When we were youngsters growing up in Beirut we used to go play every day at the one and only “park” in West Beirut. The park boasted one large fountain and many jacaranda and ancient eucalyptus trees. In front of the gates, there was always a cart vendor selling these cakes, called sfoof. I was most attracted by the bright yellow color of the cakes, their geometrical shape and the fact that they were sold in the streets and that we never ate that cake at home. This is the quintessential plain village cake, but fragrant with anise and turmeric. It contains no eggs and can be prepared in less than 15 minutes. A bit on the dry side, it is a perfect snack with a cup of tea or coffee. It elicits nostalgia from anyone who had to leave Beirut and settle elsewhere ( at least it does for me)!
The recipe is adapted from Chef Ramzi’s The Culinary Heritage of Lebanon and scaled down to just 16 servings as opposed to 50!
This cake keeps very well for about one week and can be frozen.
INGREDIENTS: Cake will yield 16 pieces (cake pan 9X13 in)
- 2 cups semolina
- 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter (6 ounces), softened and cut in chunks
- 1 1/4 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon baking powder, a pinch of salt
- 1 tablespoon turmeric
- 1 tablespoon ground anise (optional, but better with it), preferably ground fresh
- 1 teaspoon orange flower water, 1 teaspoon rose water (can substitute vanilla extract)
- 1/4 cup pine nuts or sesame seeds (garnish)
- 3 tablespoons tahineh for coating the pan
- Heat the milk and stir in the sugar until it is dissolved. Cool. Add the flower waters if using or the vanilla.
- Mix flour, semolina, baking powder, turmeric and anise and a pinch of salt.
- Rub softened butter in the dry mix until the texture resembles breadcrumbs (can do it in a food processor)
- Pour milk mixture into the semolina and butter mixture and mix well. Batter will be thick.
- Smear tahineh on pan and pour batter in the pan.
- Let it firm up 10 minutes in the freezer, then decorate scoring crisscross lines and placing a pine nut on each lozange.
- Bake at 375F for 30 minutes. It will puff up a bit. Test it with a toothpick. Run the broiler one minute or two to give a nice golden-brown sheen to the top.
- Cool. Cut into lozanges.
Some recipes for sfoof use oil instead of butter. I tried it with oil and prefer using butter.