Thursday, April 13, 2017

Sfouf, the Vegan Anise and Turmeric Semolina Cake

In a previous post I went over that special ingredient my mother always had/has on standby to use to whip a lot sorts of sweets including a childhood favorite, the crumbly yellow yumminess we call "Sfouf".  This turmeric or saffron colored/flavored cake is still on my list of favorite desserts that are also incredibly easy to make.

The cake has some other claims to fame! Beyond being easy to make and requiring very simple ingredients, it is a vegan, suitable for lactose intolerant people and those with egg allergies. Additionally, it can be easily made with polenta or gluten free flour for gluten intolerant people.

Back home, we used to make this recipe a lot during the lent season. Being a vegan recipe, it suited my parents well as they abstain from any meat or dairy for a period of 50 days. In addition to sfouf, we would look for other vegan recipes (like this rice pudding) that suited our cravings for sweets in the lent. As traditions mean a lot to me, I like to make sfouf during this season, especially in the last days of the lent.  It's a sweet reminder of days gone by!

It is worth mentioning that there is a non-vegan recipe of sfouf, but let's leave this for another post!

As you will see, the recipe is pretty simple. It is also quite flexible and you can adapt it to your own liking. I like my version to be more crumbly. That's why I use more semolina than flour. But if you want a more consistent cake invert the quantities mentioned below. Another thing you can modify easily is the quantity of sugar used; adjust to your liking.

The main flavors of the cake come from the use of two spices: anise and turmeric. Yet again, you can adjust the quantities to your liking, just be careful that turmeric in excess would give an unpleasant bitter aftertaste.  I used anise in two ways:  anise infused water and ground anise. My parting from the traditional cake I knew is my use of a small quantity of ground mahaleb cherry seeds. The use of mahaleb is totally optional, you can omit it or use instead some almond extract.

For an 18 cm round pan you need:
  • 150 g fine semolina
  • 100 g cake flour
  • 125 g sugar (you can use less if you want)
  • 3/4 tsp ground turmeric
  • 3/4 tsp ground anise
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • dash of salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground mahaleb cherry
  • 100 g oil (I used a mix of ;light olive oil and sunflower oil)
  • 200 g boiling water
  • 1 tsp anise
  • sesame seeds, walnuts, pine nuts for the topping
  • Tahini paste to coat the pan (if not available use oil)
First you need to infuse the anise seeds in the hot water and leave to cool.

In a bowl, combine semolina, flour, sugar, turmeric, ground anise, salt, baking powder  and mahaleb cherry and stir to mix the dry ingredients.

Add the oil and mix well. Add the anise water and whisk until well combined.

The batter will be rather liquid which will give you a moist cake. Pour the batter into the tahini covered pan.

Sprinkle the topping of your choice, I used three. Sesame is the traditional topping, but you can use cashews or pecans. Experiment and make the recipe your own.

Bake for 30 min at 180 C. Check after 25 min; insert a skewer in the middle of the cake, if it comes out clean then it´s done. 

Leave it to cool for about 10 to 20 min, remove it for the pan and wait until it cools completely.
Now all you need is to slice, sprinkle a bit of powdered sugar and enjoy with a cup of mint tea or coffee.