Damascus Dessert (Şam Tatlısı)

Şam Tatlısı is a wonderful, syrupy dessert made of semolina (farina) that deserves some praise. The name ‘Şam Tatlısı’ literally means ‘Damascus Dessert’. It is widely known in Southern Turkey and eaten all around the country.

When I was a kid, there was a man who used to pass by our neighborhood trying to sell this dessert in a cart yelling “Şam tatlısıııııııııı. Şam tatlısıııııııııı”. Every time he passed by and we heard his voice, I and the other kids in the neighborhood would call our moms to buy us Şam tatlısı. My recollection of the Şam tatlısı he sold is just out of this world. His dessert was neatly cut in rectangular shape and topped with one or two peanuts on each piece. To this day, I do not know if the dessert was home-made or if he purchased it commercially and resold it. In any case, it was delicious.

I am grateful that my mother also makes an unbelievable Şam tatlısı which I had plenty of when I visited home this summer. She gave me the recipe which I had a great difficulty making correctly. I also tried my mother in law’s recipe a few times which did not help me either. After 5-6 failing attempts trying both recipes that were given to me more than once, I finally managed to make it! It worked. Not as good as my mother’s or the cart man’s but it was pretty good! Both my husband and I were excited like kids when it worked. My husband has a weakness to dessert which hinders me from making dessert too often so that he does not gain weight and clog his arteries! If I let him, he finishes the whole thing in a couple of days. Usually, I end up taking most of it to work or send it with him to his work. Hopefully he really shares with his co-workers rather than eating it on his way to work. But in any case, people always appreciate free dessert!

I also shared my joy of finally being able to make this wonderful dessert with my dear friend Brenda who is a dessert addict. She was waiting for me to get this dessert right, so that she could make it and take it to one of her endless social activities. After successfully making the dessert a couple weeks ago, I informed her that I would post it on my blog in a few days. After bringing the city of Philly upside down, she was able to find semolina (farina) and ready for the dessert, but apparently my blog did not have the recipe posted as promised. I read an e-mail from her the next morning complaining to me that she wanted to make the dessert the night before but the recipe was not on my blog! Since my recipe was ready, I e-mailed it to her immediately and finally I am able to post it the blog! Thanks Brenda for following and actually making my recipes.

Note: After I posted this recipe and blogged about it, I found out Brenda's adventure with this dessert. Even though I said she brought the city of Philly upside down and found semolina (farina), she informed me this afternoon that she had bought the wrong thing! She bought the small, round semolina pasta. She got suspicious when she was making the dessert as it did not become smooth and the cake looked pretty different when she took it out of the oven. She checked it out on Wikipedia and confirmed her suspicion. I had a great laugh when I heard this and had to add this paragraph to what I wrote previously. Hopefully her next attempt to make Şam tatlısı will be better...

With the great help of technology, I always set my recipes on automatic posting for the next month, but this one will not wait. Desserts cannot wait. Here it is...

2 cups semolina
1 tbsp flour
1 cup ground sugar
1 cup plain yogurt
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 small lemon rind
½ tsp cinnamon
4 tbsp ground raw pistachios (for decoration)

For the Syrup:

2 cups water
2 cups ground sugar
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp fresh lemon or lime juice

First prepare the syrup. Place the water and sugar in a small pot. Stir and cover. When the water and sugar mixture boils, add the honey and the lemon/lime juice. Boil 1-2 minutes and remove from heat. Cool.

Add all the above ingredients for the cake. Whisk all the ingredients in a large bowl until you obtain a smooth mixture. Allow the mixture to relax for 20 minutes.

Preheat oven at 350º F. Grease a Pyrex dish with butter. Pour the mixture into the Pyrex dish and bake for 35 minutes. This may vary depending on the oven you are using, but make sure the top takes a brownish color before removing it from the oven. Start checking it after 25 minutes of baking.

Remove from the oven and slice diagonally, in squares or rectangles. Pour the cooled syrup on the hot cake. Make sure that the syrup is cooled and the cake is hot.

Sprinkle with ground pistachios, walnuts or place whole peanuts, filberts or almonds on each piece. If you choose to place peanuts, filberts or almonds, do this before putting the cake in the oven.

Enjoy cold.

Note: You may also place the nut mixture in the middle of the cake as a layer. In this case, pour half of the cake mixture in the Pyrex dish, sprinkle with 1 cup of ground nuts (either pistachios or walnuts) and then pour the rest of the mixture over it. This is the way my mother-in-law makes it and it can also be very delicious.