In Greece and Turkey, revani is the general name for a family of cakes made (usually) with durum-wheat semolina or a semolina-flour mixture, which are soaked after baking in some kind of syrup.
When taken from the oven they are heavy, coarse-textured, and a little gritty from the hard, stubborn semolina. But the syrup bath moistens and flavors the cake without making it disintegrate as a fine-textured European cake would. Yogurt is a frequent ingredient, with or without some other source of fat like butter or olive oil. The acid will slightly tenderize the crumb.
This simple lemon-flavored version comes with little change from Ozcan Ozan’s splendid book The Sultan’s Kitchen, a must for any fan of Turkish food. It uses only drained yogurt with no other fat except the egg yolks, so it’s crucial to start with the richest, creamiest yogurt you can make or buy. Be sure to buy semolina fine enough for cakes, not the coarser kind for puddings.
Allow at least 4 hours after baking for the cake to soak up the syrup. It is traditionally served with kaymak, the Turkish version of clotted cream, often sold in Turkish groceries. English clotted cream and plain whipped cream are reasonable substitutes. Any of them will be an excellent foil to the intense sweetness of the lemon syrup. A tiny serving goes a long way. Yields one 8-inch square cake (16 small servings).
For the syrup:
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 scant tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
For the cake:
Butter for greasing baking dish
Flour for dusting baking dish
4 eggs, separated
1/4 cup sugar
Zest of half a lemon (more, if preferred)
1/2 cup fine semolina
1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
A pinch of salt
1 cup well-drained yogurt (an extra-creamy kind, either homemade or Turkish-style with 3.5 percent milkfat)
Chopped pistachios for garnish (optional)
Kaymak (see above), clotted cream or whipped cream for topping
Make the syrup by heating the water and sugar in a small saucepan. When it reaches a vigorous boil, turn the heat to low and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Add the lemon juice and set aside to cool completely.
Have all cake ingredients at room temperature. Butter and flour an 8-by-8-inch glass baking dish. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Beat the egg yolks, sugar and lemon zest until light and frothy. Combine the semolina, flour and baking powder and stir them in. Add the yogurt; fold and stir to incorporate as smoothly as possible.
Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks with a pinch of salt and fold them into theyogurt batter in two or three increments. Spread the batter in the pan. It will make a flat layer just about covering the bottom. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until lightly browned.
Remove the cake from the oven and instantly cut it into 16 squares — or if you are good at geometry, diamonds. Pour the cooled syrup over the hot cake, which will be swimming in syrup.
Let sit at room temperature for 4 to 6 hours; the syrup will be gradually absorbed. Garnish with the optional chopped pistachios and serve with the kaymak or cream.
This recipe is from Anne Mendelson’s book Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages. To read more from her fantastic book, check out The Astonishing Story of Real Milk from our October/November 2011 issue.
Check out more of Anne Mendelson’s fabulous milk recipes from around the world:
Polish Chlodnik Litewski (Cold Beet Soup)
Indian Mango Lassi
Russian Syrniki or Tvorozhniki (Pot-Cheese Fritters)
Chinese Fried Milk