Nonna's Semolina Cake

There is something comforting in having something sweet on top of a kitchen island.  While I was growing up the only time I experienced this was when I would visit my paternal grandparents.  My grandmother would always have snack cakes prepared and ready for anyone to eat if they were in the vicinity of the kitchen – and like a good Italian family – we were ALWAYS in the kitchen.  Most of the cake would last 2 days tops. Like a good Italian family, we would always sneak into the kitchen and take a little piece of cake until the next one appeared, just like magic.

This past week, I was looking through my old recipe notebook and came across the recipe, written in my 15 year old penmanship, with little flowers all around, which brought to mind how my grandmother would give me her recipe.  I would sit in this big kitchen table she had in the corner of the room and she would dictate what she will be doing.  Add a pinch of this, a tablespoon of that, a little bit of this… my grandmother was not big about keeping measurements - it was all in her head.

So, when I set out to duplicate this, I was really hoping that I was getting the measurements right.  Somehow it all worked out and in the end I had a simple, unpretentious cake sitting in the corner of my kitchen island.

The beauty of this cake is that it’s easy to put together – no need to wait for the butter to come to room temperature, since you have to melt it and then let it sit for it to cool down.  One bowl is all you need on this one.  The syrup is a straight up lime syrup. You can use lemons and the flavor will be more mild than tart, but either way it will work – a splash of rum in the syrup makes it even better – for those that are non-alcohol, you may be tempted to omit this step, but trust me, you will not feel the rum at all, and it will give the syrup a step up.

And just like I did before it, I will watch the little man and Tom sneak into the kitchen and slowly but surely take a piece for a quick snack.

I believe that I may have started a tradition, because this week, both of them looked over the empty cake stand and ask what the next cake will be.


  • 1 egg
  • ¾ cup quick-cooking cream of wheat
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 7 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup plain whole-milk mascarpone – or yogurt would work as well
  • 2 tablespoon lime juice
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda


  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice (or lemon)
  • Rind of 1 lime
  • 1 tablespoon of rum 

Start off by preheating the oven to 375F.  Grease an 8-inch baking pan.  Make the syrup.

Combine the sugar, water, lime juice, and lime rind in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat and add the rum.  Let it cool to room temperature.

Make the cake by whisking together the egg, cream of wheat, sugar and melted butter until smooth.  Stir in the mascarpone and lemon juice. Stir in the baking soda.

Scrape the batter into the baking pan and smooth the top – or do as I do (and my grandmother) tap the pan a couple of times on the counter to even the batter out and remove bubbles.

Bake the cake until it is golden (20 to 30 minutes) and a cake tester comes out clean.

Set the cake on the pan on a wire rack.  Slowly drizzle the cooled syrup all over, letting it soak in.  Cover with a kitchen towel and let it stand until the syrup is absorbed, about 30-40 minutes.  Unwrap and let it cool completely.

The cake can be left in the pan, or removed.  Cover in plastic wrap or under a pretty cake dome and set on your counter.  The cake keeps for up to 2 days.

I doubt it will last that long.