There is something about the smell of Lebanese desserts that just whisk me away to my childhood. Rose water, orange blossom water, anise, mahlab, those are the most intoxicating smells. So much so, that the second my son walked in the door from school today, he asked if I made batlawa (Lebanese baklava), it's that aroma, even HE knows and loves.
This cake is however not like batlawa, it is a cake that is served with coffee or tea. A simple breakfast cake similar to cornbread or biscotti and just sweet enough. When I was growing up I remember my mom having coffee dates with her friends. They would come by the house, a pot of Turkish coffee steamed on the stove and my mom would have some cookies or cake, like this sfouf to enjoy. I was lucky enough to get my own coffee cup and dunk cookies or cake into it. I got all the coffee goodness soaked in through my sweet treat. This cake is perfect for that, and brings back so many memories.
What is semolina?
In Arabic, Sfouf literally translates to "lines" so to me, the most important part of this cake is the nuts all lined up perfectly in rows. Definitely not important to the taste but just helps with the appearance of the cake to its intended look. Like many Arabic desserts, Sfouf contains semolina. Semolina is coarse, purified wheat middlings of durum wheat and is typically used in pasta (that's why pasta has a yellow hue). The semolina gives the cake a distinct nutty and flavorful texture. Semolina cakes comes in a few different forms in Lebanese cuisine: sfouf the simplest cake, numoora which is similar in color and taste but is soaked in a sweet attayr sauce that turns it from simple to addictive and finally sfouf bi dibis, a cake using date molasses.
But what about it's yellow color?
Sfouf doesn't get it's bright yellow color from the sweet aromatic spices, but rather from an extremely beneficial spice, turmeric. Turmeric is thought to have many health properties including:
- natural anti-inflammatory
- decreased cancer risk
- cardiovascular benefits
- improves digestive issues
But let's be honest, the small amount in this cake won't necessarily cure all the above ailments, but it does look pretty and taste good! To benefit from the full benefits of turmeric you'd need to consume a lot or take supplements.
I want cake!!!
So if you're craving a luscious chocolate gooey slice of cake, sorry to disappoint. This cake is definitely not going to hit that sweet spot for you. It is however tasty, warm and amazing, especially on those cold fall and winter mornings. It's a one bowl mix (my fav), no eggs and can easily be made vegan by swapping the milk. I hope you give it a try and share your thoughts on this Lebanese classic.