When Mike and I returned to the U.S. last July after spending a year in Kuwait, it was surprisingly unceremonious for us, which felt weird because spending a year there was definitely life-changing for me in so many ways.
If you take a simpler approach and serve this cake without whipped cream and pomegranate arils, serve it the more traditional way: with sweetened milk tea!
By the time we were getting ready to leave, the weather in Kuwait had already changed from oppressively hot to unbearably scorching, adding misery to our last days there. We were in the midst of packing up and shipping an apartment’s worth of things from Kuwait to the U.S., retrieving an apartment’s worth of things from in storage in Buffalo, and establishing our lives in DC.
Days passed in a blur. Nights were spent in different airports around the world, days were spent traveling, and we worked through the monotony of all the things adults have to do to get their lives in order when they move across the world. We were caught between waiting and the mad rush to get things done, and so while it was happening, I didn’t have time to focus on what was actually happening: I was leaving a part of the world that had been home for a year that in reality I may never visit again.
Now that Mike and I are settled into our lives in DC, I have time to breathe and reflect on our time in Kuwait. Although I’m thrilled to be back home and I wouldn’t have it any other way, there are things I miss about Kuwait.
I miss the markets most (like this one and especially this one), and the friends we made. And the fact that no matter what time of year it was there, I only very rarely needed an umbrella and an outer garment heavier than a light sweater when we left the house. Being able to swim almost year-round was another perk, and so was this view from our apartment every day.
In the end, I think the best way to revisit our time in Kuwait (in addition to pictures – of course) is the food.
Now, let me tell you how I happened upon this cake.
One of the food bloggers I follow on Instagram (Danderma, who blogs here and shared a pancake version of this cake on her blog here), posted a gorgeous picture on Instagram (here) of a traditional Kuwaiti cake called Qors Oqaily (which I’ve also found transliterated as Gers Ogaily). I never had (or even heard of) this cake during my time in Kuwait, and to say the least, I was feeling intrigued and a little bit like I missed out, lol. I had to remedy that.
I did a little research and found out that Qors Oqaily is basically a Kuwaiti sponge cake traditionally made of eggs, flour, sugar, cardamom, and saffron with sesame seeds sprinkled on top and served with sweetened milk tea. Now, this is where I deviate from tradition; in general, I don’t enjoy the density and/or dryness that sponge cake can have (even when served with tea), so I knew I wasn’t going to make a classic sponge with my recipe.
In my research, I came across a lovely recipe on a blog called Sukarah; unfortunately, that domain now appears to be expired, but I also found the Sukarah recipe on my friend Evelyne’s blog, Cheap Ethnic Eatz. I noticed that the recipe is quite different from a typical sponge with the addition of a few ingredients to lighten up the texture, and I figured why not make a completely custom version of my own?
Before you inundate my inbox telling me that this cake isn’t authentic and your grandmother would be appalled, let me say that I’m not claiming this cake to be authentic in any way. It was inspired by a beautiful traditional cake, but it is my take on that dish.
So here’s what I did…using my yellow cake recipe as a base, I make a few tweaks. For starters, I broke tradition for cake-making and used a combo of butter (for the flavor) and oil (for the texture) in this recipe. As with the classic Qors Oqaily recipe, cardamom adds spice here and saffron lends its golden color and exotic aroma. I discovered that some recipes for Qors Oqaily also include rosewater for flavoring, but in this cake I went with vanilla because of personal preference. I also put a couple other personal touches on this cake: a generous topping of fresh whipped cream and pomegranate arils (because I noticed that in Kuwait, food is like art and pom arils are frequently used as edible decorations).
This is the result: a beautiful cake that reminds me in both flavor and aroma of my time spent in Kuwait. If I close my eyes and inhale, I almost feel like I’m ambling about Souk al Mubarakiya.
- ¼ teaspoon saffron threads + ½ tablespoon sugar + 1 tablespoon hot water
- 2 cups (255 g) all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1¼ teaspoons ground cardamom
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1½ cups (300 g) sugar
- 3 large eggs
- ¾ cup (180 ml) low-fat milk
- ½ cup (120 ml) light olive oil
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- Fresh whipped cream
- Fresh pomegranate arils
- Butter and flour, for the pan
- Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan.
- Use a mortar and pestle (or food processor) to grind the saffron threads and ½ tablespoon sugar together until the saffron is powdered. Add 1 tablespoon hot water and let it sit 5 minutes.
- Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cardamom, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
- Use a handheld electric mixer to beat together the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Add the eggs and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the milk, oil, vanilla, and saffron liquid.
- Use a wooden spoon to stir the dry ingredients into the wet half at a time. Be careful not to over-mix.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until golden, and a toothpick inserted inside comes out clean or with just a couple crumbs, about 35 to 45 minutes. After cooking for 10 to 12 minutes, sprinkle the sesame seeds on top and continue cooking until the cake is done.
- Cool the cake completely on a wire rack.
- Top with fresh whipped cream and fresh pomegranate arils, if desired; serve.