Birthday Cake with phyllo

October 22, 2010  •  Category:


This cake is one I made to celebrate a cousin’s birthday. I had zero time to pipe some swirls of frosting and so I used phyllo sheets that I cut in triangles in lieu of a polished frosting.

The cake is a sponge cake, cut in the middle horizontally  and filled with vanilla ashtaliyeh or custard (in the middle) and chocolate ashtaliyeh on the top. The phyllo triangles are buttered and placed all around the cake in an overlapping fashion; the cake is sent back in the oven for a few minutes until the phyllo layers are golden and crispy.

Cooled for a few minutes, dusted with some powdered sugar and served.

To make the custard or ashtaliyeh, click here. I doubled the quantities and melted sweet chocolate in one half.

The sponge cake is a basic sponge cake made with six eggs, no fat of any kind.

If you would like a detailed recipe, let me know.

Mrs. Knechtle is the owner of a pastry shop in Beirut, La Brioche. She and her husband Alfred who was  Swiss, ran it for decades. Now in her mid-nineties and a widow, Mrs Knechtle still maintains La Brioche and opens it for business every day. I hold them both responsible for my acute sweet tooth. I have had more  mille-feuilles, éclairs and hot chocolate at their shop than I care to remember.

I had to go there again and check out the place; nothing and I mean nothing had moved. The same Swiss bibelots (knick-knacks) on the shelves, the same hand-written signs, the same benches and chairs. I asked Mrs Knechtle who made the pastries and cakes, since her husband had been the pastry chef. She replied: ” I do it all myself”, pride and towering dignity in her voice. God bless her!


42 Comments  •  Comments Feed

  1. Aida from Mexico says:

    Yes please I would love to have a detailed recipe of this lovely cake.
    Thank you Joumana.

  2. Jean says:

    This cake is beautiful and your idea brilliant! I would never have thought to use phyllo to dress up a cake like this but it works and very well!

    Your Mrs. Knechtle seems like a sweet woman and I’m amazed that she still works. She must be very strong and in great health–I hope she stays that way for a long time. 🙂

  3. Amanda says:

    What a clever idea, Joumana! I am nowhere near resourceful enough to have thought of doing that – and the petals look lovely.

  4. Grapefruit says:

    How ingenious and so pretty! Shows how a little imagination can go a long way in creating a unique dessert 🙂

  5. deeba says:

    How inspiring Mrs Knechtle and La Brioche are, and you, for delivering the sweet tale! I love your take on the cake Joumana. Novel and fun!!

  6. Rosa says:

    A lovely cake! Happy birthday to your cousin.



  7. SYLVIA says:

    Joumana, you’re very skilled, and have the most original recipes, this is a decadent, a very sexy Saturday night dessert, and a showstopping centerpiece. So heavenly so perfect, signaling and begging to be served for the festivities. Joumana, Is it possible to send me the recipe? I thank you kindly.

    Mediterranean couscous is perfect for a ladies luncheon, has a distinctive combination of ingredients such as molasses, and zaatar, and sweet and savory flavors which I love.

    It was fun to chew mastic gum while growing up, was exotic, sweet, a bit hard and had a nice flavor, it will be perfect for passing out like a Halloween candy to trick o treaters.

  8. Nadji says:

    Grâce à toi, nous avons l’impression de connaitre le Liban de l’intérieur.
    Un gâteau croustillant qui a dû beaucoup plaire au cousin.
    Il m’aurait plus à moi aussi.
    Bon week-end et à bientôt.

  9. Joanne says:

    I’ve never seen a cake that uses phyllo dough like this before but it looks fantastic!

  10. Angie's Recipes says:

    I would love one phyllo cake for the birthday! Looks really great even without frosting!

  11. Jen_from_NJ says:

    I love the idea of using phyllo in lieu of frosting! Brilliant!

  12. Priya says:

    Cute looking cake..

  13. Katerina says:

    I would love to see the inside of this cake. It looks like you have combined western and eastern sweet methods in one sweet. And that pastry shop is there anyone to continue all this great job these two people were and still is doing?

    • Joumana says:

      Katerina: not that I know of; Mrs Knechtle is by hersef.
      Eve: It is fixed now, sorry!
      Valerie: I was afraid of the heat melting the custard too, but the ashtaliyeh is thickened with a lot of cornstarch and maybe that’s why it stayed put! (there are no eggs in the custard either)
      Aida: I will post the entire recipe soon!

  14. PJ says:

    What a brilliant idea to use phyllo sheets!!Loved reading about that pasrty shop too..

  15. A Canadian Foodie says:

    I am surprised the heat didn’t melt the custard in the cake… maybe the short time and the cold cake worked to avoid that. It looks very Mediterranean – and GORGEOUS!

  16. Claudia says:

    the phyllo is so softly draped – it is lovely. I …sort of … buy phyllo (shh)… it scares me.

  17. Eve@CheapEthnicEatz says:

    Brilliant cake decoration indeed. Looks beautiful. I think the link to the ashtaliyeh does not work?

  18. Simon says:

    What a unique idea! I wish there were pastry shops like La Brioche here in Japan. Pastry here is generally not very sweet. Pleasing to the eye, but not rich like those in the Middle East.

  19. Suzanne Blum says:

    The memories of La Brioche and the Knechtle family linger forever in my memory.
    Thank you for sharing. It’s as sweet as your cake.

  20. Mary says:

    The cake looks amazing with the phyllo draped over it, and much tastier and more interesting in texture than frosting. The jar of Puck cream cheese caught my eye–I have seen it here, and I really want to buy some, mostly for the glass with the lid! Can I use it to make the ashtaliyeh? The link calls for Kiri cheese. Thanks!

    • Joumana says:

      Mary: The puck cheese spread is widely used in Lebanon and sold in the middle-eastern groceries in North America. I use it either in squares or in the tub for making the ashtaliyeh or to thicken ashta or cream when making pastries; I have used it also when making cookie or pie dough. It is very versatile. My mom eats the squares for breakfast!

  21. Katerina says:

    Hi Joumana. Thanks for the comment you left on my baklava recipe. You are right about pistachios. This is the barrier of language. In Greece we all call them peanuts, so that’s why I wrote it that way. I’ve already changed it. Thanks again for letting me know.

  22. Sarah Galvin (All Our Fingers in the Pie) says:

    Very creative. I am not a fan of frostings so this is a great alternative to dress up a simple cake.

  23. peter says:

    Joumana, great thinking on your feet…different and I’m sure the cake was a pleasant surprise when you presented it! I too would love to see the inside of the cake. 😉

  24. Lea Ann says:

    What a beautiful cake. I’m not a frosting fan, so I’m really liking this Idea. Joumana, thanks for stopping by my blog. About a month ago, I had a computer problem where I lost all of my RSS Feeds. I’ve been trying to reinstate all of the blogs I follow and knew I was still missing a few.

  25. Faith says:

    The phyllo is such a fun idea, Joumana! It really is a very pretty cake and I love the crunch it adds.

  26. Devaki says:

    Dear Joumana – This is brilliant as always….so unique that it blows my mind! What a concept to use phyllo and so very stunning. BTW, sponge cake in my bete noir! PLEASE email me your no fail recipe…I need it all the time and always have to say my prayers before I begin!

    Would love the whole recipe for this cake…fantastic concept, fantastic execution.

    Ciao, Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

  27. northshorewoman says:

    The cake is gorgeous and Mrs. K is amazing. Where does a 90 something woman draw her energies from to bake every day? She must have a loyal customer base.

  28. grace says:

    what a unique and tasty birthday cake. i do love me some phyllo–great work!

  29. Isabelle says:

    Nice to hear about these Swiss confiseurs in Beyrouth 🙂 “La Brioche”looks like a lovely place to visit and linger for a while in the scent of all those delicious ingredients and spices. I love the way you adapted your own cake, it looks and sounds very Mediterranean.

  30. Oui, Chef says:

    What a gorgeous and creative twist on a birthday cake, I love the way it looks, and I BET it tasted even better! – S

  31. Dana says:

    I really like the idea of phyllo on a cake. Beside texture, it is just so exotic looking. Not your every day cake!

  32. Brigitte says:

    La Brioche, c’est tout simplement une partie de l’histoire de Beyrouth. Savez-vous que la famille Knechtle a ouvert également La Brioche à Fribourg, en Suisse? Auparavant, j’y rencontrais souvent Mme Knechtle qui venait y passer quelques mois chaque année. Je la rencontrais ensuite lors de mes visites à Beyrouth, je ne manquais jamais de passer déguster une douceur à la Brioche de Hamra. La Brioche is part of Beirut history. Do you know that the family Knechtle has opened the same La Brioche in Fribourg, Switzerland? Before, I used to meet Mrs Knechtle very often as she was spending few months every year in Switzerland. Then, it was my pleasure to meet her again in Beirut.

    • Joumana says:

      @Brigitte: Non je ne savais pas qu’il existait une “brioche” en Suisse également/ Quelle histoire unique, typiquement libanaise.

  33. Chris says:

    Thank you for the article and the photos of La Brioche. Last time I have been to it was in ’83. Do you know if it is still open for business? Do you happen to have their recipe for their famous cinnamon rolls?

    • Joumana says:

      @Chris: I went there before the end of Summer 2012 and it was closed. I think the owner told me that she divides her time between Switzerland and Lebanon. I was thinking of checking again to see if she is back. Last time I walked by it was closed again (a month ago). Sadly, I dont have the recipe for their cinnamon rolls.

  34. marleine says:

    Quelle belle histoire !
    Je n’ai pas connue cette patisserie mais je le regrette fortement . Je suis sure qu’une fois qu’on entre dans ce lieux magique , on a l’impression de faire un voyage dans le temps , la ou tout est fait a la main “the old fashion way ” . Cette femme est un exemple de courage ,de passion et d’amour pour la vie .que dieu la benisse.
    Cet endeoit ecxiste t il encore ? Je serai ravie d’y faire un saut la prochaine fois ou je serai au liban

  35. Christine Simm says:

    As a special treat my mother would take us occasionally on a Saturday afternoon for a cake and drink here between 1954-65. I have never forgotten the excitement and the sheer pleasure of the treat. Not other bakery has quite compared it.

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