Desserts

You are currently browsing the archive for the Desserts category.

Finger Fritters freshly deep fried

Finger Fritters or Zlebiyeh is another traditional pastry prepared to celebrate Epiphany. Apart from that particular occasion, I have rarely seen Finger Fritters or Zlebiyeh sold in shops. These are frequently confused with Lebanese doughnuts or oowamat / owwamat.

The recipe is easy to make, however, to give it a crunchy taste and prevent the inside from becoming doughy, Finger Fritters need to be deep-fried twice. Finger Fritters or Zlebiyeh are suitable for most people particularly vegans, they can be served sprinkled with sugar or dipped in sugar syrup which should be warm: not too hot or cold.

Makes about 20

Ingredients

For the Finger Fritters

  • 125g / a little over 4½ oz all purpose flour
  • 125g / a little over 4½ oz fine semolina
  • 1 tsp ground aniseeds
  • ½ tsp ground mahlab (see glossary)
  • ½ tsp poppy seeds
  • 1½  tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1½ tsp yeast
  • ½ tsp salt diluted in warm water about 150ml / 5fl oz (enough to bind the dough)
  • Vegetable oil to deep fry

Sugar Syrup/Ater

  • 1 full cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp orange blossom water
  • 1 tsp rose water

Equipment: you need a deep fryer and preferably an electric mixer.

Method

  1. To make the Finger Fritters. Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl wide enough to let the dough rise later. Gradually, add in the salted warm water, mixing with your hands until you form a dough.
  2. Transfer the dough into a lightly floured surface and knead for about 6 minutes. Alternatively, you could do the whole process in an electric mixer using the dough hook, thus reducing the kneading time by half (to about 3 minutes). In the end, the dough should feel soft and elastic, shape into a ball.  Grease the bowl with a dab of oil and transfer the dough into it then cover with a polythene bag or cling film, but make sure that they are brushed with a little oil to prevent the dough from sticking. Leave it in a warm place for 1½ hours to rise.
  3. When the rising time is up, pick up the dough and put it on a lightly floured surface. Punch it to get rid of the excess air, knead briefly then shape into a long fat roll. Divide this into equal portions.
  4. Take one dough-portion and cover the rest. Using your hands, stretch and shape the portion of dough into a long thin sausage (see picture). Put it on a lightly floured hard surface such as cutting board (you need to cut it later) and cover. Repeat the same process placing the long thin sausage-like dough shapes neatly parallel to each other until you finish all the dough portions. If you can, try to keep them all the same length, it helps to cut them at equal lengths.
  5. Next, using a long sharp knife, cut the sausage shaped lengths of dough into 10 cm/ 4 inches, long pieces or fingers.
  6. Transfer onto a tray lined with baking parchment, cover and let the fingers rest for 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile prepare the sugar syrup/ Ater.
  7. Tip sugar and water into a saucepan, using a medium heat setting, bring them to the boil stirring occasionally. Stir in the lemon juice and let the mixture simmer for about 4-5 minutes, until it reaches a stage where the syrup coats the back of a spoon. Finally, switch off the heat and stir in the rose and orange blossom water
  8. When the second rising time is up, heat the oil to 190ºC / 375ºF. If you haven’t got a thermometer, drop a small dough fritter into the deep fryer and if the oil bubbles around it, it is ready to use.
  9. Deep fry the fingers for three minutes turning them so they are cooked on all sides, you may need to do them in batches. Drain on kitchen papers. Keeping the oil hot, (starting with the first previous batch) repeat the deep frying for another three minutes, by which time the fresh Finger Fritters or Zlebiyeh should turn deep golden and crunchy.
  10. Now, you can drain off any excess oil on the kitchen papers, sprinkle sugar on top and serve. If you prefer the Finger Fritters or Zlebiyeh sweeter, dip them straight into the warm sugar syrup (you can always reheat it if it becomes cold), leave them to soak for 1 minute then take them out and they are ready. These Finger Fritters or Zlebiyeh can be eaten warm or cold. Finger Fritters or Zlebiyeh keep for approximately for two days.
Finger Fritters or Zlebiyeh Place the long thin sausage-like dough shapes neatly parallel to each other.

Place the long thin sausage-like dough shapes neatly parallel to each other.

 

Finger Fritters or Zlebiyeh freshly deep fried

Finger Fritters or Zlebiyeh freshly deep fried.

 

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Kaa’k el Eid or Easter biscuits are usually made along with the maa’moul the traditional Easter pastry (see recipe in desserts) to give something special to children as well as to involve them in the Easter preparations. It’s a basic recipe, once the dough is done, it would be great fun for children to shape it into rings as I will explain later.

As children, we loved them, now I realise that it is their light texture blended with simple spices that made us and other children favour them.

In this recipe, I used the traditional spices, however, you can make your own variation, for instance, you could substitute mahlab for aniseeds or nutmeg instead of cinnamon.

Makes about 18 (depending on the length and thickness of the rings)

Ingredients.

  • 250 g/ 9 oz flour
  • ¼ tsp ground miskeh (see glossary)
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp aniseed (alternatively ½ tsp ground mahlab)
  • 100 ml / 3½ fl oz milk
  • 100 g/ 4 oz caster sugar
  • 110 g/ 4¼ oz softened butter
  • ½ tsp easy blend yeast
  • 1 egg yolk added to 2 tbsp milk for glazing
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds (optional)

Method

  1. Put the milk into a small saucepan, tip in the sugar and warm through to dissolve the sugar. Keep on one side.
  2. Mix the flour, spices and yeast in a bowl or food processor, add the softened butter and rub with either your fingers or the beater until well combined.
  3. Add the sweetened milk to the flour mixture and knead with your hands or the dough hook for a couple of minutes, until you have a smooth paste. Cover with a cling film and let it rest for 2 hours.
  4. Next, pre-heat the oven to 200ºC/ 400ºF. Line one or two baking sheets with baking parchment paper.
  5. Divide the dough into equal walnut size pieces. Now, take one piece, roll it into a strip about 1.25 cm/ ½ inch thick and 10cm/ 4 inches long, bring both ends together to achieve a circle shape, pressing one end on top of the other. Transfer gently onto the baking sheet, do likewise with the rest. Once, you have finished, brush the biscuits with the egg wash, sprinkle, if using, with the sesame seeds and pop them into the preheated oven. Bake until they are a light golden colour, roughly 10 to 12 minutes. Let them cool slightly before transferring them onto a wire rack.
  6. If you are not serving the biscuits immediately, you can store them in an airtight container for up to a week.

Traditionally, when the Christians in Lebanon celebrate Epiphany, they eat and serve different varieties of fritters. Last year, I talked about O’wwamat /Lebanese Doughnuts (see recipe). This time, my recipe is about Ma’croon /Lebanese Fritters with Aniseed.

Ma’croon can be made with flour or semolina or both combined. The main flavouring ingredient is aniseed that gives it a festive aroma. It is very simple to make and is suitable for all eating habits. These are usually deep-fried then dipped straight into the sugar syrup, however, if you don’t like them too sweet, dip and then remove quickly. Ma’croon need the sugar syrup but you can alter the amount by reducing or prolonging the soaking time. I make my Ma’croon with both: flour and semolina because I like that bit of crunchiness created by the semolina. Ma’croon are best eaten when freshly made, like other fritters, they don’t keep for long.

Makes about 25 (roughly 6-7cm / 2½ inches long)

Ingredients

  • 1 quantity of sugar syrup/ Ater (see recipe)
  • 150 g / 5oz fine semolina
  • 75 g/ 3oz flour
  • ¼ tsp easy blend yeast
  • 1 tbsp ground aniseed
  • ¼ tsp Mahlab (optional, see glossary)
  • About 120 ml/ 4fl oz warmish water
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil to make the dough and enough vegetable oil to deep fry

Method

  1. Sift the flour into a large bowl then add the remaining dry ingredients and mix well. Rub the oil into the mixture, then, gradually add the water mixing and kneading with your hands or dough mixer until you have a firm dough that you can roll. Cover with an oiled clingfilm and leave it at room temperature for an hour. Meanwhile, you could prepare the sugar syrup/ Ater.
  2. Shape the dough into a long roll (roughly ½ cm diameter) then cut it into pieces, (depending how small or big you want the fritters), the ones in this recipe are about 6 cm / 2½ inches long, therefore, I divided the roll into 25 pieces. Now, take one piece at a time and roll it on a marble or between your hands and give it the shape of a sausage or a plump date. Next, press this down onto a perforated surface like the cheese grater, or a colander with a large mesh (see picture) or any equivalent, to give a dimpled effect. Roll the piece with your fingers towards you so could achieve a dimpled pattern (see picture), place it on the plate and cover with a tea towel to prevent the Ma’croon from drying out, continue likewise with the rest until you finish all the pieces.
    Colander with a suitable mesh

    Colander with a suitable mesh

    Pressing the piece to get the dimpled effect.

    Pressing the piece to get the dimpled effect.

    The dimpled effect.

    The dimpled effect.

  3. Heat up the oil in a deep frying pan and when it is hot enough (enough for a small cube of bread to crisp in 1 minute), drop in as many pieces as the frying pan can safely take, allowing them to float around without being squashed, you may need to do that in batches. Fry, turning the fritters until they are golden, this should take about three or four minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain excess oil by placing them briefly onto kitchen paper, then transfer them while still hot into the pan containing the warm sugar syrup/ Ater. The Ma’croon need the sugar syrup but you can alter the sweetness by reducing or prolonging the soaking time.
  4. Remove from the sugar syrup with a slotted spoon onto a serving plate and eat at once.

    Ma'croon ready to eat.

    Ma'croon

Atayef or pancakes are usually associated in Lebanon and the Middle East with the Muslims’ celebrations for the holy month of Ramadan. I remember back home, the stalls that the sweet shop owners used to set up in front of their shops with the pancake makers competing with each other as to who would make the best and the freshest. It stuck in my mind watching the small bubbles drying out very quickly, leaving small holes and that is what I call today a perfect pancake.

Pancakes are also eaten all year round and by everybody. They are also versatile, you can fill them with Ashta (Lebanese clotted cream – see recipe), a walnut mixture or even cheese. One important thing to observe is that these pancakes should be cooked on one side only.

Atayef (Pancakes)

Makes about 10 (10cm/ 4 inches diameter)

Ingredients.

  • 200 g/ 7 oz plain flour
  • 1 tbsp fine semolina
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp fast acting yeast
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 1tbsp sugar
  • 225 ml – 250 ml / 7 to 8fl oz warmish water
  • ¼ tsp of each orange blossom and rose water
  • A dab of flavourless oil

You also need a shallow non-stick, frying or pancake pan with a thick-base

Method

  1. Sift the flour into a medium-sized mixing bowl or food processor, then mix in the dry ingredients. Gradually, tip in the water along with the orange blossom and rose water, mixing continuously until well combined and the batter becomes smooth with no lumps. The consistency should be similar to that of single cream. Cover and let it rest for an hour in a warm place, by which time the batter should rise and its surface is bubbly. Meanwhile you can proceed with making your preferred filling and the Ater / sugar syrup (See recipes).
  2. When the batter is ready, grease your pan with a very little vegetable oil and pre-heat it for about 5 – 7 minutes on a stove switched on medium to high. It is important that the pan should be very hot before cooking the pancakes.
  3. Next, stir the batter with a spoon and mix well, then take 3 tbsp in a small ladle and pour it in circular movements into the hot pan. This will make a pancake of about 10cm/ 4 inches diameter. You can make them smaller or larger, the main thing is to measure the amount in advance and tip it in all at once. As soon as the batter touches the pan, you will see the bubbles drying out quickly, it takes about a minute or a little over until the top is dry and the bottom is slightly browned. As mentioned above Atayef/ pancakes are never cooked on both sides. Remove onto a tea towel folded in half and cover. Repeat the same process until the batter is finished.
Frying the Pancake (Atayef)

Frying the Pancake (Atayef)

Pancakes cooling on a cloth.

Pancakes cooling on a cloth.

Atayef bil Ashtah (Pancakes filled with Clotted Cream)

I think they are the most elegant and attractive to present. The green pistachio nuts against the white cream decorated with the red candied rose petals, make the pancakes quite tempting.

Makes 10 (10 cm/ 4 inches diameter)

Ingredients

1 quantity of Atayef /Pancakes (see recipe above)

For the filling

  • ½ quantity Ashta / clotted cream filling (see recipe)

You also need

  • 1 quantity of Ater / sugar syrup (see recipe)

To decorate

  • 20g / ¾ oz coarsely ground pistachio nuts
  • Candied rose petals (optional)

Method

  1. Prepare Atayef/ pancakes as described above. Do likewise with the Ater/ sugar syrup and the Ashtah (see recipes).
  2. When the pancakes have cooled, take one and put it in your hand, brown side down then pinch the edges pressing tightly until half way. Now, with the other half open, spoon the Ashtah/ clotted cream, about 1tbsp, then dip it into the crushed pistachio nuts and, if you like, decorate with candied rose petals. Arrange on a serving plate, do likewise with the rest. If you are not eating it immediately, you could at that stage cover with a cling film and keep it in the fridge for an hour or so, but no later. These pancakes won’t keep for long.
  3. Serve chilled handing round the Ater/ sugar syrup, so people can pour the amount they like.
Atayef ready for the Ashtah filling.

Atayef ready for the Ashtah filling.

Filling the Atayef with Ashtah.

Filling the Atayef with Ashtah.

Atayef bil Joz (Pancakes Stuffed with Walnuts)

These are usually either deep fried or baked in the oven until golden brown then dipped in cold Ater/ sugar syrup. Once ready, these pancakes are better served immediately.

Makes 10 (10 cm/ 4 inches diameter)

Ingredients

  • One quantity of Atayef/ pancakes (see recipe above)
  • 1 quantity Ater/ sugar syrup

For the walnut filling

  • 120g/ 4 ½ oz medium ground walnuts
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp of each orange blossom and rose water

To decorate:

  • 20 g/ ¾ oz coarsely ground pistachio nuts

Method

  1. Prepare Atayef/ pancakes as described above. Do likewise with the Ater/ sugar syrup (see recipe). As for the walnut filling, simply mix all the ingredients.
  2. Now, take one pancake in your hand, brown side down, put about 1tbsp of the filling and spread it along the middle, leaving the edges untouched. Next, fold the pancake into a crescent shape pinching tightly the edges to seal. Place the pancake onto a plate, then continue likewise with the rest.
  3. In a medium sized frying pan and using medium setting, heat up enough oil to deep fry the pancakes. You may need to do this in batches. When the oil is hot enough, gently drop in the pancakes and fry until golden on both sides, it takes about 2-3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon onto kitchen paper to the drain excess oil then dip while still hot into the cooled Ater/ sugar syrup, swirl the pancakes in the syrup to give them a good coating, leave them for one minute then take them out and put on a serving plate.
  4. Sprinkle the crushed pistachio nuts on top and serve immediately

Filling the Atayef with the Walnut mixture.

Filling the Atayef with the Walnut mixture.

Pinching the Atayef around the edges to seal it.

Pinching the Atayef around the edges to seal it.

The Atayef filled and sealed ready for frying or baking.

The Atayef filled and sealed ready for frying or baking.

If you prefer to bake them, this is how to proceed:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/ 400°F.
  2. Melt about 50 g/ 2oz of butter and let it cool slightly, then stir in 1 tbsp of vegetable oil. Meanwhile, line a shallow baking sheet with baking parchment paper. Lay the filled pancakes on the baking tray and brush each one on both sides with the butter mixture, pop it in the oven. Bake for about 7 minutes then turn over and continue baking for another 7 minutes time by which they should be a golden-brown colour on both sides. Dip, as explained above, into the cooled Ater/ sugar syrup then transfer onto a serving plate, sprinkle with the crushed pistachios and serve at once.

Atayef bil Jibneh (Pancake filled with cheese)

Traditionally, Akkawi cheese is used for the filling. Since this cheese is very salty, you need to soak it in cold water for several hours, changing the water from time to time until you get rid of the salt, then dry thoroughly and mash. Alternatively, use the same amount of Mozzarella cheese, dry and mash.

Makes 10 (10 cm/ 4 inches diameter)

Ingredients

  • One quantity of Atayef/ pancakes (see recipe above)
  • 1 quantity Ater/ sugar syrup (see recipe)

For the cheese filling.

  • 170 g/ 5½ oz Akkawi (you need to soak it in cold water for several hours, changing the water from time to time until you get rid of the salt, then dry thoroughly and mash)

OR

  • 170 g/ 5½ oz Mozzarella cheese dried and mashed.

Method

  1. Proceed as explained in Atayef bil Joz / Pancakes Stuffed with Walnuts).
  2. Dip them in the cooled Ater/ sugar syrup and serve warm.

NB. You can also follow the same method for the pancakes stuffed with Ashtah/ clotted cream.

I used ready to eat figs for this recipe, it is quick and the figs are moist, they do not require pre-soaking or re-boiling. It is a very sustaining and versatile jam. It could be eaten on its own as a dessert, with bread, or even with cheese. The addition of anis seeds, miskeh (see glossary) and toasted sesame seeds adds to the jammy texture, a delightful nutty taste. Make sure the sugar is well dissolved before adding the figs, as this will help the jam to set smoothly. Because figs come whole, I usually make a cross- incision to open them up, it helps them to absorb the flavours of other ingredients and cooks better. Alternatively, just chop the figs into quarters.

 

Facts about jam making.

 

  • The presence of pectin in fruit, along with the sugar, help to set the jam. However, some fruits like figs have a lower pectin content, therefore, adding lemon juice is necessary as it helps the jam to set and enhances the taste of the fruit.  

 

  • Testing the setting point for jam. Put a saucer in the fridge before you start cooking. Spoon a small amount of the hot jam onto the saucer, let it cool for a few seconds then push it with your finger. If the surface wrinkles, it means the jam has set. If using jam thermometer, the setting point is 105°C/ 221°F.

 

  • Do not attempt to remove any scum during the cooking process. Wait until the end, when you switch off the heat, stir in a knob of butter which will get rid of it.

 

  • If well stored, jams keep for roughly a year.

 

If you like to read about pectin in fruits and jams, here are suggested websites:

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pectin

 

http://www.allotment.org.uk/allotment_foods/jams-preserve/make-jam-jelly-ingredients.php

 

 

Ingredients.

 

  • 500 g/  1lb 2oz   ready to eat dried figs
  • 150 g/   5 oz   sugar
  • 300 ml/ 10 fl oz  water
  • 1 tbsp anis seeds
  • ¼ tsp ground miskeh (see glossary)
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 30 g/  1 1/8  oz  sesame seeds
  • 25 g/ 1 oz  almond flakes (optional)

 

You also need, two jam jars (about 227g/ 8oz capacity), two wax discs, cellophane and string.

 

Method.

 

  1. Prepare the figs. Make a cross incision with the knife and open them up with your fingers or chop into quarters. Keep on one side.
  2. Using a low heat setting, warm up the water in the preserving pan, mix in sugar, anis seeds, miskeh and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Once this is achieved, add the figs, two tbsp lemon juice and stir the mixture. Increase the heat to the boiling point, then reduce and let it simmer very gently, stirring occasionally, for about twenty-five to thirty minutes. At that stage, it should thicken reaching a jammy consistency.
  3. While the jam is cooking, toast the sesame seeds using a low heat until they become a golden colour. Do likewise with the flaked almonds, if using.
  4. A couple of minutes before taking the jam off the heat, stir in the remaining lemon juice, then add the sesame seeds, flaked almonds and mix.    
  5. Leave to stand for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, put the jars in a low heat oven then, when ready, spoon the jam into the warmed jars, fill them right to the top. Cover with wax discs. Next, dampen lightly one side of the cellophane and put it on top of the jar, (dampened side up) securing it with a string.
  6. When completely cold, label the jars and keep in a cool, dry, and dark place.

 

The way to proceed with very dried figs.

 

For the same amount used above, soak the chopped figs in 1.75 litres/ 3 pints of water, the night before. The next day, put the figs with their soaking water into a preserving pan, bring to the boil then simmer until they feel soft, stirring occasionally, it takes about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, dissolve the sugar in 100ml of hot water, add it to the softened figs, along with 2 tbsp of lemon juice, anis seeds and miskeh, then continue following stage two onwards. If any scum forms during cooking, wait till you take the pan off the heat and stir in a knob of butter.

This is similar recipe to shortbread, however, traditional flavourings are added which gives it an authentic Lebanese taste. The dough is cut out into individual biscuits made into different shapes: round ones, coiled, diagonals or even rectangular and topped with pistachio nuts or almonds. They go well with tea or coffee and are ideal to take on picnics. Whether you are using your hands or food processor, try not to overwork the dough because it can become very soft as the heat may turn the fat into a slurry-like consistency. Therefore, speed is important.

 

As a child, it always fascinated me the way the different shapes were stacked on top of each other shining with snow-like white colour. This is something I couldn’t achieve, for my Ghraybeh biscuits always come out with a slight tinge of gold but still have an exquisite taste.


Makes about 20 medium sized

 

 

Ingredients

 

  • 150 g/ 5 oz icing sugar
  • 150 g/ 5 oz butter at room temperature
  • 300 g/ 11oz  plain flour
  • 2 tbsp of each orange flower and rose water

 

  • You also need 2 or 3 baking sheets (depending on the size you have) lined with baking parchment

 

Method

 

  1. Cream icing sugar and butter until smooth, then, fold in the flour and mix well. It will look crumbly to start but as you add the flavourings, the dough will bind together. If it is too soft, let it rest for about 10 minutes in the fridge.
  2. To make the coiled shape. Take a small portion of the dough, roll it out with your hands on a floured surface and make a sausage shape,1.25 cm ( a little over ½ inch)  thick and 12 cm (4¾ inches) long. Next join both ends of the sausage, press one pistachio nut or an almond if you prefer (in fact any type of nut works) at the intersection, transfer immediately onto the lined baking sheet.
  3. For the ordinary biscuit shape. On a floured surface and using a slightly dusted rolling pin, roll out the dough to about 1cm (½ inch) thickness. Take a 5 cm (2 inches) round pastry cutter, insert into the dough, cut and transfer onto the baking sheet. Do likewise with the trimmings until you have used all of it.
  4. For the diamond shape. 5 cm (2 inches) for the sides and 1cm (½ inch) thickness. Use the same method as with the round ones.
  5. Bake in a preheated oven at 180ºC (fan oven) 400ºF for about 12 minutes until they start to turn slightly golden.
  6. Leave them to cool completely on the baking sheet, although they are delicious when they are still warm.

 

NB: These biscuits keep well in an airtight container for a few days.  

Although Owwamat or Lebanese Doughnuts are available all year round, it is traditional for the Christians in Lebanon to eat them on 6 January to commemorate Jesus’ baptism, the Feast of Epiphany. As a child, I used to compare Owwamat to ping-pong balls because their rounded shape looked so perfect, it is not easy to achieve that at home, however the home-made ones are much tastier than the ones sold in shops.

 

There are also other fritters served on this occasion such as M’shabbak where confectioners pride themselves in displaying these colourful laced discs, Ma’croon and Zellabiya, the latter is rarely found in patisseries, it is usually homemade more specifically by countrywomen. These fritters are best served hot and fresh, they won’t keep well for long.

 

Makes about 16 doughnuts

 

Ingredients

  • 150 g / 5 oz plain flour
  • ¼ tsp yeast
  • A generous pinch of salt
  • 65 ml / 2 ½ fl oz plain yoghurt
  • About 150 ml / 5 fl oz tepid water
  • 1 quantity of Sugar Syrup/ Ater (See recipe)
  • Enough vegetable oil to deep fry

 

Method

  1. Sift the flour into a Pyrex or non-metallic bowl, stir in yeast and salt, then mix in the yoghurt. Mix well all the ingredients adding gradually the tepid water, to achieve a smooth batter that has a dropping consistency. Cover and set aside in a warmish place for roughly one hour after which the batter should rise a little with some bubbling on the surface. Meanwhile, prepare the sugar syrup. 
  2. When the batter is ready, heat up the oil until it is hot, (you can test it by dropping a tiny amount of batter, if it floats and the oil is bubbling, it means it is the right temperature). Lightly grease a dessert spoon with oil and take a spoonful of batter then drop it into the hot oil, do as many as you can fit easily in the deep fryer. Fry the doughnuts, turning them until they look fluffy and reach a golden colour on all sides, this should take about 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent kitchen papers, before dipping them into the syrup, swirl the doughnuts around for a minute or so then transfer into a serving dish, do likewise with the remaining batches. This is how it is usually done, however, I prefer not to dip the doughnuts into the syrup, I like them fluffy with a bit of crispiness, I simply let people add the amount of syrup they like.
  3. Serve while they are warm.

 

NB: Home-made doughnuts do not keep well for the next day.

The pastry looks like thin white hair, compressed together to form a bloc, so you need to disentangle it before cooking, available at most of the Turkish and Lebanese grocery shops. It is sold frozen, vacuum packed and even fresh. The Turkish call it Kadayefi and the Lebanese Osmalliyeh or Knefeh sha’r (hair) to distinguish it from the Knefeh mafroukeh (where the pastry is rubbed to attain a crumbly texture). The latter is commonly used to prepare our traditional breakfast Knefeh bil Jibin (Sweetened Cheese topped with Pastry).

 

Osmalliyyeh is a Turkish word attributed to Osmans meaning the Turks. Though the letter n has disappeared, it, actually, originates from Osmanli meaning the Imperial House of Osman. They were the Ottoman dynasty who ruled the Ottoman Empire that stretched across much of the Middle East including Lebanon. So, I guess this dessert dates back to the time of the Ottomans.

 

It is an elegant dessert and you can vary its sweetness to your liking. The combination of Ashtah with toasted shredded pastry, ground pistachio nuts and sugar syrup gives this dessert an exquisite soft crumbly taste. 

 

There are several ways to serve Osmalliyeh, the old traditional one consists of sandwiching Ashtah between two round layers of shredded pastry. However, it sounds nowadays old fashioned, and the more I visit Lebanese restaurants, the more I become amazed by the sophisticated way they present it. So, I decided to create my own version which is very simple, relatively light and providing you don’t add Ashtah or clotted cream immediately, it will keep for a couple or even three days.

 

Serves 4 – 6 (depending how thick you want the layers)

 

Ingredients

 

  • ½ quantity Ashtah (See recipe in Desserts) or clotted cream.
  • 1 quantity Ater or sugar syrup (See recipe in Desserts).
  • Enough softened butter to grease the bottom of the baking dish.
  • 250 g / 9 oz Osmalliyyeh (shredded pastry).
  • Aerosol can of cooking oil (low calories) to spray the top of the pastry.
  • 100 g / 4 oz pistachio nuts coarsely ground.
  • Candied rose petals for decoration (optional).

 

  • You also need a non-stick baking dish, measuring 30 x 23 cm (12 x 9 inches)
  • 6 standard ramekins lightly greased with flavourless oil

 

Method

 

  1. Prepare The Ashtah (clotted cream) and sugar syrup as described in their respective recipes.
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C / 375°F. Grease the baking dish with the softened butter.
  3. Disentangle the shredded pastry by pulling the threads gently apart then spread evenly in the greased baking dish. Spray the top generously with the fat, making sure that all the pastry is moistened. 
  4. Pop it in the oven, it should take about 15 to 20 minutes to reach a nice golden colour. However, what I noticed is that some sections and more specifically the edges change colour before other parts. This is where you have to be really watchful and not move away, take the dish out and stir the pastry gently to ensure both evenness of cooking and colour.
  5. Once the baking time is finished, divide the pastry between the ramekins. Squeeze tight and press firmly so it holds an even round shape. You can leave it like that as long as you need.
  6. When you are ready to serve. Simply loosen the edges with a table knife, take a dessert serving plate, then holding it against the ramekin, tip the latter up side down. Spread about 2 generous tablespoons of Ashtah (clotted cream). Sprinkle generously with pistachio nuts, and if you like more colours, decorate with candied rose petals. Drizzle some sugar syrup and serve at once with the sugar syrup on the side.
  7. For a double decker, divide the cooked pastry between 8 ramekins (instead of 6). Proceed as above for the bottom layer, spread the Ashtah. Tip the top layer on something slippery like a parchment paper, then very gently slide it on top of the Ashtah. Now add a dollop of Ashtah on the second layer, sprinkle generously with pistachio nuts then, if you like, decorate with candied rose petals. Serve as described above.

 

 

Uncooked Shredded Pastry Uncooked Shredded Pastry

 

Cooked Shredded Pastry

Cooked Shredded Pastry

The assembled dessert.

The assembled dessert.

 

 

Halawet el Jebn

Halawet el Jebn

 

 

This is basically white cheese usually the Lebanese Akkawi incorporated into semolina to create sheets, similar to a thin white cloth. The confectioners of Tripoli (Lebanon’s major northern city) excel in it. Halawet el Jebn has been their trade mark for centuries. I remember as a child that there was always excitement when someone brought us Halawet el Jebn from Tripoli. It can be tricky to make at home but not difficult when you get used to it. That is why I am suggesting a small quantity of ingredients to begin with, you can always double these later, it is worth practicing. The combination of cheese and semolina topped with Ashtah (clotted cream) and crushed pistachio gives this dessert a distinguished delightful taste.

Akkawi cheese is the ideal one for cooking, however, its high salt content means that it needs soaking in cold water, changing it several times to get rid of the saltiness. If Akkawi cheese is not available, use Mozzarella which is perfect because most of the brands have no or very little salt. The harder Mozzarella which is often used for pizza topping is ideal.

 

Serves 4

 

Ingredients

 

  • 1 quantity of sugar syrup (See recipe).
  • 250 g /  9 oz Akkawi or Mozzarella cheese
  • 100 g / 4 oz fine semolina
  • 2 tbsp of each orange flower and rose water

 

To serve

 

  • 100 g / 4 oz  Ashtah (clotted cream: See recipe)
  • 2 tbsp crushed pistachio nuts

 

You also need a non-stick, medium sized pan with thick bottom and a rolling pin

 

Method

 

  1. If using Akkawi cheese, slice it thinly before you soak in cold water for a few hours, (changing the water several times). Mozzarella does not require soaking but you need to slice it thinly.
  2. Prepare the sugar syrup shortly before cooking the cheese. You need to have the syrup slightly warm, so it would be easier to handle. Measure 60 ml / 2¼ oz and keep aside for adding later to the cooking cheese.
  3. Using low to medium heat, melt the cheese completely, you need it runny and no lumps. You do not need to stir at this stage but be watchful. Meanwhile, moisten the working surface generously with 3 tbsp of the sugar syrup.
  4. Next, stir the reserved syrup into the melted cheese and mix well. Once this is achieved, gradually, add the semolina, orange flower and rose water. This is where you need to stir vigorously and continuously until you get a dough-like mixture that binds together and pulls away from the sides of the pan. This is very fast procedure that takes only a few minutes. 
  5. Quickly and carefully (remember the dough is very hot), tip the dough into the working surface that you moistened with syrup earlier. Moisten a roller pin with sugar syrup and roll out the dough into a square (or rectangle) shape to a thickness of about 3-4 mm / 1/8 inch, (don’t worry if you don’t get it right because the toppings and especially the taste will prevent people from noticing any misshapes). Let it cool then cut into mini rectangles 5 cm x 3 cm / 2 inches x 1¼ inches. Arrange on a platter, try not to pile too many as they may stick (2 rectangle sheets are fine). If you are not eating immediately, cover and chill.
  6. There are 2 ways of serving this dessert. The first one: allow 2 sheets per person of Halawet el Jebn, put it on a plate, top it with Ashtah or clotted cream, sprinkle generously with crushed pistachio nuts and let people help themselves to drizzle the sugar syrup.
  7. The other way is to put about 1 tbsp of Ashtah or clotted cream in the middle of each rectangular sheet, roll it up so it looks like a roll, dust generously with the crushed pistachio nuts and serve passing the sugar syrup round.

 NB. Ideally, it is better to top or fill Halawet el Jebn with Ashtah or clotted cream just before serving. Halawet el Jebn keeps up to 3 days if covered with clingfilm, chilled and left unfilled with Ashtah.

 

The cooked dough

The cooked dough.

Coating the rolling pin with Ater.

Coating the rolling pin with Ater.

Rolling out the dough.

Rolling out the dough.

Cutting up the dough.

Cutting up the dough.

 

When I was reading the literature about clotted cream, I came across the making of Cornish clotted cream. What struck me is the similarity of the technique with the Lebanese one: Ashtah. I copied the following observation from the website of Roddas of Cornwall:

“It is said that clotted cream is made nowhere in the world save Cornwall, Devon and Lebanon – the art of cream-making being exchanged with the Phoenicians seeking Cornish tin as long ago as 500BC”

http://www.roddas.co.uk/roddas.html.

Like the Cornish clotted cream, Ashtah is used as a dessert filling or as an accompaniment to some desserts. Sometimes, it is eaten on its own topped with honey and nuts, such as almonds and pine nuts. In addition, the consistency or texture of Ashtah makes it suitable for the cooking process in some desserts such as Znood al Sitt (Lady’s Arms – small rolls filled with Ashtah and deep fried, then dipped in sugar syrup).

Like most clotted creams, Ashtah does not keep for long. Here is my home-made substitute version.

 

Makes about 450g / 1 lb

 

Ingredients

 

  • 600 ml / 1 pint whole milk
  • 2 thick slices of white bread (weighing about 120 g/ 4½ oz), crust removed and preferably one day old
  • 300 ml / 10 fl oz (½ pint) extra thick double cream or the same amount of crème fraiche
  • 1 tbsp of each orange flower and rose water

 

Method

 

  1. Tear the white bread and whizz in the food processor to make fine bread crumbs.
  2. Pour the milk into a medium sized pan with thick bottom, tip the bread crumbs into the milk and mix. Using medium heat, bring the mixture to boil, then let it simmer gently, stirring occasionally (to prevent any sticking), until the mixture becomes thick, this should take about 15-20 minutes. At this final stage, you can add the flavourings, give the mixture a good stir then switch off the heat.
  3. Transfer the mixture into a non-metallic bowl, let it cool completely, cover and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours
  4. When you want to use it, simply add the extra thick cream or crème fraiche to the mixture and mix well with a spoon.     
  5. This Ashtah keeps well for up to 3 days in the fridge.

 

« Older entries