Politiko dessert is a popular sweet treat from Thessaloniki. It's a syrupy semolina cake topped with extra creamy pastry cream and plenty of cinnamon on top.
The name Politiko means from the city and refers to Constantinople. Because the cake base is made similarly to Samali a Middle-Eastern semolina cake.
It also comes under the name of Byzantino (from Byzantium).
What It Tastes Like
The main flavors of Politiko dessert are Mastic, lemon, Vanilla (powder or Vanillin), and cinnamon. Think of a thick, creamy custard that's mixed together with whipped cream, a dense, syrupy semolina cake (similar to Basbousa). And lots of ground cinnamon on top, which in combination with the cream, personally reminds me of Rizogalo minus the rice.
Vanilla powder or Vanillin gives a lighter Vanilla flavor than Vanilla extract. Vanillin is the molecule inside Vanilla beans that gives the distinct Vanilla flavor minus the dark-brown caramel-like flavor.
Is It Easy To Make?
Politiko is an easy dessert to make. The cake base especially, which doesn't require the use of an electric mixer. The cream is a very thick pastry cream that gets combined with whipped cream to produce a real feathery yet firm-enough-to-stand cream.
The Cake Base
If you prefer you can use just coarse semolina instead of adding fine semolina. The cake will become coarser, denser, yet airier in texture.
To Make The Syrup:
The syrup needs to be at room temperature before being added to the cake. So it needs to be made before anything else. To make the syrup add sugar, water, cinnamon stick, and lemon peel, to a saucepan and boil for 6 minutes from the time it starts to boil.
Avoid stirring syrup when it starts to boil as it may form sugar lumps.
To Make The Cake Base:
To make the cake simply mix everything in a bowl with a whisk. Starting with the wet ingredients and then adding the semolina. Once mixed, add the batter to the baking pan and let it stand for 30 minutes. The semolina will absorb moisture and thicken. Then you are ready to bake.
Ekmek Kataifi is pretty similar in flavor to Politiko. It's made with a syrupy shredded phyllo base, topped with custard cream, whipped cream, cinnamon, and nuts. Can't say which one is tastier!
For the Politiko cream, you need milk, Vanilla, sugar, cornstarch, egg yolks, and heavy cream.
To Make The Cream:
To make the cream for Politiko you need to make a thick pastry cream first. Let it cool down to room temperature either on its own or use an ice bath to fast forward the process.
Once the cream is cold you need to cream it with an electric mixer to smoothen it because it gets really firm and dense. Then make a really thick whipped cream and mix it in the custard gently either with the electric mixer or with a whisk.
Spread the cream over the cake and top it with ground cinnamon on top. And you're done!
You should live Politiko to cool in the fridge for at least 6 to 8 hours. Though its flavors will be better combined and much stronger the next day. If you can wait that long!
Pan Size And Portions
To make Politiko I used a standard 33 x 23 cm ( 13 x 9 inches) baking pan.
I've also cut this dessert into 12 square pieces. But since it's very filling you may want to cut it into smaller square ones. Or cut the 12 square pieces diagonally and get 24 small pieces which are better for parties or get-togethers involving a buffet.
Politiko Dessert (Semolina Cake With Cream)
For The Syrup:
- 350 grams (1½ cups + 5 tbsp) sugar
- 400 ml water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 lemon peel
For The Cream:
- 1 liter (4 cups) milk
- 150 grams (½ cup + 5 tbsp) sugar
- 3 egg yolks
- 120 grams (12 tbsp) cornstarch
- 300 grams (1 ¼ cups) heavy cream 35% fat
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- ½ teaspoon Vanilla powder or 1 Vanillin
For The Semolina Cake:
- 1 teaspoon butter
- 100 grams (½ cup) Greek yogurt strained
- 240 grams (1 cup) milk
- 180 grams (¾ cup + 3 tbsp) sugar
- ½ teaspoon Vanilla powder or 1 Vanillin
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ lemon zested
- ⅔ teaspoon Mastiha powder or ½ teaspoon Mastic tears
- 240 grams (1 cup + 5 tbsp) coarse semolina
- 130 grams (½ cup + 4 tbsp) fine semolina
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 1 ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Make The Syrup:
- Add all of the ingredients for the syrup in a saucepan. Cook over high heat( without stirring) for 5 minutes from the time it starts to boil. Set aside to cool. See note 1 below.
Make The Cream:
- Save ½ cup of milk and add to a mixing bowl together with the egg yolks and cornstarch. Whisk to combine.
- Heat milk in a cooking pot together with the sugar and vanilla.
- Combine. Once the milk gets steamy hot just before boiling, turn the heat off. Slowly ladle the hot milk (starting with small drops and continuing threadlike) into the egg mixture. While you constantly whisk the egg mixture. Once ⅔ of the hot milk is incorporated into the eggs, pour everything back into the pot.
- Thicken the cream. Turn the heat to low and whisk until the cream starts to thicken. It will turn pretty thick and creamy so give a vigorous stir with the whisk towards the end so it won't lump.
- Cool the cream. Transfer the cream to a bowl. Stir well a few times with the whisk to smoothen it. While it's still hot cover the cream with a piece of plastic wrap. The wrap should be touching the surface of the cream. This way you prevent skin from forming on top. Let the cream cool down to 20°C / 68°F. See note 2 below.
Make The Cake:
- Prepare the pan. Use the teaspoon of butter to rub and grease a 33 x 23 cm ( 13 x 9 inches) pan.
- Combine both types of semolina in a bowl along with the baking powder.
- Prepare the cake batter. In a mixing bowl whisk together the Greek yogurt, milk, sugar, vanilla, lemon zest, baking soda, and Mastiha powder (if using Mastic tears see note 3 below). Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir well until uniform.
- Rest the batter. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to thicken. Meanwhile, preheat the oven.
- Preheat oven to 340°F / 170°C.
- Bake the cake for about 20-25 minutes or until deep golden-orange on top.
- Add the syrup. Ladle the cold syrup over the cake right as it comes out of the oven. The cake needs to be very hot to absorb the syrup properly.
- Cool the cake down to room temperature.
- Make the whipped cream. Using an electric mixer beat the heavy cream and slowly add the 3 tablespoons of sugar to it. Beat until very firm and thickened.
- Cream the custard. Transfer the cold custard cream to your electric mixer's bowl and beat with the whisk attachment until smooth and softened.
- Combine both creams. Add the whipped cream to the custard cream in two batches while beating gently and swiftly until fully combined. You may use a whisk to do this instead.
- Spread the cream over the cake. And smoothen it with a spoon.
- Dust the ground cinnamon evenly on top.
- Refrigerate the cake for at least 6-8 hours.
- Cut and serve into 12 square pieces or cut into smaller ones if you prefer.
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