FARGO — Saturday marks an important anniversary in archaeology circles. On Nov. 4, 1922, British archaeologist Howard Carter chiseled his way through the doorway of what would become the most famous tomb in history — that of King Tutankhamen. Not only did Carter unearth treasures not seen in 3,200 years, he opened the door to a pop culture phenomenon celebrated decades after the young pharaoh's death.
King Tut was known as the "boy king" because he ruled Egypt from the time he was 9 or 10 years old until his death at the age of 19 in 1323 B.C. Throughout most of the 20th century, researchers believed he died from a blow to the head or from an infected broken leg.
But more sophisticated genetic and DNA testing in the 21st century have led scientists to reach different conclusions. Professor Albert Zink, head of the Institute for Mummies and Icemen in Italy, says the boy king was probably in a weakened genetic state because his parents were brother and sister. Zink also says King Tut had frequent bouts of malaria which could have contributed to his death.
Despite being credited with reversing his father's tumultuous religious reforms, King Tut was basically forgotten in history — until that day in 1922 when Carter discovered the tomb full of treasures and riches meant to accompany the king into the afterlife. Tut's artifacts — including the iconic death mask Carter discovered in 1925 — have fascinated millions of history lovers.
King Tut had a surge in popularity from 1976 to 1979 when the artifacts were exhibited at six U.S. museums. People waited hours in line to see the exhibit and "Tutmania" was born complete with T-shirts, trinkets and a hit song performed by comedian Steve Martin on Saturday Night Live in 1978.
Because this is "The Great Indoors," I have to turn everything into a dessert, so my nod to Tutmania is a cake. King Tut Anniversary Cake is based on a popular dense, rich Middle Eastern Cake known as Basbousa, Harissa or Coconut Semolina Cake.
No surprise, I made a few changes to the cake.
Because many versions of this cake are made with coarse semolina — and I was only able to find semolina flour at the grocery store — I added ½ cup of all-purpose flour to add some stability to the batter.
Also, I'm an absolute nut for the flavor combination of coconut and lime. So I amped up the coconut in the cake by adding a little coconut extract, using toasted coconut cashews as a topping and lime juice instead of lemon juice for my simple syrup. I think it turned out fabulous and fit for a pharaoh.
King Tut Anniversary Cake
2 cups semolina flour
½ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup sweetened coconut flakes
⅓ cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, melted
¼ teaspoon coconut or vanilla extract
1 cup plain yogurt
16 whole toasted coconut cashews (plain cashews, almonds or pistachios would work too)
Non-stick spray or oil to grease pan
For the syrup
2 cups sugar
1½ cup water
1½ teaspoons lime juice (or lemon juice)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray an 8x8-inch square pan with non-stick spray and set aside. Mix the semolina, coconut, sugar, baking soda, butter and extract in a large bowl. Stir until mixed. Add yogurt and continue mixing until fully combined. The mixture should be fairly thick and easy to press with hands (not thin like cake or brownie batter).
Press the mix down into pan.The cake mix should be about 1-inch thick. Cut a diamond design in the cake with a knife. Place the nuts in the center of each diamond. Bake for 25 minutes until it's a bronze brown color. If no color forms on the top, turn on broiler for 1 to 2 minutes until the top is golden or bronze. Cut the cake again along the pre-cut lines and pour syrup on top while it is still hot so it can absorb.
For the syrup
While the cake is baking, mix all the ingredients for the syrup and place in saucepan on high until it boils. Boil for 10 minutes or until the syrup coats the back of a spoon.
Recipe inspired by Basbousa a.k.a. Harissa (Coconut Yogurt Semolina Cake) at gimmedelicious.com