Sfouf is the Middle Eastern answer to classic American yellow cake. They are both densely sweet, vividly colored, easy to make and celebratory.
But this version, baked in ovens from the Levant to Morocco, relies on a different set of pantry ingredients. Instead of butter, the pan is greased with tahini, its subtle mellowness cutting through the sugar. Rather than icing, it is topped with sesame seeds and almonds for a textured finish.
As with many other Middle Eastern sweets, Sfouf is often made with semolina, which is a fine byproduct of milling durum wheat (also used to make cous cous). However, if you have it, I find that 1/3 ratio of cornmeal or polenta adds a gritty crunch that pairs ideally with the tahini in the background. I also like to add a dash of almond extract to complement the blanched nuts on top.
Just before baking, sprinkle with sesame seeds and place the almonds in parallel lines; after all, sfouf
means “rows” in Arabic. If you’re feeling fancy, slice the finished cake into diamond shapes to complete the Middle Eastern look.
TURMERIC AND ALMOND TEA CAKE (SFOUF)
Adapted from Chicho’s Kitchen
1.5 cups semolina
1/2 cup polenta
1 cup canola oil
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp baking powder
1 cap full natural almond extract
1 1/4 cups caster sugar (I use raw)
1.5 cups milk
2 tbsp tahini
Sesame seeds and raw, blanched almonds to garnish
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F. Grease your baking dish (10″ x 10″ square, round or springform are ideal) with the tahini, smoothing over the base and sides in the same manner as you would with butter. Soak peeled whole (or half) almonds in boiling water.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the semolina, polenta, turmeric and baking powder. Pour in the oil and whisk again to make a paste.
In a separate bowl, mix the milk, almond extract and sugar, until the sugar dissolves. Add to the semolina mixture and whisk until well incorporated.
Spread the batter evenly into the tahini-greased pan. Sprinkle all over with sesame seeds. Pat dry the almonds and decorate in rows (or to your liking).
Bake 20-25 minutes or until lightly golden and a skewer comes out clean. Slice on the diagonal to make diamond shapes (if preferred) and serve with hot tea or coffee.