Updated: Sep 28
The history of Sabayah pastry, known as "Bint al-Sahn" in Yemeni culture, is a tale of tradition, love, and culinary artistry. With origins that trace back centuries, this delicate pastry is symbolic of celebration, love, and the transition from girlhood to womanhood in Yemen. In this blog, we will delve into the rich history of Sabaya dessert and provide a step-by-step recipe to recreate this Yemeni bread at home.
The Origins of Sabayah
The exact origins of Sabayah remain shrouded in mystery, but it is believed to have originated in Yemen, where it has been cherished for generations. The name "Sabayah" is Arabic for "girls," and it is thought that this pastry was named after the young girls who traditionally played a vital role in its preparation.
As a young Yemeni woman approaches marriage eligibility, the preparation of Bint al-Sahn becomes a rite of passage—a showcase of her culinary prowess. This intricate dish, adorned with layers of love and care, is typically featured at engagements and weddings, where it signifies the celebration of new beginnings and the continuity of traditions. Yemeni mothers impart their culinary wisdom to their daughters, ensuring the preservation of cherished recipes like Bint al-Sahn for generations to come.
Understanding Bint al Sahn: Yemen's Sweet Delicacy
Sabaya Yemeni food, often called the "daughter" or "beauty of the plate," is a cherished Yemeni dessert deeply ingrained in the nation's culinary heritage. This traditional cake is renowned for its exquisite preparation and delightful combination of flavors.
At its core, Bint al Sahn is a honey cake known for its sweet and fragrant profile. The cake is crafted with utmost care, starting with a base of thin, paper-like layers of dough. While the ingredients are simple, mastering the art of creating these delicate layers is no small feat.
Upon completion, the cake is brushed with egg yolks and a sprinkling of black seeds, typically nigella seeds or black sesame, adding both visual appeal and a subtle nutty undertone. But what truly elevates the sabaya recipe to a culinary masterpiece is the crowning touch: a generous drizzle of honey.
Fresh out of the oven, the cake is bathed in honey, creating a luscious glaze that infuses every bite with sweetness and moisture. This final step encapsulates the essence of Yemeni cuisine, where honey symbolizes wealth and social status. The quality of honey varies with social status, and the host's generosity in pouring honey on the guest's side of the cake is a gracious act of hospitality, ensuring guests feel comfortable and welcome.
Ingredients & Preparation
Sabayah is crafted from a simple yet intricate blend of ingredients, including flour, eggs, yeast, and clarified butter (samn). The magic lies in the meticulous preparation. The dough is rolled out into incredibly thin layers, then stacked and brushed with melted butter. The pastry is baked to perfection, resulting in a golden brown, flaky delight.
A Step-by-Step Sabaya Yemen Recipe
3¼ cups flour
½ cup melted butter
1 tablespoon dry yeast
2 teaspoons salt
¼ cup butter
1 egg yolk
Sesame seeds (or nigella seeds)
10-inch (25 cm) springform pan
Step 1: Start by dissolving the yeast in ¼ cup (60 ml) of lukewarm water (around 80°F or 30˚C). Allow it to sit for about 10 minutes until it becomes foamy.
Step 2: In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour and salt.
Step 3: Add in 3 eggs, the melted butter, and the activated yeast to the dry mixture.
Step 4: Knead the dough for 15 minutes until it begins to hold its shape. Cover it with a dry cloth and let it sit for 30 minutes.
Step 5: Divide the dough into small balls, with each ball weighing around 2½ oz (70 g). Set aside one larger ball weighing about 3 oz (90 g) for the top layer of the bread. You should have roughly 10 to 12 balls in total.
Step 6: Let the dough balls to rise for an additional 30 minutes.
Step 7: Preheat your oven to 400°F (200˚C).
Step 8: Thoroughly grease a 10-inch (25 cm) springform pan.
Step 9: Roll out the first dough ball as thinly as possible using a rolling pin.
Step 10: Place this thin layer of dough into the prepared pan.
Step 11: Using a brush, generously drizzle melted butter over this layer.
Step 12: Repeat this process for the remaining dough balls as well. For the final layer, brush with egg yolk and sprinkle with black nigella seeds.
Step 13: Bake for approximately 25 minutes or until the bread turns a lovely golden color.
Step 14: While the bread is still warm and the butter is oozing, generously drizzle honey over the top.
Step 15: Serve your Sesame-Honey Yemeni Bread while it's warm, and enjoy!
In recent years, Sabaya Yemeni cuisine has transcended borders and gained popularity outside Yemen. This Yemeni bread recipe has found its way to tables worldwide, thanks to the growing recognition of Yemeni cuisine and the efforts of Yemeni diaspora communities to share their culture and culinary traditions with the world. It is not just a pastry; it's a testament to Yemeni culture, tradition, and the love shared between generations. With its rich history and delightful taste, this Yemeni food recipe paired with our specialty coffee from Yemen is all you need to savor the flavors of Yemen and celebrate its traditions.
More recipes This is another post in our Coffee & Bakery Recipes: how to make all your favorite coffee drinks and bakery at home!
Espresso - Bold and intense, the essence of coffee in every sip.
Cappuccino - A creamy embrace of espresso and frothy milk, perfection in a cup.
Mocha - Rich and chocolatey, a divine indulgence crowned with fluffy milk foam.
Latte - Silky smoothness meets espresso's charm in this comforting classic.
Black Coffee - Coffee in its purest form, bold and unapologetic.
Macchiato - Imagine a perfect fusion of espresso, foam, & deliciousness, all in one cup.
About The Author: Alvaro Rosales Merida
From Law to Lattes, his childhood passion drove Alvaro, a former law student tethered to a desk for years, to embark on a journey of flavor and purpose. Hailing from Guatemala City, he co-founded his Bistro Bar in 2013. Amidst the hustle of kitchen clinks and table talks, Alvaro's love affair with coffee deepened. He learned from baristas, friends, and local producers. In 2020, Alvaro opened a bakery in his hometown combining his two loves: coffee and community. A bold move to the dream city NYC in 2020 with his specialty coffee project, he champions the cause of transparency, fair trade, and support for his country's small coffee producers.