Cakes and Muffins

Pistachio Semolina Cakes with Cardamom Cream and Rose Roasted Rhubarb

Time really does crawl and fly all at once––when I look back at my last post and think about all that’s happened, all that’s changed (and, conversely, all that’s stayed precisely the same) since, I can’t even begin to comprehend it.

Since becoming a college student, my understanding and perception of time has been further complicated by yet another factor, another dimension––place. Sometimes it feels as though my life is running on two parallel timelines that are bound to Philadelphia and New York––there and here, school and not-school, home? and home. It’s wild to me just how distant those two centers of my life feel considering the mere hour and twenty-minute train ride that separates them.

I’ve been home for over two months now––enough time to make me feel far, far removed from the intense, fast-paced whirlwind of my freshman year, a sprint and a marathon all at once. I’ve had time to fully settle into the honeymoon period of summer break in New York: I’ve kept myself busy and far from bored; what’s more, the heat is just beginning to lay its sluggish veil over the city, but has yet to reach the oppressive levels it will surely climb to come August.

But, just like that, I’m leaving on Sunday, off to what may be my last summer working at my childhood summer camp in the Berkshires in Massachusetts. I’m eager to go, but the creature of comfort in me is far from ready to leave this city and its people. I’ve had the best time, with an internship to fill my days three times a week; nights and weekends have been full of friends and family, fun dinners and watching an embarrassing number of Bon Appétit test kitchen videos. 

And (we’re getting to this recipe now, promise) I’ve finally had time to do things, creative things! This recipe was inspired both by the Middle Eastern flavors I’ve been loving recently and, strangely enough, by the bright and bold aesthetic championed by a photographer who I discovered on Instagram recently. I’ve loved and appreciated food photography since the day my dad taught me to use a dSLR––which is why it’s been fun to lean on the new technical and conceptual skills I’ve gained through formal photographic training this past academic year in evolving and experimenting with my own style.

Recipe testing and development for these cakes had a bit of a rough start considering the (delicious) mess of cake crumbs I ended up with the first go-around, when my cakes refused to release from the tin. But I guess it was all for the best, because I wound up with cakes that somehow retain that delicate texture I loved in the first batch, all the while promising not to crumble to pieces the minute you try to unmold them. Paired with a softly whipped cardamom cream that gets a special tang from a bit of added yogurt, then topped with rose roasted rhubarb, these cakes would be the perfect end to a summer meal with friends. 

Pistachio Semolina Cakes with Cardamom Cream and Rose Roasted Rhubarb

Cakes and cream adapted from My Name is Yeh and Food52, respectively

makes about 16 small cakes


For the cakes:

1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons semolina flour

1/4 cup roasted unsalted pistachios, ground (plus more for sprinkling)

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon cardamom

6 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup whole milk

3 large eggs

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

For the syrup:

3/4 cup water

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon rosewater

For the cardamom cream:

1 cup heavy cream, chilled

½ cup yogurt, chilled

¾ tsp cardamom

1 tbsp sugar

For the rhubarb:

1 pound thin rhubarb stalks, cut into 1-1 ½ inch pieces

1 cup granulated sugar

Juice of 1 lemon

1 vanilla bean, split with the seeds scraped

2 teaspoons rose water

For the cakes:

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease 2 muffin tins (you’ll get around 16 cakes) and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, semolina, pistachios, salt, cardamom and baking powder.

Ia large bowl, whisk together olive oil, cream, and milk. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix to combine. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the eggs, sugar, and almond extract on high for 5 minutes, until pale and fluffy. Place the muffin tins in the oven to heat for 5 minutes while you fold the egg mixture into the semolina mixture. Remove the tins from the oven and fill them about ¾ full with batter (you should get around 16).

Bake until golden and a toothpick comes out with just a few crumbs; begin checking for doneness at 20 minutes .

While the cakes bake, make the syrup: combine the water and sugar in a saucepan and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the rose water. 

When the cakes come out of the oven, pour a generous spoonful or two of the syrup over each of them and let them cool completely in the pan. Run a knife along the edge of each cake and invert the muffin tins onto a plate or wire rack to release them.

For the rhubarb:

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat. In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients. Transfer to the prepared pan and roast at 375 for 15 minutes, or until the rhubarb is very soft. Set aside to cool.

For the cream:

Combine ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Mix on medium high speed until stiff.

To assemble, top each cake with a dollop of cream, then spoon on the rhubarb. Top with crushed pistachios and rose petals, if you’re feeling fancy.

Happy nibbling!


  • Reply
    Ann Levine
    July 15, 2019 at 8:24 am

    Glad your summer allows for a little baking time, Alaina — and enjoy your return to your special summer place.

  • Reply
    March 6, 2021 at 1:51 pm

    These look gorgeous! Any suggestions for pistachio and almond substitutes or will it just not work?

    • Reply
      March 7, 2021 at 4:26 pm

      Are all nuts an issue? If not, you could sub in another nut flour 🙂 Otherwise, I’d maybe look for another semolina cake recipe that doesn’t use nuts—you could still top it with the syrup, cream and rhubarb!

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