Sfouf bi Debes (Carob Molasses Cake)

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Sfouf is the most popular recipe on my blog: it’s a semolina anise seed tea cake that’s fluffy, moist, incredibly flavorful and vegan. The baking time is actually longer than the time it takes to mix all the ingredients together; it’s no wonder why it is the most viewed page on this site!

This version of sfouf is made with carob molasses (also known as debes el kharrub in Arabic) instead of refined white sugar. It’s a healthy and popular alternative to regular turmeric sfouf especially during Easter lent.

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Since the carob tree is native to the Mediterranean region, carob molasses is widely consumed in Lebanon. The pods of the carob fruit are mashed with water to release their sugar, then strained and boiled down until a dark thick syrup is formed. In fact it is very common in these regions to make syrups from fruits and there’s an incredible variety ranging from pomegranates, dates, grapes, to mulberry, prickly pears, and figs.

Carob molasses has a very distinctive earthy flavor that’s almost reminiscent of cocoa. That’s why it’s a great alternative to chocolate in many recipes, especially when you taste it in its raw form (I think it looses the rich cocoa taste when baked). So there you have it: an even healthier vegan sfouf cake that’s naturally sweetened. Feel free to experiment with other types of molasses if you can’t find carob at your local food market.

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Ingredients:

1 tbsp tahini paste
1 cup boiling water
2 tsp anise seed
2 cups fine semolina flour
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground anise seed
1 cup carob molasses
1 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup toasted white sesame seeds for decoration (you can also substitute with pine nuts or halved blanched almonds)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 180ΒΊC (355ΒΊF) and grease a 11″ (28cm) round tin pan with the tbsp of tahini.
2. Seep anise seeds in the boiling water for 5 minutes, then strain and set aside to cool.
3. Meanwhile, toast the white sesame seeds in a non stick pan on medium high heat until fragrant and barely golden. Set aside to cool.
4. In a large bowl, mix the fine semolina, flour, baking powder, and ground anise seeds until homogeneous.
5. Slowly add the anise tea, carob molasses, and vegetable oil to the dry ingredients and mix until no lumps remain. The batter will be slightly thick.
6. Pour batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the top with sesame seeds.

7. Bake for 30-35 min, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

9. Let cool in the pan completely before inverting onto a wire rack.
10. Cut into square or diamond shapes, and store in an airtight container (cake can be frozen up to 3 months).

Sfouf (Semolina Anise Tea Cake)

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Sfouf is by far one of my favorite Lebanese desserts. It’s a moist cake characterized by its intense yellow color from the turmeric spice. It is made from semolina, flour, oil, sugar, and aniseed which gives it a distinctively awesome taste. Some people say it has a “magical” taste – and hey, I don’t disagree. It is also very easy to make, you just have to mix all the ingredients in a single bowl, pour the batter in a cake pan, and garnish the cake with slices of blanched almonds before putting it in the oven.

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Lebanese sweets are usually heavy with sugar, cheese (like kashta), and lots lots of butter! But this spongy cake is light and slightly sweet with a dense melt-in-your-mouth texture. After tasting it from renowned Lebanese bakeries, restaurants, and even home-made cakes, I found out that typical Sfouf are dry and lack the unique turmeric/aniseed flavor. So after reviewing and adapting my grandmother’s recipe, I finally found the perfect balance of ingredients for an insanely moist, rich, and flavorful cake. The secret ingredient is the addition of brewed anise tea to the batter. Typical recipes call for plain water or milk, but I found that freshly brewed tea enhances the taste and texture of the cake.

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The cake is traditionally cut into squares or diamond shapes in the baking pan, that’s why it is called Sfouf, meaning “Rows” in Arabic. After taking the first bite, I knew that this is THE recipe to follow every time I plan on baking Sfouf. And it tastes so much better the next day! It’s unbelievably good!

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Let me take you through the step-by-step recipe – as usual πŸ™‚

anise seed
This is aniseed. It smells awesome. So will your cake.
brewing
Make some Anise tea by mixing boiling water with the seeds and letting it steep for a few minutes.
tea
Transfer tea to a bowl and let it cool.
anise powder
Finely ground aniseed using a spice grinder.
semolina
Mix the fine semolina (above) with the flour, turmeric powder, ground aniseed, and baking powder. Then add the tea and oil.
tahini pan pan 2
Cover the cake pan with some Tahineh (Sesame Paste)
batter
Pour the cake batter into a 23 cm (9 inch) round pan. You can also use a rectangular pan.
batter3
Decorate it. Lovely.
after
Bake it.
cake 1
Turn it on a wire rack and cut into squares.
after 2
And that’s the best part. Yum.

Makes β‰ˆ 26 squares.
Preparation time: 25 minutes.
Baking Time: 40 minutes.

Ingredients:
2 cups boiling water
2 Tablespoons aniseed

2 cups fine semolina flour
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
2 tablespoons turmeric powder
1 tablespoon finely ground aniseed (you can use a spice grinder)
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 3/4 cups sugar

1 cup canola oil (or vegetable oil)
2 tablespoons Tahineh (sesame paste)

Blanched Almonds, halved (for decoration – you can substitute with pine nuts or 1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds)

Directions:
1. Boil water then add the aniseed and let steep for 10 minutes.
2. Strain tea and put aside to cool a little bit.
3. Preheat oven to 180ΒΊC (355ΒΊF)
4. In a large bowl, mix the fine semolina, flour, turmeric powder, ground aniseed, and baking powder until homogeneous.
5. Add sugar to the tea until dissolved.
6. Add oil and tea/sugar mixture to the dry ingredients, then mix well. The batter will be slightly thick.
7. Cover the bottom and sides of a 28 cm (11 inch) round pan (or a rectangular pan) with Tahineh.
8. Decorate with blanched almonds (or substitutes – above)
9. Bake for 40 min, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
10. Let cool in the pan for 30 min then invert on a wire rack.
11. Cut into square or diamond shapes, and store in an airtight container.