Ottolenghi Pistachio and Rosewater Semolina Cake

I bought Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh’s book “Sweet” for Christmas and have been toying with the idea of making this cake ever since, but when I saw him making it on Masterchef last week, I just knew that I couldn’t put it off any longer.  It has everything that I love about a cake with a difference.  Firstly rosewater which is my all time favourite flavouring, ground almonds and pistachios, lemon,  and the surprising addition of semolina.  

Semolina Pistachio and Rose cake Ottolenghi

This recipe, as with most of Ottolenghi’s, has loads of ingredients and exotic flavours.  Don’t let the long recipe put you off,  believe me, it is well worth the effort.  It is unlike any other cake you will eat. The smell alone is heavenly, and with the aroma of rosewater, cardamom and nuts wafting out of the oven, I could hardly resist the temptation to eat it as it came out.  This is a drizzle cake, so while it is still warm the beautiful sweet and rosy syrup is poured over the top of the cake, which makes it so sweet and moist.

When using rose petals to decorate, make sure they are pesticide free, wash them thoroughly before using and dry on a dish towel.  Lightly paint both sides of the petals with the whisked egg wash and dip lightly  into caster sugar.  I dried some without sugar as well.  To do this place the prepared rose petals on a lined baking tray and put into a 100ºC oven for about 20 to 30 minutes until dry and crunchy, then set aside to cool.

If you live in South Africa, be warned, pistachios are crazy expensive, so this is a costly cake to make, but I still feel it is worth every cent.  Enjoy and let me know if you have tried it.


4.56 from 9 votes
Ottolenghi Pistachio and Rose Semolina Cake

From the Book "Sweet" by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh

Servings: 12
  • 3 Cardamom pods
  • 150 g shelled pistachios
  • plus extra for decoration
  • 100 g ground almonds
  • 170 g semolina
  • 1 and 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 300 g salted butter, at room temperature (or if using unsalted butter add 1/4tsp salt)
  • 330 g caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 Tbsp rose water
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 200 g Greek Yoghurt
  • 200 g creme fraiche
  • 1 Tbsp icing sugar
  • 1 Tbsp rose water (optional)
  • 100 ml lemon juice
  • 80 ml rose water
  • 100 g caster sugar
ROSE PETALS (Optional)
  • 1 egg white, whisked
  • 10 g rose petals
  • 25 g caster sugar
  1. Preheat your oven to 180ºC (160ºC if you are using a fan setting)

  2. Grease and line a 23cm springform cake tin 

  3. Crush the cardamom pods and take out the seeds and place in a food processor.

  4. Add the pistachios and blitz until the mixture is finely ground.  Transfer to a bowl and add the ground almonds, semolina, baking powder and salt (if using unsalted butter) and mix together and set aside.

  5. Put the butter and sugar into an electric mixer bowl with a paddle attachment and beat on medium high until fully combined.  Do not overwork as you don't want to get too much air into the mix.  While the machine is running slowly add the lightly whisked eggs in a few batches.  Make sure each batch is incorporated before adding more egg.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  The eggs will curdle slightly.

  6. Remove the bowl from the machine and add the dry ingredients, folding them in gently. Once again do not over mix.  Fold in the lemon zest, lemon juice, rosewater and vanilla extract.

  7. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and level the top.  Bake for 55-60 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean but oily.  You need a nice dark golden, firm crust on this cake because you are now going to pour a lot of syrup onto it.

    As soon as the cake comes out of the oven drizzle the syrup over the top.  There is a lot of syrup, but use it all.  Sprinkle the pistachios over the cake whilst it is still wet, which will help the nuts to stick.

    Allow the cake to come to room temperature before taking it out of the cake tin. Sprinkle with crystalised rose petals. and serve with the prepared cream.

  1. About 10 minutes before the cake is going to come out of the oven start making the syrup.  Place all the ingredients in a small saucepan over a medium heat and bring to the boil, stirring so that the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat.  The consistency is very watery and all this syrup is going to be poured onto the cake.

  1. Whisk the yoghurt, creme fraiche and icing sugar together, together with the rose water (optional).  Serve a generous spoonful with each slice of cake.

  1. Brush each petal with whisked egg white and dip into castor sugar.  Shake off excess sugar.  Place on a lined baking sheet and dry out in the oven at 100ºC for about 20 minutes until crisp and dry

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  • Reply Sarah March 14, 2018 at 9:17 AM

    This does seem a complicated recipe but I have made it and it is well worth reading it through slowly and actually once you have weighed out the ingredients it is just a matter of minutes to put it all together. It is beautiful

    • Reply Shades of Cinnamon March 14, 2018 at 9:21 AM

      Thanks for your input Sarah, it always helps for others who are planning to bake this cake.

  • Reply Linda Louw March 14, 2018 at 9:18 AM

    Such a lovely complex cake. I am sure that it tastes just as good as it looks

  • Reply Paulie March 14, 2018 at 9:27 AM

    I had to make this cake as soon as I saw it. I was so nervous that it would not be able to absorb all that syrup but it did and it made it so beautifully moist. Lovely recipe

  • Reply Eric March 14, 2018 at 6:00 PM

    Absolute winner

  • Reply Jan March 15, 2018 at 7:41 AM

    It looks divine Mouth Watering!!

  • Reply ratna March 19, 2018 at 5:52 AM

    These are my favourite flavour too!

  • Reply Lindsay Wagner March 11, 2019 at 12:19 PM

    We found the rosewater completely overpowering. I assume this is because of the amount used in the syrup. We originally purchased one small bottle (60 ml) of rosewater for this cake, then realised we needed 80 ml for the syrup alone, and had to buy a second bottle. I always thought rosewater was deliberately sold in small bottles because it is so powerful. Could we replace, say, half of the rosewater in the syrup with something else? My husband wondered about orange juice? It’s a shame because the texture of the cake is lovely, and looks very pretty with the pistachios and rose petals, but in the end we struggled to eat it and threw half of it away.

    • Reply Shades of Cinnamon March 11, 2019 at 2:22 PM

      Hi Lindsay, I’m so sorry you found the rosewater overpowering. This recipe is the property of Ottolenghi and therefore I made it exactly as his recipe specifies. I think maybe some rosewater’s are stronger than others, because I have bought 750ml bottles of it, which I found much milder than the small bottle I buy from a diffent supplier. You could just use the 2 TBL in the recipe and not use any in the syrup. Quite honestly I think you could make this cake without the syrup, which will make your cake slightly drier. If you want to make a syrup, I would experiment with orange juice if you liked, or just make it with lemon and sugar. Maybe try it on a small piece of cake first before you pour it over the whole cake. These cakes are all a matter of taste, and rosewater is not everyone’s favourite. Thanks so much for your feedback. Have a lovely week.

    • Reply Meghan April 7, 2022 at 6:22 AM

      You used rose essence not rosewater. Rose water isn’t sold in 60 ml small bottles.

  • Reply Ilo April 15, 2019 at 6:20 PM

    Lindsay, you have used rose essence and not rose water hence the overpowering taste. The difference between pure rose water and rose essence is huge. The ingredients in rose water are literally rose oil and water. Rose essence, on the other hand, contains ethanol as well as rose oil. Undiluted, rose essence is therefore far stronger than rose water. It’s easy to do as I have made the same mistake myself once – I bought a small bottle of “rose water” , but it should have been labeled as “rose essence”!

  • Reply Jacky May 7, 2019 at 10:04 PM

    I don’t have a mixer with a paddle attachment. Would it be OK to beat the mixture with a wooden spoon? Presumably whisking is not an option.

    • Reply Shades of Cinnamon May 9, 2019 at 8:00 AM

      Hi Jacky, you could use a wooden spoon which would give your arms a good work out. Even a little hand mixer would be better.

  • Reply Fatima August 22, 2019 at 10:55 AM

    I have attempted making this twice now and what a disaster. Both have sunk in the middle and look awful. I followed the instructions exactly. I want to cry.

    • Reply Shades of Cinnamon August 22, 2019 at 4:18 PM

      Hello Fatima, I am so sorry that your cake has not been a success (twice) as the ingredients are very costly and I know how devastating it can be when that happens. This cake is a labour of love as it is complicated with so many ingredients. In my experience there are a few reasons for cakes sinking in the middle.

      1.If the cake is not properly cooked in the middle and it is taken out of the oven too soon. All ovens are so different, some being much hotter than others. If the temperature of the oven is too high it will cause the cake to rise too rapidly. Also towards the end of baking test the cake to see if it is fully baked. If your skewer inserted into the cake does not come out clean, then it means the cake needs to bake for a little longer.

      2.Opening the oven door too soon to check on it. Oven doors should never be opened within the first half of baking. I like to only open it 5 minutes before it is ready to come out, then I can check if it is cooked quicker than the time given, or needs a little more time.

      3. Over beating the batter and incorporating too much air causes a cake to collapse in the middle.

      4. If the cake is cooled in a drafty place this an also affect it.

  • Reply Tanisha Bhuraria October 8, 2019 at 2:30 PM

    Hi. I tried this recipe today. Though the flavours are amazing, but I find it overly buttery and may be because of that breaking apart when trying to cut a slice. Any ideas what could be wrong or if I could done anything wrong.

    • Reply Shades of Cinnamon October 9, 2019 at 9:37 AM

      Hi Tanisha, Yes this is a very buttery recipe and because of the syrup poured over the cake after cooking, makes for a very moist cake. You could always leave the syrup off, or only pour a small amount over. It will be less fragrant from the smaller amount of rosewater used , but will still be good. The flavour also depends on the brands of rosewater used . The difference between pure rose water and rose essence is huge. The ingredients in rose water are rose oil and water, whereas rose essence is concentrated. I wouldn’t change the amount of butter though – the actual cake should be perfect without lots of syrup.

  • Reply Linda November 22, 2019 at 2:24 PM

    Hi Lindsay. I have just read the comments before baking this cake, and found that I too have bought rose essence labelled as Rose Water by Nielsen Massey.
    In this case, how much water should I add to this to be able to use it, or should I use a lot less essence, a d if so how much TIA xx

    • Reply Shades of Cinnamon December 23, 2019 at 10:34 AM

      Hi Lindsay, I have not used Nielsen Massey Rose Water before but as it is a very good brand I think it would be quite a powerful flavour. Use the 2 TBLSP (or 1 if you don’t want it too strongly rose flavoured, and instead of 1/2 tsp vanilla essence, use 1 tsp). Then for the syrup I would make the syrup without the rosewater and add a little bit and taste. Keep adding until the flavour suits your palette. I hope this helps.

  • Reply Verity Coleman January 15, 2020 at 2:13 PM

    I have offered to make this for my friend’s wedding cake. How long do you think it would keep? I would need to make it on Tuesday to be eaten on Sunday. Any suggestions would be very welcome.

    • Reply Shades of Cinnamon January 16, 2020 at 2:05 PM

      Hi Verity, This is a very damp cake, so I would suggest that you don’t pour the drizzle syrup over it until the day before, because I think it would go soggy. I would definitely do a trial run of the cake before you make it for the wedding so that you know what works and what doesn’t work. You may be happy with it without the syrup. If I make cakes in advance I always keep them in the fridge until they are needed, but I have never made this particular one such a long time in advance. Also remember to be very careful about the strength of the rosewater, see the thread below in the comments about rosewater/rose essence, as there are so many different strengths of rosewater, and some are very overpowering. Let me know how you get one. xxx

  • Reply Alyssa January 25, 2020 at 9:33 PM

    Is this recipe using whole semolina, or semolina flour? If whole, could I use semolina flour instead if that’s what I have on hand?

  • Reply Cheryl McGhie May 30, 2020 at 8:45 PM

    This recipe turned out so well, the combination of flavours is simply amazing. I didn’t have pistachios to hand, instead I replaced it with 90g of Pistachio Cream and topped up the difference with almond flour. It rose well and the only thought I have next time is to use half the amount of syrup but that’s because I personally found it too sweet. I didn’t have any dairy substitute to hand for the cream but can imagine that served with it, it would go really well.

    • Reply Shades of Cinnamon June 1, 2020 at 8:11 AM

      Fantastic Cheryl, I am so glad it turned out well for you. I agree the syrup does make it very sweet, but as it was not my personal recipe I didn’t want to change anything. Take care and stay safe.

  • Reply deepa dattani June 11, 2021 at 1:11 AM

    i have mas cake a couple of times and its amazing, everyone loves it. I want to make this for my sister but she doesn’t eat eggs. do you have a suggestion for the egg?

    • Reply Shades of Cinnamon June 17, 2021 at 1:52 PM

      Hi, I am glad you like the cake, but I am sorry I have never substituted anything for the eggs. I know people do use apple sauce , or mashed banana in cakes as an egg substitute but I am not sure how much you would need.

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