This sticky semolina cake is the first cake I ever made in my grandmother’s kitchen in Sri Lanka. The fragrant, cashew-studded treat is served throughout the country at teatime or whenever guests come calling. The dense crumb and chewy edges remind me of something that would happen if a butter cake and a blondie had a baby—a pleasingly crunchy, tender, and sweet love child. In the oven, the rose water, honey, cardamom, and cinnamon start to bloom. This cake doubles as aromatherapy.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan. Line the pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on two sides. Butter the parchment.
In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the semolina and cook, stirring, until it is very lightly toasted, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the semolina mixture out onto a large plate to cool to room temperature.
In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the 6 egg yolks and sugar on medium speed until pale and thick, 3 to 4 minutes. Beat in the honey, rose water, almond extract, cinnamon, cardamom, lemon zest, and salt. Beat in the cooled semolina mixture and fold in the cashews.
With clean beaters, whip the 4 egg whites to medium-stiff but not dry peaks on medium speed, about 2 minutes. Stir one-quarter of the egg whites into the semolina mixture, then fold the remaining egg whites into the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 40 to 50 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan on a rack.
To serve, cut along the edges of the cake to release it from the pan. Using the parchment, transfer the cake to a cutting board and cut into diamonds. Store the cake in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.