When I began thinking about what food to pair with Nermin Bezmen’s fascinating book Kurt Seyt & Shura, my mind went to to different cuisines: Russian and Turkish. Russian, most of the action occurs in Russia, and Turkish, because the hero and author are both Turkish. Further, the story concludes in Turkey, where the main characters find refuge and a home after the traumatic events of the Great War and the Russian Revolution, and the book was originally written in Turkish. I toyed with the idea of blinis or borscht, but that cuisine is not so far removed from what I grew up with, and I wanted to explore. Because, as you probably know, I’ve never met a cuisine I haven’t liked!
Well, this little foray into Turkish cuisine left me wanting seconds. Once I began looking for recipes, I found so many foods I’m itching to try. I nearly made savoury cheese-filled boreks, and indeed, they might be on the menu this week, but I decided on a sweet instead. But what sweet, you ask. Perhaps baklava, that nut-and-honey-drenched ecstasy in phyllo? Or lokum, commonly known as Turkish Delight? Both very tempting, but I have made both before and wanted to learn something new. Eventually I decided to try Revani, because it looked and sounded delicious, and the ingredients are all easy to find in a North American supermarket.
Revani is a light yogurt-based semolina cake, drenched in a sweet citrus-tinged syrup. It has been popular in Turkey since the Ottoman period and is named in honour of the sixteenth-century Turkish poet by that name. There is also evidence that the cake is Sephardi in origin. Similar syrup-soaked cakes are found all around the Mediterranean basin, but I like this version because it is nut-free, which makes my allergies happy.
The recipe I used is based on that of Ozlem Warren, from her website Ozlem’s Turkish Table. Where I changed it was in the syrup: I added a bit of orange blossom water as the syrup was cooling. I’m not sure how authentic this addition is, but I love orange blossom water and use it whenever I think it will work. It does. Trust me.
A couple of notes:
- Use the finest grind of semolina you can find. I found some semolina for pizza at my favourite Italian supermarket down the street.
- Let the syrup cool before pouring it over the cake. That means you have to make it ahead and not slurp it all up while the cake is baking. Sorry.
So, without further ado, the recipe:
- 1-1/2 (300g) cups sugar
- 1-1/2 cups (375g) water
- juice of half a lemon
- 1 TBSP orange blossom water (optional, but use it anyway)
- 3 eggs
- 1 scant cup (200g) sugar
- 1 cup (170g) fine grain semolina
- 2 TBSP regular flour
- 1 cup (250g) plain yogurt
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 2 TBSP olive oil (I used a combination of extra virgin mixed with some regular veg oil to cut the strong taste)
- zest of one lemon
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- To make the syrup, bring the water and sugar to a boil, then let simmer on medium-low for 10 minutes. Add the lemon juice and simmer 2 more minutes, then add the orange blossom water and let simmer one more minute. Remove from heat and let cool. Do not eat with a spoon. Yet.
- Preheat the oven to 350F / 180C and prepare a pan. The original recipe calls for an 8×10 pan liberally greased with olive oil. I used an 8×8 silicon cake pan that I didn’t grease at all.
- In an electric mixer (or with a whisk if you’re feeling energetic), whip the eggs with the sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy and the sugar is completely incorporated. Then add the semolina, flour, yogurt, baking powder and olive oil. Beat till smooth, and finally add in the lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla. Pour into the cake pan and bake for about half an hour, until the top is golden and a tester comes out dry, with a few crumbs.
- Let the cake cool for about 5 minutes, then slowly spoon the syrup over the cake allowing it to absorb before adding the next drizzle. Some people like to slice the cake in squares or diamonds before pouring on the syrup, as this helps the syrup soak in all through the cake. Keep going until the cake won’t absorb any more syrup. You will probably have gone through most of it. Now you can eat the rest.
- Top with finely chopped pistachios and toasted coconut for a traditional Turkish treat, and enjoy with tea or strong coffee.
The cake is amazing fresh and warm, but it keeps very nicely in fridge for a few days.