This semolina cake is also known as “Gris Halva” in Bulgaria. Semolina Halva is one of the most delicious desserts in the Balkans. It’s basically semolina that is slowly toasted in oil until golden, soaked in hot syrup, and pressed into a pan/mold.
This is the dessert that almost every country, from the Balkans to the Mediterranean to India (and every country in between), claim as their own. I always say that food unites us all, so I am grateful this delicious dessert exists, regardless of where it first originated from.
Our sweet semolina cake is not only dairy-free, it’s egg-free as well. We call this recipe the “1:2:3:4 recipe” as traditionally it requires 1 part oil, 2 parts semolina, 3 parts sugar, 4 parts water. The traditional method is always too oily or sweet for us so we like to reduce the sugar and oil by half.
Semolina is a type of flour made from coarsely milled durum wheat. It has a larger grain size than all-purpose flour, which gives this cake great texture. Semolina is used all over the world, in dishes such as fresh pastas, sweet puddings, and couscous.
There are many ways to customize this cake. Optional additions, such as raisins, slivered almonds, chopped walnuts, or any dried fruit make lovely complements to this cake. You can give this dessert any shape you like, as the semolina will retain the shape of any dish or mold you use.
Semolina Cake (Halva)
- 4 cups water
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- slice of lemon optional
- ½ cup neutral oil, such as avocado oil
- 2 cups coarse semolina (400 grams) (semolina #2)
- sliced almonds and cinnamons, for garnish (optional)
- Add the water to a pot with the sugar and lemon slice (if using). Warm over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves.
- When the syrup begins to boil, reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for about 5 minutes (do not stir it after it boils).
- Take the syrup off the stove and remove the lemon slice. Let the syrup sit at room temp while you toast the semolina.
- In the meantime, warm a big pan over medium heat. Add the oil and let it heat up. Add the semolina and stir with a wooden spoon. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue stirring for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the semolina is a beautiful light golden color.
- Note: don't leave the pan unattended and stir frequently until the semolina is light and golden. You do not want the semolina to burn, so cooking low and slow is key here.
- Pour the syrup on top of the semolina and please be careful. Keep a distance from the pot when pouring in the syrup as it can bubble up in the pan. Stir it with a wooden spoon for another few minutes or until the semolina has absorbed all of the syrup.
- The semolina is ready when the it pulls away from the sides of the pan.
- Remove the pan from the heat and pour the hot semolina mixture into any pan you like. We used an 9-by-5 inch loaf pan but any pan you have will work.
- Gently press the semolina mixture down, making sure it takes the shape of the pan and smooth it out on top completely.
- Let it cool completely. This should take about 1 hour.
- Once cooled, use a silicone spatula and gently loosen the cake from all sides. Flip the loaf pan over onto a plate and remove the pan. Top the cake with sliced almonds, cinnamon, or anything you like. Enjoy!