'igaili (sponge cake)

SPICED: Sweet dates, walnuts and sesame seeds add to the aroma of Â’igaili, or cardamom-saffron sponge cake.
Recipe (Stephen Osman / Los Angeles Times)

Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Servings: 12

Note: Adapted from "Cardamom and Lime: Recipes From the Arabian Gulf," by Sarah al-Hamad. She writes, "This is the Arabian version of sponge cake, perfumed with the evocative scents of the East and traditionally accompanied by a cup of sweet black tea. It is the perfect cake: satisfying yet light, aromatic but subtle, enfolding a variety of seductive ingredients like sweet dates and sesame seeds, saffron and cardamom, and walnuts." Cardamom is assertive, so decrease the amount for a lighter taste.

Pinch of saffron threads

6 soft-packed dates, pitted

5 eggs

3/4 cup sugar

1 heaping teaspoon ground cardamom

Pinch of turmeric

1 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon sesame seeds, divided

1/4 cup chopped walnuts, or other nuts of your choice

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Soak the saffron in 2 tablespoons of very warm water for 20 minutes, then set aside.

2. Mash the dates with a fork, then roll the small mashed pieces into small pea-sized balls (about 2 dozen) and set aside.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, whisk together the eggs and sugar until light, fluffy and almost meringue-like in texture, 7 to 10 minutes. Gently whisk in the cardamom and turmeric.

4. In a small bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder, then slowly add them to the egg mixture while whisking. Continue whisking while you add the saffron-infused water and oil just until combined.

5. Grease a round 9-inch springform or regular cake pan with butter and line with parchment paper. Butter the top of the parchment paper. Dust the bottom and sides with 2 teaspoons of the sesame seeds.

6. Pour half the cake mixture into the pan, scatter with the tiny date balls, then cover with the remaining mixture and a last sprinkling of sesame seeds. Top with chopped walnuts.

7. Bake for 35 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown on top (a toothpick inserted in the middle should come out clean).

8. Cool the cake, then release the spring and turn upside down onto a plate. Invert again and serve with a spoonful of crème fraîche or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Each of 12 servings: 182 calories; 4 grams protein; 30 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 5 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 88 mg. cholesterol; 111 mg. sodium.