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Gluten-free Basbousa with Pistachios, Almonds and Agave Nectar Syrup

May 28, 2010


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Variations of this sweet cake differ from country to country and baker to baker; some make it with shredded coconut, some with almonds and some with just semolina, it all depends on the local tastes and traditions. Basbousa means “just a kiss” in Arabic. Milk and refined sugar are two of the original ingredients, however I have converted this recipe to be vegan and gluten-free, replacing the semolina with quinoa flakes and almond flour (blanched almonds ground very fine), the dairy with hemp milk (although you could also use almond, rice or soy milk) and agave nectar syrup instead of the refined sugar. I have made these substitutions without compromising any of the sweet flavor of the cake. Just like Baba au Rhum, a French sweet yeast cake, a room-temperature syrup is poured over the hot cake just out of the oven. The difference in temperatures allows for the syrup to be more easily absorbed into the cake.

A few words about agave nectar syrup: it is a natural sweetener made from the blue agave plant native to Mexico, the same plant that tequila is made from. The Aztecs used the liquid from the core of the agave plant to sweeten food and drinks for centuries. Agave nectar has a much lower glycemic index than refined sugar and has none of the bitter aftertaste common with artificial sweeteners. With its many beneficial properties, agave nectar syrup is increasingly popular with consumers looking for a healthier, more natural option to sweeten their foods. Agave nectar is also a good alternative to honey for vegans.

Enjoy this basbousa as a sweet end to a meal, as an afternoon snack with coffee or tea or at breakfast as a sweet “kiss” to start your day.

Makes 1 (9-inch x 9- inch) cake; about 16 servings
Preparation time: 45 minutes




3/4 cup agave nectar syrup*
2 tablespoons water, preferably filtered
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon orange blossom water* or pure vanilla extract


1 cup coconut oil, melted (I use the Jarrow brand, Organic Extra Virgin Expeller Pressed)
1/4 cup agave nectar syrup*
4 tablespoons tahini, plus more for greasing the pan
1 teaspoon orange blossom water*
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup hemp milk* (can also substitute almond, rice or soy milk)
1 cup almond flour (finely ground blanched almonds)
1 1/2 cups quinoa flakes * (I use Organic Ancient Harvest)
1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder

1 1/2 cups chopped raw pistachios

*Available at specialty stores or online.


1 To make the syrup, combine the agave nectar syrup, water, lemon juice and orange blossom water (or pure vanilla extract) in a glass measuring cup with a spout (this will make it easier to pour the syrup over the hot cake later) and mix until dissolved. Reserve.

2 Preheat the oven to 350°F and position the rack to the center of the oven.

3 With a paper towel or a pastry brush dipped in tahini, grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch by 9-inch pan to prevent the cake from sticking. A 9-inch round pan also works well; a glass Pyrex dish is nice for presentation.

4 In a large mixing bowl whisk together until just combined the melted coconut oil, agave nectar syrup, tahini, orange blossom water, vanilla extract, hemp milk, almond flour and baking powder.

5 Pour batter into the prepared pan and top it evenly with the chopped pistachios.

6 Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the edges are browned and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

7 Remove from the oven and immediately pour the reserved syrup evenly on the cake.

8 Let cool completely on a rack uncovered until cake is room temperature, about an hour.

9 Cut into squares or wedges and serve with coffee or tea. I often enjoy it for breakfast.

Cake may be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

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  • Lena Garabedian

    Wow, that looks soooooo good. Thank you!

  • Arsho

    Basbousa was my favorite sweet…I’m glad to ‘see’ a vegan version of it and surely will give it a try. Thank you Hripsime for veganizing and … posting it!

    • You’re welcome, Arsho! I try to experiment with vegan recipes as much as I can. I am working on a vegan almond-chocolate cake now! Enjoy the Basbousa!

  • Edith

    Mmmmmm, mmmmmm, mmmmmm! I can’t wait to make this at home. Hripsime’s version of this is my favorite new sweet that I’ve tried this year. Really!

  • Molly

    I love basbousa, but now I’m on a wheat-free diet. I’ve been dreaming how to make it wheat-free, and this looks good. I thought about making it with cream of rice cereal, too, but yours is a lot healthier!

    • Basbousa is one of my favorite desserts too, Molly! You’re right quinoa has more nutriants than rice and gives the dessert a pleasant texture, compared to a mushy texture, when made with rice cereal. You can also try to make it with cream of buckwheat. I am glad this works for you. Please keep following my postings of new recipes, they’re all gluten free!! Enjoy “your” basbousa!

  • Anita

    This looks fantastic! Is it ok to use pure maple syrup instead of agave nectar?

  • Hi,
    I was looking for a syrup without sugar and found your website. right now I am making my variation of basbousa and I used polenta instead of semolina.
    Just tasted the batter and it was very nice already 🙂
    Thnx for the Agave syrup idea!

    • We’re glad you found us! It’s gratifying to know that we were able to help you find a recipe for syrup, without using sugar. Maple syrup is another option if you can find the organic variation. It doesn’t matter what ingredients you use to make your Basbousa, it will taste delicious when it’s made with LOVE! Enjoy!

  • Marty

    I’m getting ready to make this for a middle east luncheon. Can’t wait to try it. Shouldn’t step 4 include the quinoa flakes?

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