Peináo: A Greek Feast | Recipe For Semolina Cake

Recipe for semolina cake
How stunning is this semolina cake? The recipe reproduced here is from Peináo.

Peináo is a Greek word that translates to “I’m hungry”. It’s a sentiment taken very seriously by Helena and Vikki Moursellas, who grew up in a large, bustling family where food was front and centre. The twins won Aussie hearts with their Greek family food on My Kitchen Rules.

Peináo: A Greek Feast For All is the title of their second cookbook. In this lovely cookbook, published by Smith Street Books, they put a creative spin on many beloved Greek classics. Whether you’re cooking for a dinner party, breakfast for family, or mezze for friends, there’s a feast for every occasion.

Feasting is something the sisters are very familiar with, as they say in the book’s introduction. “We grew up (in Adelaide) attending family social events nearly every weekend, from cousins’ birthday parties to Greek weddings and Saturday night barbecues. Tables would be filled with trays of pastitsio, bowls of garlicky tzatziki, platters of diamond-cut pieces of revani and glasses of homemade red wine from Mum’s uncle Harry.”

Their parents loved entertaining, something the sisters clearly inherited. “Ours was the house that everyone would pop over to for a wine and a plate of olives, and Dad’s freshly caught fish. The kids would run wild around the house playing hide and seek, while the adults enjoyed a drink and listened to Greek music.”

Their grandparents played a huge role in their lives, even more so after their father died suddenly at the age of 41, when they were only 12. “Papou (grandfather) would drop off fish and chips to us at school for lunch, and our friends were always amazed that he would do that. … Yiayia (grandmother) taught us how to cook; she showed us how to make food with our hearts and our hands. We loved everything she made for us.”

Recipe for semolina cake from Peináo
The recipe for semolina cake is three generations old.

Appearing on My Kitchen Rules opened up a whole new world for the sisters, who admit they were quite directionless for years after their father died.

“We spent six months filming and travelling the country, visiting the other contestants’ homes. Obviously, dinner parties on TV are very different from real life, but we love that we got to show Australia how we throw a big fat Greek dinner party.”

It was while they were on the show that they started writing the recipes for their first cookbook, Taking You Home: Simple Greek Food, published in 2015. Peináo, they hope, will get people cooking a little more creatively, to cook with heart and remember how special it is to eat good food with great people.

This recipe for semolina cake is three generations old – it belongs to the sisters’ great-grandmother, Vaso. Traditionally, the recipe is not baked with citrus slices on top, but they have added their touch “to make it a little more modern”. They use slices of blood orange but lemon or orange also work nicely. The cake is best made on the day you plan to eat it.

Buy your copy of  Peináo: A Greek Feast For All from Australian-owned Booktopia.

Peináo, by Helena and Vikki Moursellas.

Recipe for Semolina Cake | Citrus Revani

5 eggs
230 g (1 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
180 g (6½ oz) fine semolina
90 g (1 cup) desiccated coconut
150 g (1 cup) self-raising flour, sifted
2 teaspoons baking powder
250 g (9 oz) unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1 tablespoon finely grated blood orange zest
2 small blood oranges, finely sliced


230 g (1 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
5 cloves
6 strips of lemon zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange or blood orange juice

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Lightly grease a 20 cm × 30 cm (8 in × 12 in) baking tin and line the base and sides with baking paper.

To make the citrus syrup, place the ingredients and 125 ml (½ cup) of water in a small saucepan over high heat. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes or until a syrup forms. Set aside to cool.

Place the eggs and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attached and whisk on high speed for 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add the semolina, desiccated coconut, flour, baking powder, butter, vanilla and blood orange zest and whisk until the ingredients are completely combined.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and arrange the blood orange slices on top. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the cake is golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Pour the cooled syrup over the hot cake and set aside for 15 minutes before serving. This will allow the syrup to absorb through the cake. You can also serve the cake cool with hot syrup poured over the top – simply reheat the syrup for a few minutes.

Recipe and image from: Peináo: A Greek Feast For All, by Helena and Vikki Moursellas. Published by Smith Street Books and reproduced with the publisher’s permission.

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