Baklava and Lemon Semolina Cake

Baklava and Lemon Semolina Cake

The cakes and sweets of the eastern Mediterranean are a deliciously sticky treat – and the big secret is they're not that hard to make at home, either
Dan Lepard's recipes for spiced baklava and lemon semolina cake Dan Lepard's recipes for spiced baklava and lemon semolina cake: Easy to make and delicious. Photograph: Colin Campbell for the Guardian

I often hear whispers about this Turkish bakery or that, but I suspect that the most delectable baklava and semolina cake is homemade. After all, it's easy to make, if slightly fiddly, and delicious. For all such cakes, though, you need a good sugar and honey syrup, else they just won't be the same.
Sugar and honey syrup

Replace some of the water with lemon juice, to add a sharp, citrus note that goes well with sweets such as these. Makes enough syrup for one 20cm square cake.

200g white sugar
300ml water (or a mixture of water and lemon juice)
1 or 2 tbsp honey

For a light syrup, put everything into a pot, bring up to a boil, turn off the heat and leave to cool slightly. Spoon hot over the still-warm cake. For a dark syrup – ideal for baklava – put half the sugar and an extra 50ml water in a saucepan and boil fiercely until it turns a dark reddish caramel. Carefully add the 300ml water (the hot sugar may splatter), the remaining sugar and the honey. Boil until the caramel dissolves, then spoon hot over the warm baklava.
Spiced baklava

Double the quantity of nut mixture to give a very thick layer, if you like (and I do). The spices are very subtle, so use more, if you prefer, or omit altogether for a traditional flavour.

300g walnuts, almonds or pistachios
75g caster sugar
The seeds from 5-6 cardamom pods, ground fine
1 tsp ground cinnamon
50g butter
25ml sunflower oil
Filo pastry
500ml dark sugar and honey syrup

Line the base and sides of a 20cm-square deep cake tin with a sheet of foil, and heat the oven to 180C (160C fan-assisted)/350F/gas mark 4.

Put a third of the nuts in a food processor with the sugar, spices and half the butter, and grind fine. Add the remaining nuts, and pulse until roughly chopped and mixed in (or chop by hand and stir through).

Melt the remaining butter in a pan and stir in the oil. On a clean worktop, lay half a sheet of filo, brush with the butter/oil mix, lay another half-sheet of filo on top and brush that, too; repeat until you have a pile six to eight sheets thick. Lay this in the tin, pressing it down well, and drape the excess over the sides. Pack the nut mixture firmly into it, and fold the excess pastry over the top. Butter and layer another six to eight filo half-sheets, and lay on top. Cut into 16 squares and bake for about 40 minutes. Pour the syrup over the baklava while it's still warm.
Lemon semolina cake

Be generous with the syrup here – it may seem excessive, but the cake soaks it up and firms as it cools. Very good served with thick yoghurt.

3 lemons
150ml sunflower oil
175g caster sugar
4 medium eggs
175ml milk
200g semolina
75g plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
500ml light honey syrup (see above)
Chopped pistachios or almonds

Line the base and sides of a 20cm-square deep cake tin with a sheet of foil, and heat the oven to 180C (160C fan-assisted)/350F/gas mark 4.

Finely grate the zest from the lemons (use the juice for the syrup), place in a bowl with the oil, sugar and eggs, and beat until smooth. Stir in the milk and semolina, add the flour and baking powder, and whisk until smooth. The batter will seem very thin, but don't worry: the semolina will pull in moisture and thicken it during the baking.

Pour into the tin and bake for 50 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool slightly. With the cake still in the tin, cut into squares and spoon over the syrup until it's outrageously soaked. Finally, scatter on the chopped nuts.