Honey-Drizzled Semolina Cake


If a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, and you catch more flies with honey, then think of today’s Rosh Hashanah recipe as my attempt to find out what a half cup of honey can do for your year.

Those cliches actually have little to do with sugar. They’re discussing something different, more sinister.


I know this because my sweet tooth has long made me vulnerable to bribery via cookies, ice cream, and cake.

When I was in kindergarten, not long after my little sister Kate’s birth turned me from the baby of the family to the maligned middle child, my mom signed me up for violin lessons. Middle children need special treatment sometimes, she knew. And so once a week we drove to Lincoln Square and I shoved a tiny violin beneath my chin and produced the most horrible squeaking sounds.

Then as now, I was tone deaf, and besides, I couldn’t understand my teacher’s heavy Russian accent.

But I wasn’t in it for the music. I was in it for the packaged chocolate Rice Krispie Treat my mom bought me on our way out of the city. The sweet erased the trials of each lesson–an hour of strings squeaking and a million false nods to my teacher’s “do you understand?”–and convinced me I could go back again. That meant another morning spent alone with my mom, which was sweetness enough.

The tradition of eating foods rich with honey on Rosh Hashanah–the Jewish new year–stems from the idea that if you eat sweets, you’ll live sweetly.

There’s another way of looking at it. That sweet foods on Rosh Hashanah bribe the year ahead to be full of joy and sweetness, to cast the world in its best light, to give us beautiful moments with family and friends and sunsets and beaches and dinner parties and cake. I know bribery does not appeal to all, but with stakes like that, count me in.

Just like that’s not a traditional way of thinking, this cake is not your traditional honey cake. It’s a play on the syrup-soaked semolina cake eaten in the Middle East, only I’ve substituted a honey-based syrup for drenching this straightforward, rustic, coarse-grained cake, which is also simple enough to be enjoyed after a new year’s meal of brisket and kugel.


Honey-Drizzled Semolina Cake
Makes 24 squares


For the cake
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups fine yellow semolina*
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt

For the syrup
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 cup water

*I buy semolina at a local halal market. You can likely find it at Indian or Middle Easter markets as well if it’s not at your regular supermarket.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Line it with parchment paper and grease the parchment paper too.

Cream the butter and the sugar using a handheld or an electric mixer – or your very strong arm. Then carefully beat in the eggs and the milk, since they’ll splash. Add the vanilla. The batter will look curdled at this point, but don’t worry.

In a second, smaller bowl, whisk together the semolina, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Sprinkle over the butter-egg mixture and beat just until smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, just until the cake is firm and slightly golden. It should also just start to pull away from the edges of the pan.

While the cake is baking, make the syrup: combine the sugar, honey, and water, and stir with a fork to dissolve some of the sugar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to make sure the sugar and honey dissolve. Lower the heat slightly and simmer for 5 minutes, until the syrup has thickened.

As soon as you take the cake out of the oven, pour the syrup slowly over the hot cake, stopping when the cake can absorb no more syrup. Cool, then cut into 24 squares, and serve.

Posted in: Baking For Others
  • Donna Green

    I love Honey and I love CAKE!!!

    This looks so good

  • Shelly

    Oh! This looks delicious!!

    • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

      It really is, Shelly – hope you get to try it!

  • http://twitter.com/thursday_girls Thursdays

    Love this! I’m convinced that bribery is the key to just about anything with kids! xo, stephania

    • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

      And maybe adults too? xx

  • Jamie Johnston

    This looks SO good! On my list of things to make! :)

  • Elisa @ Insalata di Sillabe

    this looks simply delicious and pretty easy to make! Can’t wait to try it out :)
    Thanks for the recipe!

    xo, Elisa

    • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

      You’re welcome, Elisa! Hope you enjoy.

  • irisvk

    Perfect! I have a huge bag of semolina I don’t know what to do with. Guess I’ll be making this soon.

    • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

      What did you buy your semolina for originally? Because now I have a big bag of semolina left over from this!

      • irisvk

        Semolina gnocchi!

        • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

          oh that sounds incredible – perhaps gnocchi is what I’ll make with the rest of my bag!

  • keisenpress

    I saw this and immediately thought of the cake I used to eat in Turkey–I am so excited to make this on Sunday. YUM!!

  • http://www.turntablekitchen.com Kasey

    This sounds delicious, Cara! Hope you have a wonderful holiday and the year ahead is sweet indeed.

    • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

      Thank you, Kasey!

  • http://twitter.com/MyFoodThoughts Brian Samuels

    What a way to start off the Jewish New Year than with this honey semolina cake! Beautiful!

  • sumanp

    this looks lovely! i’m thinking some rosewater or orange flower water added to the honey would take it over the top!

    • http://twitter.com/glutenfreejudee Gluten Free A-Z Blog

      I agree.. rosewater or orange flower water would be the best!

  • Kristi Rimkus

    I love the beautifully rich color of this cake. What a terrific way to start off the new year!

  • http://www.allacucina.com/ Alla Cucina Chef

    Looks good! I will have to give this a try.

  • Dana

    Just wanted to let you know I tried the recipe for Roshashana — it came out delicious! AND – it’s even better the next day… still moist and yummy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/izanman.dcuppies Izanman Dcuppies

    i must try this recipe.. tq for sharing the recipe

  • Summer

    I love your cake – thanks so much for this recipe! I have a couple of questions:

    – do you think I could swap out the butter and use vegetable oil (or similar) in its place?
    – do you think I could use polenta in place of semolina for my gluten free friends?

    I know substitutions completely change the recipe but was curious! I swear I am not out to butcher an amazing cake… :)

    • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ Cara

      Hi! To be honest I’m not sure about the answers to these, since I haven’t tried with those ingredients. But please report back if you experiment!

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