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Sfuf (Middle Eastern yellow cake with pine nuts)

Sfuf, an orange-scented Middle Eastern cake topped with pine nuts, makes a wonderful snack with afternoon tea. Make ahead and freeze.

Once you embark upon The Downsizing, you never really finish. A couple of weeks ago, I was combing through the small collection of cookbooks that remain on my shelf, trying to decide whether any should be donated or placed into my Little Free Library. Flipping through a Lebanese cookbook my husband Ted bought for me on one of our many visits to Ottawa, Canada, I came across this recipe. For sfuf. (Not a typo, I promise, although sometimes it's spelled sfouf.) I had to make it.

Sfuf, a sweet cake, bright yellow thanks to turmeric, bakes in a casserole dish. It comes out of the oven glistening on the top, dotted with pine nuts, redolent with the aroma of orange. (I replaced the orange blossom water called for in the original recipe with fresh orange zest.) The cake freezes well, and cut into small squares, this recipe feeds an entire book group, or birthday party, or a bunch of friends who pop in for afternoon tea. 

A pan of sfuf, an orange-scented Middle Eastern cake topped with pine nuts, makes a perfect snack with afternoon tea. Make ahead and freeze!

Sfuf (Middle Eastern yellow cake with pine nuts)

From the pantry, you'll need: dry yeast, granulated sugar, all-purpose unbleached flour, butter, turmeric, pure vanilla extract, pine nuts, baking spray.

Adapted from The Lebanese Kitchen, published in 1990 by the Ladies Society of St. Elijah's Orthodox Church, Ottawa, Canada. Serves 12+.


1/2 package dry yeast
1/2 tsp  + 2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup lukewarm water (not boiling)
3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
3/4 cup butter, softened
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Zest of 1 orange
1 cup lukewarm water (not boiling)
Baking spray (like PAM, with flour)
1/2 cup pine nuts


In a small bowl, add the yeast and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, and pour over it the 1/4 cup lukewarm water. Allow it to "proof" (sit until dissolved and bubbly) for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour with remaining 2 cups of sugar. As best you can, make a well in the center of the mixture.

Pour in the yeast, softened butter, baking powder, turmeric, vanilla extract, and orange zest. Mix together. Slowly add the 1 cup of lukewarm water, pouring with one hand and using the other hand to "knead" the dough. It will be a very wet mixture, but keep at it, being sure to break up any clumps of butter. When the mixture resembles a batter more than a dough, it's done.

Spray a 9x13 casserole dish or baking pan with baking spray (be sure to spray up the sides of the pan, too). Pour in the dough, and spread it evenly. Set a timer for 30 minutes, and let it sit on the counter.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. After the cake has been sitting for 30 minutes, sprinkle the pine nuts evenly across the top. Bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Let the pan sit on a wire rack to cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. Cut into squares, with a serrated knife. Or, cool completely, cut into quarters, wrap in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil, and freeze.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More cakes you can freeze:
Yogurt coffee cake with pecan filling, from The Perfect Pantry
Lemon tea cake, from The Perfect Pantry
Sour cream coffee cake with brown butter glaze, from How Sweet It Is
Apple spiced coffee cake, from White on Rice Couple

Sfuf, an orange-flavored cake that freezes so well!

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


I have never seen a cake recipe quite like this. Is it as moist as it looks?

Donna, it is very moist. The original recipe calls for adding olive oil, which would make it even more moist, but I don't think it's needed (nor are the extra calories). I froze part of this, and served it later, and it's just as moist when defrosted, too.

The stars are aligning for me to try this! #1 - I just bought orange blossom water yesterday, #2 I'm having a few friends over this afternoon for a book swap so I can get rid of some of my cookbooks and #3, I just unearthed some pinenuts in my freezer yesterday. Off to the kitchen I go....

But before I start baking, I'm curious to know - is the olive oil in addition to the butter or instead of?

Julia, the olive oil is an addition, which is why I just didn't find it necessary. For me, the cake was more than moist enough.

Funny you should be making a cake out of The Lebanese Kitchen cookbook. I have that cookbook and referred to it just yesterday. It was sitting on my desk.

Christine, isn't it a wonderful cookbook? I've decided I can't possibly part with it.

Well I didn't find this cook book at Amazon, but I did find one called The Lebanese Kitchen; Quick and Healthy Recipes, which I couldn't pass up. No downsizing of cookbooks at my house obviously. The cake sounds amazing and so interesting!

Kalyn, the book I have is a locally-produced church cookbook (which often are the best ones!), but the recipe for sfuf, or sfouf, is easily found online. Often it calls for semolina flour, but this recipe doesn't. It's great for a party, because a small piece per serving is perfect!

Unfortunately allergic to peanuts.. Is it worth it to be making one without or is the peanuts such a dominant ingredient to the cake?

Damir, these are not peanuts, but pine nuts, and many people who are allergic to peanuts are not allergic to pine nuts. However, if you are, simply omit them, as they are not inside the cake, but only on top.

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