Krishna Janmashtmi celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna. India has more gods and goddesses than I could worship in a lifetime. Thirty three million according to a quick Google search (though I suspect the number could be higher). Of all these various deities, Lord Krishna no doubt, is the most colourful, charming, unconventional of them all, and for me, also the most relate-able to our world today. I’d like to clarify here that I have limited religious and mythological knowledge. What I talk about here is my interpretation and perception derived from stories I’ve heard or seen growing up. So anyway, getting back to the topic at hand – Lord Krishna and his playful, charismatic ways. As a child he stole butter (his absolute favourite food), flirted with at least a hundred different maidens and knew exactly what to say to get his way; his way being the right way of course. As a child, no other deity was as fascinating to me as Krishna bhagwan. I didn’t know of any other mythological character who had stolen food and had maybe a hundred girlfriends. He could be devious and scheming and yet in all his actions and words there was a sense of righteousness and purpose. My perception of the various gods I had heard about was that they were just perfect. They didn’t lie (or hide the truth) because it would be wrong to – they would rather bear the consequences of speaking the truth, of course no stealing and absolutely no flirting and scheming. With Krishna bhagwan though I always felt he was so realistically perfect; with him, it would be ok to hide the truth or twist the truth somewhat as long as it was for the greater good.
Moving onto Janmashtami celebrations. It is believed Krishna bhagwan was born at midnight so the prayers and celebrations begin late at night and of course carry on way past midnight. Many observe a fast on his day which is broken only after midnight. Like all occasions and festivals back home, Prasad (offertory) is all important. Numerous sweet and savoury dishes are prepared, all vegetarian of course (no eggs and meats allowed). Like all devotees, I too wanted to make something special, something different, something that I hadn’t made before, to thank my favourite god.
I just cannot imagine a birthday without cake and that’s the obvious direction my mind took (the fact that I’m terrible at making Indian sweets had absolutely nothing to do with it!) but of course it had to be a cake without eggs. As luck would have it I came across this beautiful basbousa cake. Basbousa is a Middle Eastern cake made from semolina, so not only is it eggless, it is also flourless! This recipe is really quick and easy and perfect for those afraid of baking. I used a combination of orange and spices for the syrup and the citrus really helped balance the overall sweetness. If you are unsure how the cake will taste with all that syrup, you can pour half over the cake and reserve the other half to be served on the side. That way everyone can taste and decide for themselves if they would like to add more.
Lets eat, pray, party. Lord Krishna would approve, I think 😉
Basbousa soaked in an Orange and Spice Syrup.
Recipe adapted from The Mediterranean Dish
For the Cake
- 2 cups semolina/sooji/rava
- 1 cup yogurt
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup milk
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2-1 cup pistachios (optional)
For the syrup
- 11/2 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
- zest of one orange
- 1/2 cinnamon stick
- 4-5 pods of cardamom (lightly crushed)
- Preheat the oven to 180C.
- Lightly grease a 9 inch round (or 8 inch square) cake tin or baking dish. Keep aside.
- Melt the butter, either in the microwave (in a microwave safe bowl) or over the stove (on a low heat). Keep aside to cool.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine together the sugar and yogurt. Add in the semolina, baking powder and milk.
- Finally stir in the melted butter and let the mixture sit for a few minutes so the semolina has a chance to absorb all the butter.
- Transfer the mixture to the greased baking dish, smooth out the top a little and bake in a preheated oven for 40-45 minutes.
- This cake will not necessarily brown on top so if you want some colour, you could broil it briefly. I liked the white top for a change, so left it as is.
- While the cake is baking, prepare the syrup.
- In a small saucepan add all the ingredients for the syrup. (I used the zest and juice of one large navel orange, though any orange will do).
- Bring to a boil, over high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.Turn down the flame to low and let simmer till the syrup thickens a little.
- Once the syrup has reduced and thickened a little, take it off the heat and pour it through a sieve to remove the zest and spices. Let cool.
- Pour the syrup over the basbousa while its still hot (as soon as it comes out of the oven).
- Let the basbousa rest so the syrup can completely absorb into the cake.
- Top with sliced pistachios.
*The original recipe calls for 1 cup coarse plus 1 cup fine semolina. I used 2 cups of coarse semolina because that’s what I had in my pantry.
*I used low fat dairy milk, again because that’s what I had. You could easily substitute it with almond or soy milk.
*I chose to garnish with pistachios because I love the flavour and colour. You could substiture with any other nuts or coconut chips or leave it as is.
*You can flavour the syrup according to your preference or even make it a simple sugar syrup.