This recipe for no-bake Greek semolina cake (halva) with oriental spices requires no butter, no eggs and no dairy!
This is a traditional cake made with semolina and requires no baking! Yes, you don’t have to switch on your oven; you’ll just need to heat your stove top. As if this is not easy enough, only 4 basic ingredients are needed, and some aromatics; cinnamon, cloves and vanilla. The basic ingredients are vegetable oil, semolina, sugar and water. I prefer to use half olive oil (for the healthy monounsaturated fats) and half of another neutral taste vegetable oil, since sometimes the taste of olive oil can be overpowering. However, you can use whatever type of oil you like!
In Greece, this cake is called halva. But halva, stands for 3 different recipes. There’s a type of halva made with corn flour and syrup, which is like a very thick cream that gelatinizes through cooking until it reaches a gummy consistency, almost like the consistency of Turkish delights. There’s also a halva made from tahini (very well grinded sesame seeds) and glucose syrup. This kind of sweet is usually made by professionals in very large batches since is either difficult to be made at home or the recipe is not well known – I haven’t figured this out yet. And, there’s this halva, made with semolina. It is naturally egg free, butter free and dairy free (just like these chocolate honey cookies) and it’s perfect for someone who follows a vegan diet. But don’t get me wrong! Whether you follow a vegan diet or not, you will absolutely love this dessert and its oriental character due to the nutty aroma of the cooked semolina and the spices used.
Fun fact! The original recipe is also called 1-2-3-4 recipe, because all you need is one cup oil, 2 cups semolina, three cups sugar and four cups water. How easy is that, ha? But you can play with it a little and reduce the quantities of the oil and sugar just to make it with fewer calories. In the recipe box below you’ll notice that this is what I do 🙂 In Greece this cake is served plain with some cinnamon dusting or with some fruits – usually cherries – which have been preserved in a very thick sugar syrup. I like to serve it with sugared cherries and kumquats.
Cook the semolina and oil in medium high or high heat, stirring constantly until it gets a nutty aroma and a deeper color. This makes all the difference! You can let the semolina take a brown color, or even a dark brown color according to your preference. But keep in mind that the darker the color, the “heavier” the taste.
Semolina comes in two types, finely ground and coarse ground. I use half and half, since I believe that this gives better results. If you want to use only one type, I would recommend the coarse ground semolina.
Use a large, deep pot because when semolina gets bubbly, tends to pop a little.
- ¾ cups vegetable oil (I use half olive oil and half sunflower oil)
- 2 cups semolina (coarsely ground, or half coarse and half fine)
- 2 cups white sugar
- ½ cup light brown sugar (you can substitute all white sugar)
- 4 cups water
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 4-5 cloves
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Lightly oil an 8 cup bundt pan, or another mold of your preference.
- Make the syrup: Place in a pot the sugar, water, cinnamon and cloves. Bring to a boil and turn off the heat.
- In the meantime, in a large, deep pot heat the oil and semolina. Cook in medium high or high heat, stirring constantly until it gets deeper in color and starts to smell nutty. Take off the heat.
- Remove cinnamon sticks and cloves from the syrup and add the vanilla.
- Carefully – because it will bubble a lot and may pop – add the syrup in the pot with the semolina mixture.
- Return to heat, reduce to medium and stir until the mixture thickens. It should be like a thick cake batter, but with coarse granules
- Spoon the batter in the mold and press it to fill every gap.
- Let it cool for 30 minutes and invert it onto a plate. It will need a few taps to come off the mold.
- Serve plain or with some fruits preserved in thick sugar syrup.
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