What is bint al sahn?
Bint al sahn is a delicious traditional cake from Yemen that is deliciously covered with honey as soon as it comes out of the oven.
Bint al sahn (or “daughter/beauty of the table”) is the most traditional dessert served in Yemen. It is a honey cake which is reminiscent of baklava, considering the presence of butter and the superposition of thin layers of dough, as well as French kouign-amann, for the flaky texture.
The cake is topped with egg yolk and black seeds, usually nigella seeds or black sesame. Finally, in addition to the rather large amount of butter in this traditional recipe, it is traditional to drizzle a good amount of honey on top of the cake as soon as it comes out of the oven.
Bint al sahn is usually served during the meal and not at the end, which may surprise most of us. Also, keep in mind that the higher your social status is, the higher quality and therefore the more expensive the honey served with your cake will be.
Although it contains simple ingredients, the thin layers of dough are quite tricky to prepare. The layers of dough must be as thin as paper, but when you get to master how to open up the dough, then you are all set!
Ritual around bint al sahn
There is a serving ritual for this cake. The host serves a traditional bint al sahn as a hospitality ritual. He generously pour honey in a circular motion on top of the cake and makes sure he pours a generous quantity of it on the guest side of the cake. Thus, the guest won’t feel shy to take more of it if he wants to.
This hospitality ritual is intended to make the guest feel comfortable in the house of the host. As a sign of gratitude, the guest must absolutely prevent the host to pour too much honey on the cake – or at least fake it. Remember: honey in Yemen is a sign of wealth and social status.
The difficulty of this cake lies in opening up the layers of dough. But don’t worry, the more you practice, the faster you will be at making this cake.
Let me now serve you a generous slice of bint al sahn.
- 3 eggs
- 3 cups flour
- ½ cup butter , melted
- 1 tablespoon dry yeast
- 2 teaspoons salt
- ¼ cup butter
- 1 egg yolk
- Sesame seeds (or nigella seeds)
- Honey (warm)
- Dissolve yeast in ¼ cup of lukewarm water (80 F).
- Set aside for 10 minutes until it gets foamy.
In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, salt.
- Add 3 eggs, melted butter and activated yeast.
- Knead the dough for about 15 minutes until the dough starts to hold up. Cover with a dry cloth and set aside 30 minutes.
- Separate the dough into small balls of 2½ oz each. Keep a 3 oz ball for the top layer of the cake. You will get between 10 to 12 balls.
- Let rise another 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 400 F.
- Generously grease a 10-inch pan.
- Using a rolling pin, roll the first ball of dough as thinly as possible: you must see through.
- Place the layer of dough in the pan.
- Using a brush, drizzle melted butter over this layer of dough.
- Continue this process for the rest of the dough sheets. For the final layer, coat with egg yolk and sprinkle with black nigella seeds.
- Bake for 25 minutes until the cake is golden.
- When the butter is still oozing, drizzle generously honey on top of the cake. Serve warm.