Do We Really Have 10 Best Lebanese Pastries?
Truth? If we are to name the 10 Best Lebanese Pastries we would be subjecting many great Lebanese desserts to an unfair discrediting discrimination.
These days, it seems that people search mainly for the “10 Best” of any and everything. However, in this context, the term “best” is overrated, in my opinion. There cannot be a chart of values to screen our desserts for the ‘best’.
As we Lebanese say in French, Les goûts et les couleurs ne se discutent pas, which sums up very much into: We can’t debate on tastes and colors. Fact is, individuals have their own preferences in tastes, as in colors, and hence in their preferred pastries.
And yet, I have come up with a list to provide you with! I will tell you how in a few.
Let me ascertain to you first, and I do it without hesitation, that our pastries are a pure delight, and that Lebanese pastry chefs are among the best in the world and not only in local pastries. Trust me, I am not exaggerating. The best French pastries ever, I have eaten them in Lebanon; not in Paris, not in Geneva, and not in Montreal. No offence intended to any. 🙂
Lebanese pastry chefs have proven to be highly skilled craftsmen who thrive in producing gratifying desserts. Our society is known to be demanding and, in its refine taste, not easy to please . To do so, our chefs go the length to excel.
One thing for sure, we Lebanese do have a sweet tooth! 🙂
Originally, our ethnic pastries used to be very sweetened. I remember it very well while growing up. Today, and since a decade or so, they are made with lesser sugar, which I like far better.
So! In order to come up with the list of 10 for you, I have compiled the pastries that are the most sought-after in Lebanon. I guess this will do the job pretty well.
And here we go! Enjoy the enticement to your palate!
Made of Semolina, yeast and butter, the dough is divided in small balls which we place in a special mold and press gently. The prepared stuffing goes in next. We then cover it with flatten dough and press the borders to each others. The excess of dough is cut off, the pastry is turned over in a pan, readying to the be baked.
The stuffing mixture comes in three different types/recipes. We have the Date Maamoul, which is filled with a cream of pure Date fruit, and not as cambered in shape; the Pistachio Maamoul and the Nuts Maamoul, both with a mixture of related sweetened stuffing, and both dusted with fine sugar powder.
The name Maamoul means “It is made”, probably generated from the long work it used to take to be made. Maamoul with date is widely eaten throughout the year, with a particular consumption rate during the fasting period of Ramadan of the Islamic faith.
Maamoul with pistachios and nuts are well-sought during festive occasions, like Christmas, Eid, weddings, Christening, and so on. My children love the Date Maamoul. I enjoy more the Pistachios and Nuts ones.
I know of many Lebanese housewives who still make their own Maamoul at home like previous generations used to. My dear friend Ibtissam is one of them. Impressive work. Very tasty result. Personally, I prefer these homemade ones which are eaten so fresh from the oven.
Halewat El-Jeben; A Sweet of Cheese!
This is one of my top favorite Lebanese pastries! I can’t express how delicious it is. Halawat El-Jeben means literally A Sweet of Cheese; not Cheese pastry. We stick to our typical poetic naming of things we like. 🙂
The main components of the dough are cheese, semolina and sugar. The soft dough is wrapped around fresh Ashta Cream and topped with Aleppo nuts, and, as an option, some rose-leaf jam. (I usually discard the late aside).
The Lebanese sugar-syrup, flavored with rosewater, is set on the side. We leave it to the person to pour it over their rolls as much or as little as desired. A delight of light pastry!
Cheese Kanafeh, or Kanafeh with Ashta Cream
A well praised, Guest-honoring pastry, the Kanafeh comes in two versions: filled with cheese or with Ashta Cream, the latter being mostly a Northern recipe and must be eaten fresh.
This is another of our ethnic pastry that is made of semolina. A no non-fattening pastry, the Kanafeh is super delicious and fulfilling. In the North, we love the Ashta Kanafeh for breakfast, placed inside the Lebanese Sesame Kaak-bread, and eaten warm.
Today, various homemade versions are available. I will be providing you with an easy one.
Although we pride ourselves in making great Kanafeh, we share it culturally with most Levantine countries and nations who were dominated by the Ottoman Empire. Which brings the question of its real origin, and confirms my previous input on the hundreds of years of regional cultural exchanges.
A close version of this pastry exists also in the Greek Cuisine, and is called Kadaifi. With its various different regional spellings, we Lebanese call it Knefe, with a phonetic E at the start (pronounced Eknefeh).
Looking for the Easiest Lebanese Recipe for Cheese Kanafe? Here you go!
Attayef, with Ashta Cream or stuffed with nuts and fried
Also one of my top favorites, the Attayef – or Kattayef – is made of Wheat Flour and Yeast, baked in small-medium round shapes, then filled with Ashta Cream, and eaten with Sugar Syrup. It is mostly available at sunset onward during the Islamic fasting season of Ramadan.
The Attayef comes also in a different, richer version: The Attayef with nuts. This one is made in a larger round shape closed tightly on a mixture of sweetened nuts. It takes the shape of half-moon. We fry them then soak them for a while in Sugar Syrup that is flavored with rose-water.
For my western friends, I would like to point out that the spoken Lebanese differs from our written one to a certain extent that is not insignificant. Let me put it this way:
If you happen to learn the Arabic abroad and come speak it in our country, please don’t be surprised at the general reaction of amusement. We do not speak the literary Arabic nor a jargon but the Lebanese language.
A significant difference between our spoken language and our Arabic written one is our non-pronunciation of the Arabic letters “Q” and “K” at the beginning and center of the words. These letters are skipped. Hence we say Attayef for Kattayef, and Ashta for Kashta, and so on.
To be phonetically accurate, these Arabic words should be written Qattayef and Qashta, to refer properly to the Arabic letter used for these words.
Kattayef is an interesting derivative of the verb Kattaf, meaning “to pick”. With both its size and shape, this pastry is picked by hand from the plate and eaten, hence its (plural) name Kattayef, or Attayef.
Oh, the breakfast pastry of my Sunday’s childhood! This succulent pastry is not only the #1 in my personal list of my favorite Lebanese desserts. It brings along, every time, sweet memories of my childhood.
Every Sunday, with rare exceptions I barely know of, our parents would drive us, right after mass, to the Hallab pastry restaurant to eat Mafroukeh. It was part of our family habits while growing up… until the onset of the civil war. The Mafroukeh is, seriously, a sweet you can crave for any time! I do!
The term Mafroukeh derives from the Arab verb “faraka” that means “to rub”. Mafroukeh translates into “has been rubbed”, which is how the semolina of this pastry is made; rubbed continuously with butter (and sugar) until it gains texture and consistence.
The solid cream remains granulated yet soft. A thick layer of Ashta Cream is spread all over it. Almonds, nuts and Pine kernels are not only toppings They are part of the delicious taste of this pastry. No usual sugar-syrup for this one. It is already sweetened!
Layeli Loubnan, or Ashta Cream with Banana, Strawberry, and Nuts
Holder of a romantic and intriguing name that means “The Nights of Lebanon”, this succulent dessert is made mainly of fresh Ashta. It is then layered with banana. Strawberries are optional yet recommended. We eat it bathed with honey.
I talked plenty about this delicious dessert in my related posting and recipe, so I will spare you the repetition. For those among you who haven’t read it yet, I cordially invite you to do so, and enjoy it!
Znoud El Sit : Cream Pastry Rolls
Now this pastry is something to remember…. even before you taste it! Carrying the flirty name of “The Upper-Arms of the Lady”, it is enticing enough to want to try it. 🙂
That name was given to this pastry because of its fine rolls and look, somehow compared to the fine, yet full, woman’s arms. It is made of fine layers of buttered wheat-flour which resulting dough resembles the filo texture.
That dough is wrapped tightly around the Ashta Cream in rolls that are fried to golden-brown crispiness. When done, they are dipped in sugar-syrup flavored with rosewater or orange flower water. It is best to serve it hot to maintain its crispy texture.
When ordering your Znoud El-Sit, you will know if it is fresh by that warm yet crispy texture.
Today, there is an easier homemade version of this delicious pastry. I shared the recipe with you here.
This pastry comes with an interesting regional debate, with many countries claiming its origin. After reviewing the long compiled historical studies, I can summarize it for you with few main points:
Its origin remains debatable and goes as far in time as the Persian, the Greek and the Byzantine Cuisines; all having similar pastry with some difference in the recipes, along with the Turks and the Arabs.
The Baklawa, as we know it today, was perfected by “Middle Eastern pastry makers who developed the process of layering the ingredients” (Gil Marks, Wikipedia).
Since entering the debate is of no concern to us, I propose to remain in the present and enjoy the best part of it: the Baklawa itself. 🙂
I must salute the first person ever to have created this pastry wherever s-he was, for it has been as delicious as to cross all borders, spread so widely in time and space, and have so many nations still debating in claiming its origin to-date!
We Lebanese pronounce it Beh’lewa, skipping the phonetic K/Q; as previously explained. So, if you are in town, go ahead and ask for it, pronouncing it in the local spoken language.
This pastry is made of wheat flour, butter and milk with some salt, then sweetened with sugar and stuffed, or topped, with sweetened pistachios.
The preparation is more complex: The dough is made into thin layers. Each is brushed with butter, or oil, and placed on top of the other until obtaining a multiple layer dough.
The mixture of sweetened nuts is prepared on the side, then layered, or stuffed, in between two bulks of this multiple-layer dough. The baker cuts the dough in similar shapes, and places the pan in the oven to bake.
Depending on the variety, the shapes could be triangles, rectangles, lozenges, or diamonds. When done, he pours syrup to soak it. The syrup varies with the variety and recipes: honey, orange flower water or rosewater.
Our Saint Barbara Maakron is easily and commonly homemade, yet available in most pastry stores nationwide. It is made of wheat flour, semolina, sugar, vegetable oil, baking powder and and infusion of anise and fennel seeds. It is then soaked in sugar syrup.
Not to confuse with the French cookie “Macaron” which name is a softer phonetic deriving from our Maakron.
In the christian communities all over Lebanon, the 4th of December is a day for the Maakron making. “It’s the Berbara! I am making Maakron!” is what you hear the most that day.
The reason of this pastry being connected to the Christian martyr Saint Barbara (300 A.D.) is not documented. Traditions speak of the correlation of the wheat with her miracle in the wheat field, hence the Maakron is made in her memory, along with another wheat-based dessert called the Burbara.
Both sweets are offered that day to children passing from house to house in disguise, and singing Eid El-Berbara, and a slogan calling Saint Barbara to feel.
The disguise has nothing to do with the Western Halloween which onset came much later in the North American culture. It is a tribute to the celebrated martyr who disguised herself to flee persecution.
Saint Barbara Day is also celebrated with Maakron by the Christians of many of our neighboring countries. For the recipe, visit here.
Jazarieh is a derivative of the word Jazar (Carrots) although the recipe does not contain any carrot. It was mainly named as such because of its color.
Jazarieh is made of pumpkin, flavored with lemon and orange juice, and sweetened. It is then mixed with a variety of nuts, like walnuts, pistachios and almonds.
Slight differences are seen in the presentation, and in the choices and quantities of nuts. It is a very delicious sweet that could be served as a jam type, or in more solid pieces of cake, which I prefer for being less sweetened and more consistent.
For me, Jazarieh falls under the precious section of childhood memories. Up to the onset of the war, I grew up in the Capital of the North. My mother used to drive us along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea to a coastal town called Batroun…. just to eat Jazarieh and drink Lemonade; both of which the town was famous for.
In fact, Jazarieh was mainly made in that city. Batroun was always our stop when journeying back home from Beirut or vise versa. And that stop became a must in our young heads, my siblings and I, because there was no way we would miss having Jazarieh!
The list of Best Lebanese Pastries does not stop here…
But my page does, and I am sure that your attention span has too. I still would love to hear from you about your favorite Lebanese pastries or your own list of “10 Best”. Share them with us here!
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