Asian Recipes/ Baking/ Dessert/ Recipes/ Snack

Burmese Semolina Cake (Shwegyi Sanwei Makin)

04/12/2020

Here’s a Burmese dessert recipe with a crispy crust and soft fudgy centre. Burmese Semolina Cake (Shwegyi Sanwei Makin) is filled with toasty coconut flavour, perfect as a quick snack or dessert.

A person holding three plates of semolina cake.

Why We Love This

You can enjoy this traditional Burmese dessert hot from the oven, or cooled down to room temperature. Once cooled, it has a nice firm texture making it easy to slice into neat squares. It also reheats well! 

With a simple ingredient list it’s easy to make at home

We love the contrast of subtle coconut and toasty semolina flavour. It’s not overly sweet, so it’s perfect to enjoy as a tasty snack with a hot cup of tea. The texture is totally different to cakes made with regular flour, more similar to a dense bread pudding or Chester’s Squares / Irish Gur Cake

The best part is the deliciously crispy crust from the rising butter as it bakes, amped up with a sprinkling of traditional white poppy seeds or sesame seeds for a yummy nutty taste.

Top down view of a tray of cooked semolina cake, with slices portioned out onto three plates.

What is Burmese Semolina Cake? 

This is a traditional dessert from Burma/Myanmar. It’s often served at weddings, birthdays and feasts, or enjoyed during Eid celebrations at the end of Ramadan. But you can also find it dished up at street food festivals which is how we first came across it. 

It goes by many names in Burma – shwe gyi mont, sanwei makhin or sanwin makhin. In other parts of the world you’ll find similar semolina cakes known as suji cake, sooji cake or rava cake.

Toasting the semolina fist helps to deepen the flavour. Then the batter is twice cooked – first on the stove to incorporate all the wet ingredients, then finished off in the oven.

Where We Learned This

This delicious Burmese Semolina Cake came into our lives in the middle of a music festival in Bagan. Despite the soggy, flooded streets from the afternoon downpour, everyone was in high spirits as the music blared from the speakers and vendors busily dished up their wares.

One stall immediately caught our eye. It was full of sweet desserts of all kinds of colours, freshly cooked and waiting to be sold. Of course, we had to try one of each!  They probably cost us about 60 cents all up, but we felt far richer for the experience.

It was only later we realised we’d stumbled across a slice of traditional Burmese semolina cake. 

Just like Laotian Vun (agar agar jelly), this sweet Asian dessert is made with coconut cream, which sets it apart from similar styles of semolina cakes found throughout India and Greece. 

That night it was freshly cooked and still warm from the oven, the poppy seed strewn top barely covering a soft, pudding-like middle. We took a bite and savoured the sweet, coconutty flavour, hoping we’d find her stall again one last time before we left Bagan.

What You’ll Need

  • Semolina – This recipe calls for coarse ground semolina which has less chance of becoming too sticky or clumpy as you prepare the batter. Semolina is a type of flour made from durum wheat. You can usually find it right next to regular all purpose flour at the supermarket. 
  • Brown Sugar – You can substitute for regular sugar or palm sugar if you prefer. 
  • Coconut Cream – If possible, look for coconut cream that is a high percentage of coconut extract (at least 60%) and water, without the gums and fillers that can often be found in canned coconut cream.
  • Poppy / Sesame Seeds – In Burma/Myanmar the traditional garnish is white poppy seeds which add a subtle nutty crunch. We usually use white sesame seeds as they’re more readily accessible, but you can also use chia seeds or desiccated coconut if you prefer.
A slice of Burmese semolina cake in the foreground, with the baking dish and other plates in the background.

Wandercook’s Tips

  • Make It Easier – The batter will thicken as it heats up – use a whisk to make it easier. 
  • Deep Baking Dish – Use a dish at least two inches deep, and make sure it’s greased with butter, coconut oil or ghee so it comes out easily. Use a square or rectangle dish (or even a loaf pan) so it’s easy to slice into even portions. 
  • Recruit a Friend – This cake is easy to make but will see you stirring the mixture for 10 minutes or so as it thickens. We recommend recruiting a friend to help you stir. You can bribe them with the promise of fresh cake at the end! 
  • Bubbles While Baking – You might see a few bubbles rising to the surface while it’s baking in the oven – that’s the butter rising to the top, which is what gives the cake crust that extra delicious crunch.

FAQs

How long does semolina cake last?

This cake will last around 2-3 days in the fridge if stored in an airtight container. We don’t recommend storing it at room temperature. Feel free to reheat in the microwave in 10 second bursts until it’s at the perfect temperature for you to enjoy.

Can I freeze it?

Yes you can. Wrap individual portions with plastic wrap and cover with foil to protect it in the freezer.

Variations

  • Serve with Ice Cream – Top with ice cream or whipped cream and toasted coconut shavings. The cake will soak it all up as it melts, becoming even more soft and custardy, a bit like tres leches milk cake
  • Tweak the Flavour – Add vanilla essence, mixed spice or liqueurs to create your own flavour combination. For an Indian kesari influence, flavour with cardamom, saffron and a sprinkling of salt. 
  • Bake in Individual Portions – Divide the batter evenly into ramekins and bake for 20-30 mins, checking frequently to avoid burning. 
  • Make it Sweeter – You can double the sugar if you’re a real sweet tooth. 
  • Add Fruit – Mix through banana, chopped pineapple, dried raisins or mixed fruit into the batter before baking. 
  • Add Texture – Sprinkle the top with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, almond slices or crushed walnuts. 
  • Greasing the Baking Dish – We usually use butter, but you can use coconut oil, melted butter or ghee.
Top down view of a slice of semolina cake topped with sesame seeds, next to the baking dish.

More sweet desserts and treats to try next:

★ Did you make this recipe? Please leave a comment and star rating below!

Close up shot of Burmese semolina cake showing the crispy crust and fudgy centre.

Burmese Semolina Cake (Sanwei Makin)

Here’s a Southeast Asian slice with a crispy crust and soft fudgy centre. Burmese Semolina Cake (Shwegyi Sanwei Makin) is filled with toasty coconut flavour, perfect as a quick snack or dessert.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Burmese
Servings: 15 pieces
Calories: 3290kcal
Author: Wandercooks
Cost: $5

Equipment

Ingredients

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 160˚C / 320˚F and a deep baking dish greased with butter or coconut oil.
  • Pop the semolina in a large saucepan over a low to medium heat and dry stir fry until golden brown (around 5 to 10 minutes). Keep stirring and avoid leaving it unattended or it may burn or cook unevenly.
  • Once it's toasty, add in the brown sugar, coconut cream, water, eggs, butter and salt and mix well. You might need a whisk to break up any clumps. The batter will be quite thin at this stage so don't worry.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil over a medium high heat and stir continuously. It will start to thicken quickly. Once bubbles start rising through the mixture you can reduce the heat down to low and continue to stir until the mixture thickens and starts to pull away easily from the side of the pan (around 8-10 minutes).
  • Once thickened, transfer the batter into baking dish and smooth the surface with an icing spatula or the back of a spoon.
  • Sprinkle with poppy seeds, sesame seeds or desiccated coconut and pop in the oven. Bake for around 30-40 minutes until the top is dark golden-brown and the cake has set.
  • Slice into squares and serve warm or at room temperature.

Recipe Notes

  • Semolina – This recipe calls for coarse ground semolina which has less chance of becoming too sticky or clumpy as you prepare the batter. Semolina is a type of flour made from durum wheat. You can usually find it right next to regular all purpose flour at the supermarket. 
  • Brown Sugar – You can substitute for regular sugar or palm sugar if you prefer. 
  • Coconut Milk – If possible, look for coconut milk that is a high percentage of coconut extract (at least 60%) and water, without the gums and fillers that can often be found in canned coconut milk.
  • Poppy Seeds – In Burma/Myanmar the traditional garnish is white poppy seeds which add a subtle nutty crunch. We usually use white sesame seeds as they’re more readily accessible, but you can also use chia seeds or desiccated coconut if you prefer.
  • Make It Easier – The batter will thicken as it heats up – use a whisk to make it easier. 
  • Deep Baking Dish – Use a dish at least two inches deep, and make sure it’s greased with butter, coconut oil or ghee so it comes out easily. Use a square or rectangle dish (or even a loaf pan) so it’s easy to slice into even squares. 
  • Recruit a Friend – This cake is easy to make but will see you stirring the mixture for 10 minutes or so as it thickens. We recommend recruiting a friend to help you stir. You can bribe them with the promise of fresh cake at the end! 
  • Bubbles While Baking – You might see a few bubbles rising to the surface while it’s baking in the oven – that’s the butter rising to the top, which is what gives the cake crust that extra delicious crunch.
  • Variations:
    • Serve with Cream – Top with ice cream or whipped cream and toasted coconut shavings. The cake will soak it all up as it melts, becoming even more soft and custardy, a bit like tres leches milk cake
    • Tweak the Flavour – Add vanilla essence, mixed spice or liqueurs to create your own flavour combination. For an Indian kesari influence, flavour with cardamom, saffron and a sprinkling of salt.
    • Bake in Individual Portions – Divide the batter evenly into ramekins and bake for 20-30 mins, checking frequently to avoid burning.
    • Make it Sweeter – You can double the sugar if you’re a real sweet tooth.
    • Add Fruit – Mix through banana, chopped pineapple, dried raisins or mixed fruit into the batter before baking.
    • Add Texture – Sprinkle the top with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, almond slices or crushed walnuts.
    • Greasing the Baking Dish – We usually use butter, but you can use coconut oil, melted butter or ghee.

Nutrition

Calories: 3290kcal | Carbohydrates: 365g | Protein: 47g | Fat: 195g | Saturated Fat: 155g | Cholesterol: 449mg | Sodium: 630mg | Potassium: 2025mg | Fiber: 15g | Sugar: 214g | Vitamin A: 1895IU | Vitamin C: 11mg | Calcium: 330mg | Iron: 20mg
Hey hey – Did you make this recipe?We’d love it if you could give a star rating below ★★★★★ and show us your creations on Instagram! Snap a pic and tag @wandercooks / #Wandercooks
Burmese Semolina Cake (Shwegyi Sanwei Makin)

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12 Comments

  • Reply
    Vivian
    13/11/2020 at 2:52 pm

    Awesome recipe! Thanks for sharing. I was given a couple samples of these sooji cakes at a Burmese restaurant after ordering take out. I had a bite and knew it was probably an easy recipe to learn. I found bon apetit’s recipe but decided to give yours a try because yours looked more authentic! Your adventuresome tastebuds are right up my alley. Keep up the great content!

    • Reply
      Wandercooks
      16/11/2020 at 9:12 am

      Hey Vivian, you’re very welcome. Glad to hear you’re a fellow adventurous foodie too! Hope you enjoy the recipe and it tastes just as good as your take out sample! 🙂

  • Reply
    Brian Jones
    08/11/2016 at 5:04 pm

    This sounds incredibly delicious and really simple, definitely a bonus as baking really isn’t my thing.

    • Reply
      Wandercooks
      10/11/2016 at 4:58 pm

      Definitely a good place to start then Brian! Hope you enjoy. 😀

  • Reply
    Luci {Luci's Morsels}
    08/11/2016 at 4:49 pm

    5 stars
    I love trying dishes that were inspired by travels to faraway places. This cake looks amazing and so unique!

    • Reply
      Wandercooks
      18/11/2016 at 10:38 am

      Awesome Luci! That’s definitely what makes us tick! What’s your favourite cuisine or dish you’ve tried from a far away place?

  • Reply
    Sophia | Veggies Don't Bite
    08/11/2016 at 3:46 pm

    I’ve never heard of this dessert before. Looks rich and delicious with all that flavor!

    • Reply
      Wandercooks
      10/11/2016 at 4:58 pm

      Thanks Sophia, it definitely satisfies. 😀

  • Reply
    Cristie | Little Big H
    08/11/2016 at 1:23 pm

    I love this and it doesn’t seem to difficult at all. I actually have all of those ingredients in my pantry – that never happens… Making asap.

    • Reply
      Wandercooks
      10/11/2016 at 4:53 pm

      Sounds like it’s meant to be Cristie! 😉

  • Reply
    Sarah
    08/11/2016 at 11:54 am

    5 stars
    Any cake with brown sugar and coconut {two of my favorite flavors!!} in it has my vote! This looks absolutely delicious! 🙂

    • Reply
      Wandercooks
      08/11/2016 at 12:05 pm

      High five! Totally agree 😀

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