The smell, the feel, the look of this cheap, delicious Lebanese cake all fill me with an intense nostalgia. I can still remember debating with myself as a teenager in Beirut with the latest bombardment of shells intensifying around us whether I could just keep working a little more in our kitchen in our sixth floor apartment on the recipe that might finally deliver the perfect sfouf. That or racing down to the basement where everyone in the block would be taking shelter. My old cookbook from back then still has the light yellow stains from those intense sessions. Even when I was in the shelter, I would be thinking about the sfouf still baking upstairs and wondering — hoping — whether this time I would get it right. It was always different, always a surprise when I got back upstairs.
I tried for years to get it just right — the exact mixture of turmeric, tahini, milk and sugar. It seemed so simple. But I never succeeded until a Lebanese friend of mine here in London showed me how. For her, too, it always comes out a little different, but it is still always absolutely delicious — with the springy softness and moistness that I had never quite been able to get. With her help, I finally cracked it. And it wasn’t a moment too soon as my elder daughter had by now developed an addiction to sfouf and needed me to provide a proper hit. She loves turmeric — and like me finds the wait for the sfouf to cool down — as its exotic, Arab scent wafts through the kitchen — torture.
As for the name, sfouf, it’s always been a mystery to me. But I’ve read that it’s because in arabic the word means rows — as in a row of school desks — and I suppose when you look at it cut into diamond shapes that sort of makes sense.
400g of plain flour
200g of fine semolina
300g of caster sugar
2 tea spoons of turmeric
3 tea spoons of baking powder
2 1/2 cups / 500 ml of full fat milk
3/4 cup / 150 ml of sunflower oil
100g of pine kernels or almonds
2 large spoons of tahini to seal the tray
- Put the flour, semolina, turmeric and baking powder in a large bowl and mix the ingredients very well
- In another bowl put the milk and sugar and stir until the sugar has dissolved
- Add the vegetable oil and stir well
- Add the milk to the flour mix and stir for few minutes or until all the runny mixture has turned yellow
- Rub the tahini all over the stainless steel baking tray – approximately 25 cm wide and 35 cm long
- Stir the sfouf one more time and pour evenly into the baking tray
- Sprinkle the pine kernels or almonds on top and put on the lower shelf, in a preheated oven, 170 degrees, for 30-35 minutes
- Remove from oven and leave to cool down
- Cut the sfouf into small diamond shaped pieces and serve cold with mint tea