• Yield: Serves 8 to 10

  • Time: 40 minutes cooking

Sweet Middle East Sweet Middle East
  • 1 1/4 cups [225 g] semolina flour (regular, not fine)

  • 6 Tbsp [85 g] unsalted butter, at room temperature 

  • 1/4 cup [50 g] superfine sugar 

  • 1 1/2 cups [360 ml] whole-milk yogurt 

  • 1/4 tsp baking soda 

  • 1 tsp tahini 

  • 1/3 cup [50 g] blanched almonds 

  • 1/3 cup [50 g] hulled unsalted pistachios 

  • 1/3 cup [50 g] walnut halves 

  • 1/3 cup [50 g] unsalted cashews 

  • 1 1/2 cups [360 ml] Fragrant Sugar Syrup, at room temperature (recipe follows)

Nabak is a little Syrian town not far from Damascus on the way to Aleppo that is famous for its h’risseh. I used to stop there just for this cake. The name is confusing as it also describes a Lebanese savory dish, a kind of porridge made with wheat and meat. In Syria, however, there is no mistaking the name for anything but this delectable syrupy sponge cake topped with mixed nuts. This irresistible dessert is very simple to prepare. I make mine a little less sweet than is conventional, but it still drips with sugar syrup; I love the way the sticky sweetness is tempered by the crunchy nuts.

Put the semolina, butter, and superfine sugar in a mixing bowl and work together using a spatula until well blended. Add the yogurt and baking soda and mix until you have a firm batter.

Using the tahini, grease a 10-in [25-cm] round cake pan with sides about 1 3/4 in [4.5 cm] high. Spread the batter evenly across the prepared pan. Flatten it gently with the back of a spoon. Cover with plastic wrap, taking care not to let the plastic touch the top of the batter, and let rest in a cool place for 3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400°F [200°C] for about 20 minutes.

Scatter the nuts all over the surface of the batter and bake until the cake is golden, 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and pour the syrup all over. Don’t worry if the cake looks as if it is swimming in the syrup; it will absorb it all. Let the cake stand for 30 minutes to soak up the syrup. It may seem like too much syrup, but the cake needs it all. Of course, if you lack the Middle Eastern sweet tooth, you can decrease the amount. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 day.

Fragrant Sugar Syrup
Makes about 1 1/2 cups (360 ml)

  • 2 cups [400 g] superfine sugar

  • 1 1/2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice 

  • 1/2 cup [120 ml] water 

  • 1 Tbsp rose water 

  • 1 Tbsp orange blossom water

Put the sugar, lemon juice, and water in a saucepan and place over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to help the sugar dissolve. Boil for 3 minutes, and then add the rose water and orange blossom water. Mix well and remove from the heat. Let cool before using unless the recipe instructs otherwise. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Bring to room temperature before using.

From Sweet Middle East by Anissa Helou, Chronicle Books 2015.