When you combine semolina flour, regular flour, almonds, orange juice, orange zest and Cointreau to bake a cake in addition to the usual suspects, and then drench it with a spiced sugar syrup, you get a pan of deliciousness called revani, aka ravani.
Named after the 16th-century libertine Turkish poet Revani, the cake is a sweet staple in Turkey and Greece. Over the years, it has been adapted depending on the region where it’s made, availability of ingredients and innovations. But there has always been two standout constants – semolina and syrup.
Ground from durum wheat, the coarse semolina makes the revani spongy and grainy at the same time. Revani variations might leave out the all-purpose flour, increase or decrease the number of eggs, add vanilla or almond extract and include yogurt, she said, but a revani is not a revani without the semolina.
Warm sugar syrup also plays a pivotal role. It can be just a simple one of sugar and water, or can be jazzed up with spices such as cinnamon or cloves or a combination of both. Some bakers add a little lemon juice to cut the sweetness, and some perfume it with rosewater or orange-blossom water. For a spirited finish, some also add Grand Marnier or Cointreau along with orange zest.
Even though revani can be made without orange juice, zest or Cointreau, it would be a shame to leave them out. They add a sun-drenched fruity flavor that leaves you smacking your lips.
Most of the revani recipes that I came across called for pouring the syrup over the top of the revani as soon as it’s pulled out of the oven. But Aleka Batis of Penn Hills, Pa., said she lets the revani cool down before she pours the syrup on it. “If it is hot, the syrup will go to the bottom of the pan,” she said.
Revani typically does not contain nuts. But with bakers trying to put their stamp of creativity on the ambrosial cake, some add not only almonds or walnuts to the batter but also garnish it with nuts, desiccated coconut or chocolate chips. A few even make it in the form of cupcakes and top it with colorful sprinkles.
Serves 10 to 12
FOR THE CAKE
1 cup butter, plus more for greasing pan, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
6 large eggs, separated
1 1/2 tablespoons Cointreau
1 tablespoon orange juice
Zest from 1 orange
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup coarse semolina flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt, plus 1 pinch
1/2 cup slivered blanched almonds, lightly toasted and finely chopped
FOR THE SYRUP
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 slice orange peel, 2 inches long
1 cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons Cointreau, optional
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare 9-by-13-inch baking pan.
In a bowl, beat together butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Add egg yolks, 1 at a time, mixing well until combined. Then add Cointreau, orange juice and zest, mixing 1 minute more. Scrape down the sides of the bowl twice during mixing.
In another bowl, combine all-purpose flour, semolina flour, baking powder, 1 / 4 teaspoon salt and almonds.
Slowly add flour mixture to butter-sugar batter, 1/3 at a time. Mix only until just combined. Set batter aside.
With clean whisks, beat egg whites together with remaining pinch of salt until stiff peaks form, about 3 to 5 minutes. Gently fold egg whites into batter, until just combined. You do not want to lose any of the airy volume from the egg whites.
Transfer batter to prepared pan. Using spatula, smooth the top into an even layer.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown and cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
While cake is baking, combine sugar, water, orange peel and cinnamon stick in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Then reduce heat to medium and simmer for 15 minutes.
Remove cinnamon stick and orange peel. Add Cointreau, if desired, and stir well.
When cake is done, gently pour hot syrup over the top. Cover with foil, and let cake sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour to cool.
Slice into squares, and serve.
Adapted from “It’s All Greek to Me” by Debbie Matenopoulos (BenBella Books; 2014)