Libyan Saefra, King Solomon’s Cake
Many families in Libya used to squeeze oranges and bottle the juice to be used all year round. According to Claudia Roden, in her magnificent Book of Jewish Food, using oranges in cakes was a particularly Jewish practice. These cakes, usually prepared with the tart Seville oranges that had to be boiled for hours to tame their bitterness, have been enjoyed for centuries. With sweeter oranges and commercial juice available today, we don’t have to boil them.
King Solomon’s Cake, popular in Libya and attributed to King Solomon himself, is also called saefra (yellow) cake—the yellow comes from saffron—and is an appropriate recipe with which to end this book. Many versions are studded with raisins but I prefer this spiced date filling instead. This delicious dairy-free cake was a must for the Sabbath and special occasions. I assume it predates the more elaborate baklava we know today. It was also, according to the late cookbook author Copeland Marks, an aphrodisiac—and, as such, it was served on the eve of the Sabbath to husbands needing help in their conjugal duties.
- Date Filling
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 pound pitted dates, chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 2 cups (440 grams) cream of wheat
- 1 cup (225 grams) coarse semolina
- ½ cup (100 grams) sugar
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 cup (235 ml) vegetable oil
- 1 cup (235 ml) orange juice
- Grated zest from 1 orange
- ½ cup blanched whole almonds for garnish
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds for garnish
- 1½ cups (300 grams) sugar, or ¾ cup (150 grams) sugar and ¾ cup (175 ml) honey
- Juice of 1 lemon
- ¼ teaspoon saffron threads
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9- or 10-inch springform pan. Pulse the oil, dates, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves in a food processor with a steel blade until a thick paste has formed.
- In a medium bowl, mix together the cream of wheat, semolina, sugar, baking powder, vegetable oil, orange juice and orange zest to create a thick batter. Spread half the batter into the prepared pan, then top with the date filling, spreading the mixture with a spatula to the edges of the pan. Pour the remaining batter over the top, smooth the surface, and score the top of the cake into 2-inch diamond shapes. Gently push one whole almond vertically into the center of each diamond, then scatter the sesame seeds over all. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, or until golden on the top.
- Fifteen minutes before the cake is done, make the syrup. In a small sauce pan, bring the sugar, honey (if using), ½ cup (120 ml) of water and lemon juice to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat, add the saffron and let steep for 5 minutes. Pour the warm syrup over the cake when it is done. Let stand for at least 6 hours or more, so the cake completely absorbs the syrup.
- Excerpted from KING SOLOMON’S TABLE by Joan Nathan. Copyright © 2017 by Random House. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.