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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Sweet Memories: A recipe for Sfenj

When I asked my children to name their favorite memory of Algeria, the answer was unanimous: Sfenj, the donut-like pastries sold by children on the beaches of Zeralda.

'Sfenj' (it rhymes with 'hinge') means 'sponge' and these light, fried pastries can sop up honey, sugar, or any other sweet topping imaginable. An Algerian mother told me she always prepares these on the first day of school. If the sfenj is delicious, the children will have a wonderful school year. But if the sfenj burns or falls flat, the school year will be a disaster.

Recipe for Sfenj: North African Donuts

2 teaspoons yeast
1 1/2 cup semolina
1 1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 warm water (add more if the semolina is very dry)
Cooking oil
Sugar, honey, or other sweet dipping sauce

To Make the Dough:

If you have a bread machine: add the first 5 ingredients in the order given, then start it on the dough making setting.

If you don't have a bread machine: Combine the flour and the semolina. Dissolve the yeast and salt in warm water. Add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture and knead for about 15 minutes, adding water as necessary to a dough that is soft, elastic, and comes off your fingers easily. Set the dough in a wet container, cover it with a clean, damp cloth, and let rise for at least 3 hours.

To fry the sfenj:

Heat at least an inch of oil in the bottom of a frying pan.

With wet hands, make a ball of dough and poke a hole in the center. (The dough is sticky. If you're having problems, make sure your hands are very wet. Any surface the dough touches should be very wet.) Don't worry if these are not the perfectly round donuts we're used to seeing in America; they're not supposed to be.

Drop the shaped dough into the frying pan. If your temperature is right, it will sizzle but not splatter. Fry a couple of minutes on each side until golden.

Sfenj is best served hot. Some cooks will roll them in sugar, honey, or jelly before serving them. I serve them plain with bowls of toppings, and let everyone choose and dip their own. Experiment with toppings. Any sweet sauce (cherry, strawberry) is usually good with sfenj. Enjoy!

Have you eaten sfenj before? If so, what toppings do you like? Is there any other North African recipe you would like me to post?


  1. Yum! Never heard of it, but how could you go wrong with something so delicious?

    Could you post something normally eaten for a lunch or dinner?

  2. They sound delicious, and not hard to make. Thank you for sharing the recipe. What a great experience you and your family had.
    Ana Morgan

  3. Yummy, Clarissa! They look like a cross between funnell cakes and sopapillas. Right up my alley! LOL! Thanks for sharing!!

  4. Thank you Gillian, Ana, and Jerrica for commenting. What a nice surprise. I thought it would be quiet on the weekend. I'll ask my kids what their favorite lunch/dinner meal was and try to post it next week. Thanks for asking!

  5. Those sound delicious! I bet they'd be great with melted butter and cinnamon-sugar. I have a friend who's son and his family are living in Morocco, I'll ask her if she's eaten sfenj. She loves doughnuts, so I bet she has!

  6. The fatalism cracks me up, Clarissa. I'd rather not have my destiny linked to whether or not my pastry burns or falls flat on any particular day.

    Still, they sound delicious. ;)

  7. That sounds wonderful. I'm a donut-a-holic, so I'm sure I would enjoy these. Maybe I'll try making them for my nephew sometime. Thanks for sharing, Clarissa.

  8. Oh, yum, Clarissa -- what a wonderful blog idea and how to tempt a person into making a surprise dessert and totally blowing off her GH diet - lol. My husband is a donunt freak and I'm an anything-with-sugar-or-sweetness freak. Sounds like these would find a perfect home with us!! Thanks for the fun!
    Liz S.

  9. They sound delicious... Oh NOT to be on a diet.


  10. Those sound delicious.

    Would you happen to have a recipe for couscous or hummus? My daughter loves the stuff and wants to try some recipes.

  11. Looking forward to trying these, Clarissa! Thanks for the wonderful recipe, as you know, pastries and sweets are right up my alley :)

  12. I just happen to be sitting here with a cup of coffee, and now I'm craving a sfeng! I'm not a baker though. I have a feeling I'd turn your wonderful recipe into a disaster. :)