A delicious childhood dessert, this vegan, eggless lemon semolina cake used to be one of my favourites. This recipe is adapted from my mum's old semolina cake recipe. Semolina is used for several desserts in Romania, so I grew up with this ingredient. Lemon semolina cake was a true taste of patience for me. My mum used to make it in the afternoon, just before I'd go out and play with friends, but she will be vehement about letting it set overnight.
Needless to say that I'd sometimes sneak to the kitchen just to get some bits of the cake and be the first to taste it. Yum! This delicious eggless lemon semolina is based on the traditional Romanian semolina pudding. A staple dessert, so deeply imprinted in any child's memory. To such extent that we even have jokes and traditional saying about semolina pudding.
What made me do eggless lemon semolina cake?
As you might recall, I recently started experimenting with traditional Romanian recipes. While I grew up in Romania, my whole adult life was spent in Britain, where I became a national, I met my husband, I got married. My whole life feels basically British with not many things which connect to me to Romania, except a small part of my family.
So I wanted to go on a quest to discover traditions, cultural aspects and recipes. I started by making mamaliga (Romanian polenta), asking my family for their 100+ year zacusca recipe, making traditional sarmale (Romanian cabbage rolls) and now a famous Romanian dessert: semolina cake.
The trick to the semolina cake is that I asked mum for her original recipe. You know, the one I used to sneakily eat before it was ready, when I was a child. But the original, authentic recipe calls for dairy and egg. Nevertheless, she gave ma a "secret" recipe for making vegan tomato dough.
Let me say that again: tomato, in a sweet cake. Sceptical to say the least. But as it turns out, it actually tastes delicious and makes the cake sheet have this beautiful golden colour.
Turns out, tomato dough is quite common in Romania and used for when people need to cook with vegan alternatives before major celebrations.
How to make the eggless semolina cake (plus important tips)
There are three important steps to making this eggless semolina cake: the cake sheets, the filling and the assembly. Here's what to do.
In one bowl, mix the oil with sugar and salt. Mix until the salt and sugar are fully melted. Add the tomato paste, one tbsp at the time and continue mixing. Add the rum essence. Now add the baking soda and the flour, bit by bit, around 2/3 cups at the time. Continue mixing until the result is a sort of elastic, non-sticky dough.
Troubleshooting the tomato dough
The dough is too crumbly:
If your dough feels too crumbly, add a little water to the dough. Make sure you add one tbsp of water at the time. Continue doing so until your dough is elastic, smooth and non-sticky.
The dough is too wet:
If your dough feels too wet, add a little more flour, one tbsp at the time. Continue doing so until your dough is elastic, smooth and non-sticky.
Once the dough reaches the right consistency, chill it in the fridge for around 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 175C / 350F.
Take the dough out of the fridge and measure it on a scale. Divide it into four equal parts. If you don't have a scale, try to be as precise as possible.
Roll each part into a rectangle. I aimed for a minimum of 30 cm x 20 cm Don't worry if you are not super precise but try to get all four rectangles roughly the same.
As a tip, I rolled the dough directly on a baking sheet. This is a delicate dough which can break quite easily, so rolling it directly on the baking sheet made my life a lot easier.
Bake each sheet separately, for 8 minutes. The sheet should be slightly crisp but not too hard like a brittle biscuit or it may break. Don't worry, if the first sheet is too hard, the sheet is still usable and will become softer thanks to the semolina filling.
Super tip: if any of your cake sheet breaks, try to piece them together as well as you can during the assembly of the cake, with the aid of semolina filling. As the semolina filling hardens in the fridge, your cake sheet will "glue" together.
Set sheets aside and allow to cool before on their baking paper handling them.
Bring the water to a boil, then add the sugar, cinnamon and lemon zest if using. Mix well until the sugar is fully dissolved. Add the semolina bit by bit. Mix continuously so no lumps form. Keep mixing until the semolina thickens. Add the lemon juice and vegan butter and mix for another 2-3 minutes.
Remove from the hob and set aside to cool slightly.
Tip: only use lemon zest if you want your semolina filling to be really lemony. This is entirely optional.
My best tip: Use a large baking tray (which fits in your fridge) and place one cake sheet (together with the baking paper underneath it) on it.
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Now it's time to stack up the cake: Add 1/3 of semolina filling over the cake sheet and using a spoon spread it evenly. Gently remove the next cake sheet from the baking paper and place it over the semolina filling. Add another 1/3 of semolina filling and spread it evenly. Add the third cake sheet and the remaining semolina filling. Add the last cake sheet. Put the whole baking tray in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours or overnight. Once cooled, you will notice that the semolina filling is now a set cream and the layers become moist and fluffy. Cut the cake in a perfect rectangle and set the edges of the cake aside, so you can eat them as quick snacks. You can now slice the cake and remove on a decorative plate. I managed to get 12 equal small rectangles of semolina cake. Dust with icing sugar or freeze-dried raspberry. Enjoy
This recipe has been developed entirely by Yuzu Bakes. Any resemblance with other recipes is purely coincidental.