Sfouf (Semolina Anise Tea Cake)

Sfouf cake: Anise and turmeric

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.

Lebanese sweets are usually heavy with sugar, cheese (like kashta), and 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 is dry and lacks 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.

Sfouf cake: Anise and turmeric slice

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!

cake 7

Let me take you through the step-by-step recipe – as usual 🙂

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

Makes ≈ 26 squares.
Preparation time: 25 minutes.
Baking Time: 40 minutes.

2 cups boiling water
1½ tablespoon aniseed, whole

300g (2 cups) fine semolina flour
240g (2 cups) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon turmeric powder
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon finely ground aniseed (using a spice grinder)
350g (1¾ cups) sugar

1 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon tahini

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

1. Place aniseed seeds in a bowl and add hot water. Let it sit for 10 minutes.
2. Strain tea and put aside to cool a little bit.
3. Preheat oven to 180ºC (350ºF).
4. In a large bowl, mix the fine semolina, flour, turmeric powder, baking powder, and ground aniseed until homogeneous.
5. Add sugar to the tea and mix 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″) round pan (or a rectangular 9″x13″ pan) with tahini.
8. Decorate with blanched almonds (or substitutes – above)
9. Bake for 35 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.

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  • Hi and thank you for sharing this version of Sfouf! I would like to try and make this cake, but I would like first to double check the amount of baking powder you mentioned (3 teaspoons). Thank you!

  • Made double batches over the week end one batch as a gift in a plate to return (gotta love our Lebanese traditions) and a batch for me and my husband – we both loved it and half way through our batch. Next time I am making in a muffin tin for breakfast – I missed this desert so much!

  • I made this yesterday as a Ramadan dessert.. Can u say woooooow! I’ve had this dessert so many times, but this takes the reward! You really perfected the recipe!! I love that you boil the anise for extra flavor! I can’t wait to make it for my mom so she can be so impressed lol! And it’s so easy to make! The only thing I did wrong is I mixed the water in the dry mixtures while it was still really hot .. And my sfoof turned out a little reddish in color lol, but it still looked pretty and still tastes delicious. So I would advise all to actually wait until anise tea cools down. Thanks for the recipe!! I already shared it with the family.

  • Hi! Is this anything like the Eurasian semolina cake? I’m curious to how it’ll taste like. I’m planning on baking it for christmas and wondering if it’ll be a mixture of savoury and sweet because of the turmeric. Your cake looks so delicious btw!

    • Hi Rina,
      I’m not familiar with the Eurasian semolina cake since I never baked one. I just looked up a few recipes and I noticed that it includes butter, eggs and almonds as well as semolina flour. So the taste will be very different. Sfouf is completely vegan and the taste of anise seeds is predominant, the turmeric only gives it a yellow tint. I wouldn’t classify it as a savory cake since it is slightly sweetened with a very unique anise taste. I hope that information was helpful!

  • Hi, Before I start with one of the things I miss most from Lebanon, one little question: Teaspoon as in American/European size or as in which is used for serving tea in Lebanon, which would be more like an espresso spoon to our norm. Thanks for a short reply & best Regards. Tatjana

    • Great question! It’s been tough adapting some Lebanese recipes because they do not use specific measurements. However, all my recipes on the blog use conventional American measurements. I usually scoop out the baking powder with a teaspoon and level it across using a knife. Let me know how it turns out!

      • It’s in the oven… 45 minutes left to wait… I wonder how Lebanese come along in using turmeric, it’s not really a spice from the middle east. Would you know?

        • Turmeric is pretty common in the Middle East and North Africa. I’m not sure of its origin or trade route history 🙂

  • I tried this recipe today it is very tasty, however it crumbled while cutting it. I left it to cool for 45 min. For the semolina should I use the finest I can find (looks like flour)? I used the one that is a little more coarse the bag says #2 on it (looked at the picture you provided and it didn’t look fine like flour so I decided to use the coarser one). Thanks.

    • Hi Sarah,
      Sfouf is usually a crumbly cake, if you notice the edges of some pieces fell apart. However, the pieces of cake should hold their shape.

      I mentioned in the ingredients that I used finely ground semolina flour (also known as farkha in arabic) which is a no.1 durum wheat. From my baking experience, no.2 semolina is much coarser and is very crumbly if not combined with no.1 semolina.

      If you plan to bake this again, I advise that you use fine semolina flour. You’re right it is grainy/sandy in texture compared to regular all-purpose flour, but it will definitely work better than a coarser grind.

  • Hi,
    I need your help here 🙂 … I tried it twice but I am getting dark red on the top and red inside, not at all the beautiful yellow color of the sfouf. The taste is not good neither, it is bitter. I tried twice with two tablespoons of turmeric, do you think it is the issue? New to baking by the way 🙂

    • Hey Yasser! I’m sorry the recipe didn’t work out. Usually when turmeric is mixed with an acidic ingredient such as baking soda, it does turn red. But since you’re saying that the cake does not taste good then I think that it’s the type of turmeric that you’re using.

      There are several types of turmeric varying in curcumin concentration: from 2% (light yellow) to 5% (darker reddish yellow). Curcumin is the yellow color pigment in the turmeric spice. The higher the concentration, the darker and more earthy and bitter in flavor. The percentage varies from one brand to another so it can be hard to figure out the exact percentage. But look for a light yellow turmeric spice that doesn’t smell too strong or pungent.

      Also just to make sure – are you using the standard US tablespoon measurement?

  • I just made this and they turned out just perfect and super tasty. Even my vegan friend was able to eat them since they have no milk or eggs! Do you have a good recipe for sfouf with molasses? PLEASE post it if you do!

    • Hi Jane! I never tried using coconut oil instead of vegetable oil here. You can give it try, but remember that the coconut oil will solidify and change the consistency of the cake, and may carry a slight aroma of coconuts.

  • I made this recipe a couple of days ago for the first time and I have to say I’m absolutely blown away from its authentic taste! Better yet, everybody else loved it! Thank you so much for sharing!!