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An Ottolenghi Weekend – Semolina, Coconut & Marmalade Cake

I love semolina. I don’t know what it is about it but I can’t get enough. It’s not as if I grew up eating it as a child but there is something about the texture that draws me to it on menus and in recipes.

A Semolina Primer

Semolina is purified, coarse milled wheat middlings. Depending on where you are in the world, semolina may be known by other names (grits, farina) and may also be made of other products (rice, maize) but generally, it is wheat based.

Traditionally made from Durham wheat, it’s been around for thousands of years and is readily at home in savoury or sweet dishes.  It is the key ingredient in couscous, is a staple in the form of a porridge in many parts of Africa, can be used for crumbing and to prevent bread or pizza bases sticking to the baking stone. Its uses in desserts are as varied with one of my favourites being Indian halwa where the semolina is roasted and cooked with lots of spices, butter and milk until it is a thick mixture then served topped with toasted nuts. It’s also used in Middle Eastern syrup cakes. It’s interesting that the word halwa or halawah or halva is also used in the Middle East, referring to either grain based desserts or one we are more familiar with, sesame based desserts.

The ‘Right’ Type of Semolina

The trouble with semolina is I never seem to have the right type. On holidays, in Tuscany (shameless travel wanker), I looked for bread crumbs or fine semolina to crumb fresh stuffed zucchini flowers. I made do with the coarse grains which gave a decided crunch to the dish. Back in Australia, I bought a bag of semolina from the supermarket only to discover it was the fine version, not the version I needed for halwa. I made do and mended. I needed finely ground for my Fragrant Coconut Lime & Rosemary Syrup Cake but only had coarse. Recently, I bought bag labelled coarse and this too turned out to be fine. When I went to make this recipe, I only had fine ground but it seems to have worked out nonetheless.

I suppose what I’m saying is that semolina is fairly forgiving as an ingredient so just go with what you have or haven’t got. Speaking of substitutions, I also had to make a few others (see notes at bottom) so I guess the recipe is fairly forgiving too.

Coconut Marmalade cake slices on plate with mini tagine dish of yoghurt

This recipe is freely adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s ‘Jerusalem’. There’s another semolina cake in the same book so I’ll be giving that a go at some stage, if I can ever get the right grind of semolina!

Semolina, Coconut & Marmalade Cake
(Yotam Ottolenghi)


  • 180ml light flavoured oil (eg: sunflower or canola)
  • 240ml orange juice
  • 160g orange marmalade
  • 4 medium eggs
  • grated zest of 1 orange
  • 70g sugar
  • 70g desiccated coconut
  • 90g plain flour
  • 180g semolina
  • 2 x tbsp ground almonds
  • 2 x tspn baking powder


  • 200g caster sugar
  • 140ml water
  • 1tbsp orange blossom water*


  • Whisk oil, juice, marmalade, eggs and orange zest together until marmalade dissolves.
  • In a separate bowl, mix together all of the dry ingredients and add the wet mix.
  • Mix well until combined – the mixture should be runny.
  • Grease and line 2 x 500g loaf tins and divide mixture evenly between them.
  • Bake in an oven preheated to 180c for 45 – 60 minutes or until a skewer inserted in a cake comes out clean.
  • Remove when cakes are cooked and are a golden orange brown on top (they change colour very quickly towards the end).
  • Near the end of the baking time, place the syrup ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to the boil for a few minutes and then removes from the heat.
  • Remove cakes from the oven and using a pastry brush, brush cakes all over with hot syrup. Do not pour all of syrup on one one go.
  • Allow syrup to soak in for a minute and then brush cakes with more syrup. Repeat process until all syrup has been used and absorbed into cakes
  • Allow the cakes to cool a little, then remove with paper and allow to cool on wire rack (you may need a tray to catch stray syrup drips).
  • Serve with cream or natural yoghurt.

Makes 2 cakes

Coconut Marmalade 3


  • As usual, I didn’t have all the right ingredients. I substituted good quality apple juice for the orange juice and used some dried blood orange peel to flavour the syrup. I omitted the orange zest as there are only imported oranges in the shops at present. The substitutions had no apparent impact.
  • These cakes keep well in a Tupperware container fridge for up to a week. They also freeze well, which is why it’s worth making two.
Coconut Marmalade cake slices with yoghurt
12 comments… add one
  • Amanda (@lambsearshoney) June 7, 2014, 9:37 am

    Oh, I am sooo making this! I first discovered semolina when I was a baby nurse some time last century. The hospital I trained at had a wonderful kitchen (I know, times have changed) and they made the most creamy, delicious semolina for breakfast. I’ve been a devotee ever since.

    • Fiona Ryan June 7, 2014, 2:49 pm

      Last Century! I think we must have similar tastes Amanda. which is why I enjoy your recipes so much.

  • Gorgeous recipe Fiona. I grew up on semolina and still make it for myself for breakfast sometimes. I agree with you, it is hard to know which one you are buying!

    • Fiona Ryan June 7, 2014, 2:51 pm

      It’s funny how it’s considered ‘old fashioned’ yet so many Middles Eastern dishes use it. I’ve had two comments now about breakfast so now I’m going to have to try it out. Thanks for your never ending support of my blog Liz.

  • Johanna GGG June 7, 2014, 10:55 pm

    semolina is something I love in cakes and breads but I never quite understand it so your discussion of semolina is very useful but what do you mean by middlings? the cake sounds wonderful – I have made cakes with semonlina and almond meal which I love but I use it more in pizza dough

    • Fiona Ryan June 8, 2014, 10:21 am

      Hi GGG – middlings are the by products of wheat milling. There are many parts of the wheat kernel and much of it is often discarded when making flour. The germ, bran and even broken bits of the centre kernel. These days it’s likely that much of the semolina in the west is actually made from whole wheat rather than a by product but in places such as East Africa where there is no waste of food product, these middlings may go into semolina or as it’s known in that region ‘pap’. Let me tell you, pap tastes exactly what it sounds like. Wallpaper paste. It is not usually roasted before the liquid is added hence the gelatinous, unseasoned nature.

    • Fiona Ryan June 8, 2014, 10:22 am

      I should also mention that this cake does contain almond meal but there are many semolina cakes that contain only semolina.

  • Carole from Carole's Chatter July 31, 2015, 12:21 pm

    thanks for bringing this on over, Fiona. If you would like to add to the rice/grains collection go right ahead – just leave a short comment on that post so I know to pin your dishes. Cheers

  • Allison April 21, 2016, 9:58 pm

    I am going to try and make this, however, I will substitute the marmalade for orange blossom jam (yes, you can buy it at Middle Eastern grocers) which will give it an even more Middle Eastern flavor. I, too, love Ottenlenghi’s recipes and have all his books except the new one ‘Nopi’ which to me is more a chefs book rather than a home cook

    • Fiona Ryan April 22, 2016, 10:03 am

      Hello Allison. Orange Blossom is a great idea. I’m not even that big a fan of marmalade, I just have a lot of it! Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      • Allison May 3, 2016, 8:11 pm

        Look up the Walnut and Halva cake on Ottenlenghi’s website, you will LOVE it (and take some time out and “discover” Diana Henry I just purchased her book ‘A Bird in the Hand” all chicken recipes. they are SO good……)

        • Fiona Ryan May 4, 2016, 9:55 am

          You had me at ‘Halva’! I will look up Diana right now. Thanks for the recommendation.

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