This recipe will look strange to you if you are a cake maker: that’s because it’s a Burmese version of Indian semolina halvah, not a classic cake. You toast the semolina flour first, add the liquids and cook it over low heat, and then bake it. (It’s all easier than it sounds.) The result is a tender, delicious cross between cake and sweetmeat.
This modern “fancy” version of halvah includes eggs, which make the cake a little firmer. If you want to try an eggless version, see Classic Burmese Semolina Cake.
Place a cast-iron or other heavy skillet over medium heat and add the semolina. Cook, stirring frequently to prevent scorching, until the flour starts to change color markedly, becoming a golden brown. Remove from the heat and continue stirring for a minute or so as the pan cools down, then transfer to a bowl. Add the sugar and salt and stir in, then stir in the coconut milk and water. Stir in the eggs, cover, and set aside for 20 to 30 minutes.
Place a rack in the top third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Set out an 8-inch cake pan or cast-iron skillet
Heat a heavy skillet or a large wok over medium heat. Add the oil, then pour in the semolina mixture and cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon to prevent sticking. The liquid mixture will start to thicken and get stickier. When it is quite sticky and thickened, about 20 minutes, remove from the heat and stir in the raisins, if using.
Transfer the mixture to the pan and smooth the top. Drizzle on the melted butter, sprinkle on the sliced almonds, if using, and put in the top third of the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the cake feels firm when pressed lightly on the top. For an attractively browned top surface, you can place the cake under the broiler for a minute or two.
Remove and let stand for at least 1 hour to firm up before you slice it. Turn it onto a plate if you wish, or serve from the pan.
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