Semolina Sumac Cake

Recipe contributed by Johnisha Levi; photo by Mackenzie Smith Yield:  12 slices
Prep Time:  25 minutes Cook Time:  40 minutes

Semolina Sumac Cake

Sumac is a tangy spice made from grinding the berry-like fruit of the sumac bush. With the addition of pistachios and semolina flour and a garnish of dried rose petals, this cake sings with the flavors of the Middle East. It is a little bit cake, and a little bit pudding—a crumbly, moist hybrid not meant for neat slicing.


Sumac-infused water:

4 cups water

2 bunches (about ¼ to ⅓ cup) sumac berries, separated


1 cup sumac-infused water

1 cup (198 grams) sugar

½ teaspoon rose water (or to taste)


1 tablespoon tahini paste, for greasing

½ cup plus 1 tablespoon (111 grams) granulated sugar

½ cup unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped

2 cups (326 grams) semolina flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks or 227 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

¾ cup whole milk yogurt

¼ cup salted pistachios, coarsely chopped, for garnish

Dried rose petals, for garnish


To make the sumac-infused water:

  1. In a medium-size bowl, add 3 to 4 cups of cold water. Separate sumac berries and add to water. Soak for 15 minutes.
  2. Squeeze berries between palms to release juice. Repeat every 30 minutes at least three times. (For even more flavor, allow sumac berries to steep in water overnight.) Pour water through strainer and discard berries.

To make the syrup:

  1. Combine sumac water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring in order to fully moisten sugar. Continue to stir occasionally.
  2. When the sugar begins to simmer, refrain from stirring. Allow sugar to reach a rolling boil and remove pan from heat when sugar is thoroughly dissolved, approximately 2 minutes.
  3. Pour the syrup into a heat-proof container and cool to room temperature. Add the rose water.

To make the cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 10-inch ceramic pie pan or 10-inch cake pan with tahini paste.
  2. Combine the the sugar and pistachios in a food processor and pulse until finely ground. In a bowl, combine the ground pistachios mixture with semolina, baking powder, and salt. Whisk the dry ingredients until evenly combined.
  3. Pour the butter over the dry ingredients, stirring until thoroughly incorporated and no dry patches remain. Last,  stir in yogurt until thoroughly incorporated. Batter will have a thick, pancake-like consistency.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface with a spatula. With a knife, lightly score grid marks in a diamond pattern.
  5. Bake the cake on middle rack, rotating halfway through, until medium brown on surface and inserted knife comes out with only a few crumbs attached, about 30 to 40 minutes.
  6. Carefully slice midway through the cake along the grid lines. Pour the sumac syrup over the entire surface of the hot cake. Allow syrup to be absorbed for at least 1 hour before serving. Serve garnished with salted pistachios and dried rose petals over the top.

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