These little yellow Middle Eastern sfouf cakes flavored with turmeric are bursting with personality and will definitely make an impression. Sfouf (a.k.a. sfoof), is a Lebanese semolina cake that is cut into squares or diamonds after it’s been baked. It is incredibly easy to prepare and can easily be adapted to suit a vegan diet by using non-dairy milk and vegan sugar.
If you haven’t baked with semolina before, don’t worry! We’re going to talk about it in detail today. But first, let’s quickly go through all the ingredients you’ll need.
- Semolina: I use fine semolina but you can easily use coarse semolina if that’s what you have on hand. You could even use a combination of both if you want just a little bit of crunchiness from the coarse semolina.
- Flour: The flour will give structure to the cake. You’ll need all-purpose flour. We’ll be using about half the amount of semolina in flour, so 100 g of flour and 220 g of semolina. You can use even less if you want, and replace it with semolina. The more flour you use, the more dense the sfouf will be. The more semolina you use, the crumblier the sfouf will be. I found the proportions in the recipe ideal but feel free to play around with them if the sfouf doesn’t have the perfect texture for you.
- Sugar: White granulated sugar will add flavor to the sfouf and yield a cake that is tender and moist. It will also add just a little bit of sweetness.
- Milk: For hydration. You can use regular milk or vegan milk such as coconut milk or almond milk.
- Oil: The oil will add richness and tenderness to the sfouf. Cakes made with oil will also stay moist for longer. You can use a neutral vegetable oil or classic olive oil (not extra virgin, which has a very strong flavor). I personally love using olive oil, which makes the cake really moist and gives it a wonderful flavor. However, a cake made with olive oil will be slightly greasier and heavier than one made with vegetable oil. So it might not be everyone’s favorite version. You could also replace the oil with melted butter if you really want. I thought I would love this version but the cake turned out very ordinary, which a sfouf cake is anything but!
- Spices: The main spice used in a sfouf recipe is turmeric, giving the cake its wonderful yellow color. Turmeric has also been hailed as a powerful antioxidant. Another spice which can be used is saffron. But due to its very high cost, it’s generally omitted. I also like to add a little bit of ground aniseed for a hint of freshness. If you don’t like aniseed, you could use ground cardamom. The flavor will be softer and milder but goes really well with turmeric.
- Baking powder: For just a little bit of rise.
- Salt: Just a little bit of salt, to enhance all the flavors.
Interesting fact about turmeric: The main contributor to the color of turmeric is a pigment called curcumin, which is normally yellow in an acidic environment. But when exposed to an alkaline ingredient, such as baking soda, it will change color and turn orange-red. We’ll be using baking powder (composed of baking soda and an acid to react with) so the color should stay yellow. But you might occasionally see speckles of orange-red in the cake!
What Is Semolina?
Semolina is a type of flour that is coarsely ground from durum wheat, which is a hard wheat flour. The texture of semolina can vary from very coarse to fine. Semolina flour (or durum flour) will usually refer to the fine variety. When a recipe simply calls for semolina (or durum semolina), you’ll probably need to use the coarse variety.
Semolina flour is not gluten free as durum wheat contains a large amount of protein (12-15%). It is commonly used to make pasta for example.
Baking with semolina flour
There are several advantages to using semolina flour in baked goods.
- Crumbly and crunchy texture: Baked goods made with semolina flour will have a wonderful crumbly texture and will fall apart in your mouth. The gritty texture of coarse semolina can also be used to add a little bit of crunchiness.
- Golden color: Semolina flour will impart a golden color (along with turmeric) to the sfouf since it is high in yellow carotenoid pigments. If you replace it with flour, you will notice that the yellow color of the sfouf isn’t as intense.
- Nutty, earthy flavor: The semolina will give the sfouf a nutty flavor which blends really well and deepens the flavor of turmeric. Replacing the semolina with flour yielded sfouf that were a bit bland.
Can you replace the semolina with flour in this sfouf recipe?
To get a good grasp of the purpose of semolina in a recipe, I decided to omit it completely and replace it with flour. It turns out it is essential in this recipe and contributes to the uniqueness of this dessert. Sfouf made by simply replacing the semolina with flour turned out dense, doughy and slightly bland.
Pictured above are two sfouf cupcakes. The top one was made using only flour while the bottom one was made using only semolina. The batter made with flour was much thicker and interestingly enough, this cupcake rose much more (pictured left, below) than the one made with semolina (topped with an almond).
That’s not to say you can’t make sfouf using only flour. But you would probably need to make adjustments to the recipe to get good results.
Can you replace the flour with semolina in sfouf?
Yes! The flavor of the sfouf won’t be negatively affected at all if you don’t use flour. In fact, it will be even more intense.
The texture will differ a little. The sfouf will be crumblier. The flour adds chewiness and gives the sfouf a more cakey feel. Up to you to decide what you prefer. I personally like using a combination of flour and semolina whilst my husband favors the semolina only sfouf.
Okay, let’s make some sfouf!
How To Make Sfouf, Step-by-Step
Prepare the sfouf cake batter
- Preheat the oven to 190°C (374°F, conventional setting).
- Coat a baking pan with tahini (sesame paste) using a pastry brush. If you don’t have tahini, you can use butter or oil.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and milk.
- Add the oil then briefly whisk once more. Set aside while you prepare the dry ingredients. This will give the sugar more time to dissolve.
- In another bowl, mix together the flour, semolina, baking powder, turmeric, aniseed and salt until fully combined. Use the back of a spoon to break up any lumps.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients (milk mixture) in 3 additions, whisking in between. Don’t overmix.
- Once the batter looks smooth, pour it into the prepared baking pan.
- Sprinkle sesame seeds on the surface or pinenuts. You can also place a few raw almonds. Try to place them strategically so they end up in the center of the slices you will cut.
Bake the sfouf
- Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for about 23 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
- Remove from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack (in the pan), before slicing and serving.
How To Cut Sfouf
Wait for the sfouf to cool down then cut into squares or diamonds. You can transfer the cake to a flat surface before slicing it, if you prefer. To do so, place a baking sheet over the cake and gently invert it. Then invert it back onto a serving platter, or any flat surface. The cake should release easily if you greased the baking pan enough. If not, simply leave the sfouf in the pan and slice carefully, to avoid scratching the pan.
Sfouf are quite unusual and will always elicit a reaction from people who haven’t tried them before. I thought my kids would hate a cake made with turmeric but they absolutely loved it! So I hope you give it a go and are pleasantly surprised!
You Might Also Like
Figoni, P. (2011). How Baking Works (3rd ed.). Wiley.
Friberg, B. (2002). The Professional Pastry Chef: Fundamentals of Baking and Pastry (4th ed.). Wiley.
McGee, H. (2004). On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. Scribner.