Sunday, May 22, 2016

Mary's Lebanese Sfoof Cake...and a whole lot of love.

An 'out of the blue' incident that made my day!

My neighbor, Mary, is from Lebanon and doesn't speak much English but we communicate happily with a few words, sign language and exchanging food & fruit.

Mary brings some of this cake over every time she makes it and I love it...when she brought it last Friday I asked her if she could have one of her grandchildren write down the recipe as I loved it (all this with actions and a few words). She nodded and left.
On Saturday when I got back from my walk Bob said Mary had been over. His smile was that of a man who's embarrassed.
"What did she bring?" (You can tell Mary's spoiled me/us.)
"Nothing. She wanted you. She said something that sounded like receipt."
"Ah!" I caught on. "She wanted to give me a recipe I asked for! Where is it?"
"She didn't give me anything. I told her you'd gone out." He made the motions of turning a steering wheel, looking at me hopefully.
" You did great. I'll walk across and get the recipe. Be right back!"
I rang the bell and Mary opened the door. "Come in! Come in!"
I followed her to the kitchen and she took out a piece of plastic and spread it on her counter (smart move). Then she took out baking stuff and all the ingredients. I wanted to object but wondered if that would be rude. She had it all planned. It had taken fifteen or sixteen years for us to get to this point.
She looked at the surprise on my face and as I'd voiced my protests said, "Yes! Yes! Yes!"
I know a determined woman when I come across one and no one knows better than me it is easier to watch how a dish is made and learn than to try it out alone.
The end result was a beautiful cake, a delicious cup of coffee strong enough to make me want to come home and clean my house till it looked as good as hers.
When she had the cake in the oven I looked out the window.
The back garden is immaculate...I mean immaculate.
"Very nice." I said feebly vowing not to let her see mine till the gardener put some work into it.
Mike her husband is 82 and she is 78 (first she said 87 but when I wrote it down and showed her she reversed the numbers). I told her Iw as 66. "Yes?" she said. "You baby!"
A baby who apparently wasn't able to keep everything as neat and tidy as well as Mary could. She watches her 7 grandchildren; the youngest of whom is turning 3 and a regular little Denis the Menace according to her and has so many aches and pains. I didn't dare tell her about the pain in my back. The 'you baby' remark was painfully fresh in my mind.
The cake was ready, I ran home for my camera. I told her son who had come downstairs that I would put it on my cooking blog if that was okay. There was a lot of smiling and excited talk after that while I took my pictures.
I refused the whole cake, thanked Mary and came home with a few deliciously warm pieces on a plate.
I was so touched I was almost ready to cry.

P.S. My house is in the same condition as it was yesterday!

Mary's Sfoof Cake

Grease a 9 by 11 glass baking dish (It has to be glass).
Mary poured olive oil into her hand and greased the dish with that.

Into a mixing bowl she measured:

4 cups all purpose flour
1 heaped tsp Anise powder (Mary had the container from Costco, our wholesale place but I'm sure fennel/somph roasted in the microwave and powdered would give as great a flavor. I put this in before I researched the word fennel and realized what Mary had used was star anise powder not somph/saunf powder as I first wrote about. The powder in her container was dark brown)
11/2 tsp baking powder.
Separately she mixed and added to this:  
3/4 to 1 cup sugar ( Mary used 3/4)
1/2 tsp turmeric

3/4 cup corn oil

water (Mary used less than 3/4 cup water)

White sesame seeds (for topping only).

Mix the turmeric and sugar with a spoon and then add to other dry ingredients in the bowl.
Mix well.
Add oil and mix.
Add water and mix gathering dough to middle gently.
The end result has to be slightly more watery than cake dough.
She poured it into the pan, took some more oil in the palm of her hand and used it to spread the dough to the corners of the pan.
She sprinkled a generous amount of sesame seed on the top and baked it for ten minutes on the lower shelf of the oven...after seven minutes she kept taking it out and looking at the bottom of the cake.
When the bottom of the cake was as brown as the top looks in the picture, she turned the oven to broil for three minutes, moved the cake to the top shelf watching carefully till the top was a deep golden brown too.
When it had cooled a bit (five minutes), she cut it into large diamonds. This cake was about 1/2 an inch thick...the pieces she gave me with my cup of coffee are on top just to show what the pieces look like. The corner pieces were slightly darker brown and crunchy...truly amazing.
In all such a great experience.
Language isn't a barrier unless you let it become one and I'm so happy to know Mary and her family.

From Wikipedia: Anise also called aniseed, is a flowering plant in the family Apiaceae native to the eastern Mediterranean region and Southwest Asia. Its flavor has similarities with some other spices, such as star anise, fennel, .... Therefore, the same name ( saunf) is usually given to both of them.

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