Heirloom recipes: Paul’s halva cake

Over the past few weeks we’ve shared our favourite family recipes in the Yuppiechef test kitchen. Considering our grandmother’s food legacies, we’ve sauntered down many a memory lane and eaten many a hearty cake. Here’s Paul with his Yia-Yia’s halva cake (and if you’ve got an heirloom recipe to share with us, send it in).This is one of those cakes that, in my memory, was somehow always on offer during our visits to my late gran’s (my Yia-Yia) small flat in Johannesburg when we were kids. She was a small, Greek lady (about 4ft 6″) who spent hours in her kitchen preparing the incredible foods that defined my childhood. If you ask any good Greek boy, you will discover that the best Greek food is simply that which tastes most like your Yia-Yia’s.
So you will appreciate my delight when I first attempted this recipe two years ago and created what tasted like an exact replica of what I remembered! I was so proud of my creation that I photographed it and emailed a photo to my brother who was living in London at the time under the subject line, ‘Read it and weep,’ expecting it to induce intense jealousy. And induce jealousy it did. In rivalry he has since taken to making the cake, too, and each time we make it we photograph our creation and send it to one another, claiming it to be even closer to Yia-Yia’s original.


For the syrup
1¼ cups sugar
4 cups water

For the cake
1¼ cups sugar
¾ cup butter
4 eggs
2 cups semolina
1 cup flaked almonds
1 Tbsp cinnamon

1. Start by getting your syrup on the boil. Boil the water and sugar slowly until a light syrup is formed (this could take about 30 minutes) and then leave to cool.
2.  Now set to work on your cake. In a large mixing bowl or stand mixer, beat the sugar and butter until creamy, this will take approximately 5 minutes.
3. Add the eggs one by one and beat for a further 5 minutes.
4. Add the semolina, almonds and cinnamon.
5. Pour into a well-greased dish (ideally use a springform base) so that the mixture is about 2.5cm deep.
6. Bake at 180°C for about 45 minutes until the surface is golden brown.
7. Remove from the oven and pour the cold syrup over the hot cake and leave to infuse.
8. Cut into diamond shapes and enjoy. This cake tastes even better the next day!
Have a go and let me know what you think of the taste of my childhood.

Download print-friendly recipe.
Check out the other recipes in our Heirloom Recipe collection and send us your heirloom recipe.