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Although rich, crumbly Ghraybeh are popular treats for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, my podcast guest Mai Karkish shared this recipe for her episode Christmas in Palestine. I invite you to listen to her story while you make her popular Middle Eastern shortbread cookie.
My friend Mai explains that "Ghraybeh" in Arabic means "swoon". These soft, crumbly cookies will definitely have you swooning!
As Mai says, if a shortbread married a sugar cookies, they would have Ghraybeh!
Mai's version are very light because she uses clarified butter rather than ghee. You can use either.
They're the perfect companion to tea or coffee. So whip up a batch (only 3 ingredients; it won't take you any time at all!), invite a friend over, and enjoy a long, leisurely chat with your guest.
Table of Contents (Jump To Section)
What to Expect from Graybeh
- Texture: In fact, "ghraybeh" can also translate to "melt" in Arabic, which aptly describes delicate, buttery, and crumbly, with a melt-in-your-mouth texture of these biscuits.
- Texture: Some variations may include ground almonds or pistachios for added texture and taste. Mai adds melted white chocolate and sometimes rose petals to the top of hers
- Flavor: Simple but perfect. To make ghraybeh cookies, the butter is usually beaten until creamy, then mixed with the powdered sugar until well combined. The flour is gradually added and mixed until a soft dough forms.
- Look: Mai's cookies are paler - almost white - than other versions because she uses clarified butter rather than ghee. Lots of information on this below!
- Look: The dough is then shaped into small rounds, fingers, or crescents and baked until lightly golden. At Christmastime, Mai's family shaped hers into an "S" for "Santa".
- Look: The cookies remain very light because of the clarified butter.
About Mai Kakish
Mai is the author of the popular blog celebrating Palestinian food, Almond and Fig, and the guest on two episodes of The Storied Recipe Podcast.
Christmas in Palestine
Learn about the celebration of Christmas in Palestine, the land where Jesus was born. Mai describes the way celebrations have changed through her lifetime. We discuss all the famous and symbolic foods enjoyed around their Christmas tables.
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Ghee vs. Clarified Butter
The recipe calls for "clarified butter OR ghee". What's the difference?
The Scientific Difference:
Ok, let's start with butter, which is the basis of BOTH. (To be more specific, we'll start with unsalted butter.) Butter is made up of fat, water, and milk solids. At room temperature (or colder), these are bound together in those beautiful soft, golden sticks. However, when melted to a liquid, they separate, each going their separate ways:
The milk solids rise to the top as foam. The water evaporates (eventually). The fat is left alone.
Clarified butter: As long as you effectively scrape the sieve the milk solids off the fat, you should be left with solid milk.
Ghee: In this case, rather than separating the milk solids, you let them fall to the bottom and keep cooking slowly until they are golden and brown.
Browned butter (not that you asked): In this final case, the milk solids cook even a little longer, until they caramelize.
The flavor difference:
Ghee has a deeper, nuttier flavor, thanks to those browned milk solids
The color difference:
Clarified butter is pale. Ghee is yellower than clarified butter, again, because of the gorgeous golden color of those milk solids.
This article from SnapKitchen did a great job of summing up the differences and giving great step by step directions and tips on making both.
Why do Mai's looks so light - almost white - while some other Graybeh cookies look more yellow?
When making the cookies for this post, I used Mai's preference of clarified butter. So my results are the pale cookies that Mai loved for Christmas.
I don't have clarified butter or ghee. Can I just use butter?
If you do, you'll probably make a lovely little cookie, but they really won't be ghraybeh cookies. Referring again to the explanation above, if you use butter you'll be introducing water into the recipe through the butter. This will make the cookie crispier - more like American sugar cookies. They will no longer have the unique delicate, crumbly, buttery texture of Graybeh.
Should I make my own clarified butter/ghee or buy it?
- You can definitely try making your own of either. Here's Alton Brown's recipe for clarified butter. Nagi at Serious Tin Eats has a great step by step on making both, plus a very informative article describing the similarities and differences between both.
- I find ghee to be very affordable in Indian markets and Costco.
- Clarified butter tends to be very expensive. It begs the question why ghee is so much more affordable when it takes the same basic ingredient and similar process to produce. Anela Malik suggests a possible answer to questions like this in her episode on The Storied Recipe Podcast "Food is Political".
Origins and Variations
Ghraybeh are some of the world' most ancient cookies, dating back at least a millennia!
- From Wikipedia: A recipe for a shortbread cookie similar to ghorayebah but without almonds, called in Arabic khushkanānaj gharib (exotic cookie), is given in the earliest known Arab cookbook, the 10th-century Kitab al-Ṭabīḫ.
- However, according to "The History of Shortbread" from The Kitchn, an early version of these cookies traveled from Arab nations to Spain at least two centuries earlier, in the the century
- At that time, they show up as "Ghoriba" a Spanish cookbook
- From Spain, ghee/clarified butter was switched to butter and the cookie made its way over to the Americas
Other Names and Versions
- Egypt: Ghorayebah
- Greece: Kourabiethes
- Morocco: Ghoriba
- Armenia: Khourabia
- In English we may find them as Lebanese butter cookies or Middle Eastern shortbread cookies.
- Ghraybeh made with ground almonds go by a variety of similar names as well - From Wikipedia: Qurabiya (also ghraybe, ghorayeba, ghoriba, (Arabic: غريبة), ghribia, ghraïba, gurabija or ghriyyaba
Flavors and Toppings
- During our conversation, Mai reminded me more than once that the beauty of these cookies is their simplicity. So don't feel the need to add anything at all. However, once you get the basic recipe the way you like it, feel free to experiment.
- Mai's own recipe calls for a drizzle of white chocolate and sprinkle of rose leaves.
- Others suggest 1tsp of rose water or orange blossom water, and ¼ to ½ teaspoons of spices like cardamom.
- Many Middle Eastern cooks decorate these simply with a single pine nut or pistachio right in the middle of the round cookie.
Shaping, Freezing, Baking & Storing
How can I keep these from spreading?
- First, expect them to spread a little bit. Give them some space on the pan.
- To prevent excessive spreading, Mai suggests a few extra tablespoons of flour may be necessary. She shares these tips: "Feel the dough. If it doesn’t crumble in your hands and hold its shape, it’s ready to use."
- I have experimented with freezing the dough and it worked beautifully. It didn't spread and didn't crumble. Secret: shape the dough to the size and shape you want and freeze it in a freeze safe container. Bake from frozen. because you need this in your life at all times.
Why are some of the cookies in your picture shaped like an S ?
In Mai's family, they make Graybeh in an S shape at Christmas time for "S"anta. Learn more about Christmas in Palestine in our interview here.
Can I store Graybeh?
Yes! Because these are made with clarified butter, they store particularly well. Place them in an airtight container for up to a week - a month, if frozen.