented with rose water, it was a fragrant way to keep the cake nice and moist.
Corn "Semolina" Cake

Here are the eight other fabulous bloggers participating in the Mid-East Feast. Please pop by and see how their Semolina Cake turned out this week.

Brandy – Nutmeg Nanny
Amanda – Fake Ginger
Gina – Running to the Kitchen
Joanne – Eats Well With Others
Heather – Girlichef
Natasha – Five Star Foodie
Megan – What’s Megan Making
Rachel – Baked by Rachel

5 from 1 reviews
Gluten-Free Coconut “Semolina” Cake (Harissa)
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
I actually made half this recipe in a small round pan, which was plenty for our family. This is a sweet dense cake, perfect in small quantities and served with a cup of tea.
Serves: 10-12
Coconut "Semolina" Cake
  • 1 tablespoon tahini, to grease the baking pan
  • 2 cups corn flour (not cornmeal)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ cup organic sugar
  • ½ cup coconut oil, room temperature
  • 1½ cups almond milk
  • 1 cup desiccated, unsweetened coconut
  • 3 tablespoons blanched almonds
Scented Honey Syrup
  • 1 cup honey
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • ½ tablespoon rose water (or orange blossom water)
Make Scented Syrup
  1. Put the honey, water and lemon juice in a medium, thick-bottomed saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium heat, giving the pan an occasional swirl and skimming off any foam on the surface.
  2. Turn heat down slightly and boil 2 minutes, swirling the pan occasionally. (The syrup will thicken more upon cooling.)
  3. Turn off heat and stir in the rose water (or orange blossom water); cool to room temperature.
Coconut "Semolina" Cake
  1. Preheat oven to 375°F; brush the tahini on the inside of a 10-inch round baking pan.
  2. Whisk together the corn flour, baking powder, and sugar in a large bowl. Stir in the coconut oil and then the milk until combined, and then fold in the coconut.
  3. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and spread it out evenly; let it sit for 10 minutes.
  4. Score the batter into 1-inch square or diamond shapes with a sharp knife, periodically dipping the knife in hot water and drying it off before continuing to score the batter; place 1 almond in the center of each diamond.
  5. Bake until the sides and top are golden brown, about 30 minutes. (If the sides are brown but the top isn’t, you can broil the cake for a couple minutes to brown the top.)
  6. Once out of the oven, cut the cake along the lines you scored. Slowly pour the cooled syrup onto the hot cake. Let the cake sit at room temperature 2 hours to absorb the syrup before serving.
Recipe courtesy of An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair by Faith Gorsky (Tuttle Publishing; Nov. 2012); reprinted with permission.
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  1. Beautiful texture, color…that cake looks wonderful!
    Where I come from, Macedonia, these types of cakes/desserts are something we make quite often, mostly as a weeknight dessert.

  2. That sounds awesome Jeanette – I love your changes and am glad to hear it was still so delicious!

  3. Your cake turned out absolutely gorgeous, Jeanette! I am dying to try it with your changes — especially the scented honey syrup!

  4. Adding cornmeal and corn flour to this cake is a great idea! That probably does mimic the texture of the semolina flour perfectly!!

  5. That looks delicious!! However, we also have a corn allergy in our family in addition to the wheat. Do you think any other gfree flour might work?

  6. The cake looks freakin’ amazing and I have to say I just love all the substitutions you made! I would make this in a heartbeat and I have all the ingredients, which seems to always be a problem when I fall in love with a recipe. Usually I have to put it on the back burner until later and then I forget. Not the case here. Thanks.

  7. wow this looks so good Jeanette!! I am going to have to try this

  8. Great idea to sub cornflour for the semolina, it looks so moist and delicious!

    • Thanks Sylvie – I read about it somewhere and was so excited to find this flour – it has a nice texture to it and it’s not too coarse like regular cornmeal.

  9. This look so beautiful and tasty Jeanette! One question–can I make corn flour at home by grinding my cornmeal or is it a unique product?

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