Welcome to The Storied Recipe! Rich, crumbly Ghraybeh are popular treats for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr across the Middle East. However, my podcast guest Mai Kakish 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.
If a shortbread married a sugar cookie, they would have Ghraybeh!Mai Kakish, Almond & Fig
My friend and podcast guest Mai Kakish explains that "Ghraybeh" in Arabic means "swoon". These soft, crumbly cookies will definitely have you swooning!
There are only 3 ingredients in these melt-in-your-mouth cookies: Clarified butter or ghee (you can make your own), powdered sugar, and flour.
These delicate cookies are the perfect companion to tea or coffee. So whip up a batch, invite a friend over, and enjoy a long, leisurely chat with your guest.
Table of Contents (Jump To Section)
What to Expect from Graybeh
- In fact, "ghraybeh" can also translate to "melt" in Arabic, which aptly describes the delicate, buttery, and crumbly texture of these biscuits.
- 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
- These are pale cookies cooked until just lightly browned on the bottom
- 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".
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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How to Make Ghraybeh (& How to Make Clarified Butter)
Although this is one of the most simple recipes around, it took a few tries for me to get the hang texture of the dough correct. You need time to make this recipe correctly - not prep or cooking time, but chilling time. After making the clarified butter, you'll need to wait until it solidifies in the fridge. And after making the dough, you'll need to chill it again, up to an hour. With that said, here are the steps:
- Make the clarified butter. Put butter in a heavy-bottomed pot over low heat. Bring to a boil and let bubble for 10 minutes without stirring. Remove from heat and let sit 5 minutes. Skim off the foam. Pour through 4 layers of cheesecloth. Refrigerate until hardened.
- Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, mix butter and sugar thoroughly and scrape down the edges. Gradually add 2 cups of flour.
- Important: The dough will be very pebbly at this point. Just continue to mix until it comes together.
- Add flavor if desired.
- Shape into a log and chill.
- Cut log into even portions and shape as desired.
- If desired, press a single nut into the surface of the cookies.
- Bake and cool
- Clarified butter, powdered sugar, and flour
- Also salt, if you made your clarified butter from unsalted butter
- Flavoring, if desired: rose water or orange flower water (orange flower blossom water)
- Nuts: Popular options in these middle eastern cookies are almonds, pine nuts, or pistachios
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.
- Small heavy-bottomed saucepan for melting and pouring
- Stacked Wire Cooling Racks OR Wire Cooling Racks - Singles
- Baking Sheets
Shaping, Freezing, Baking & Storing
How can I keep these from spreading?
- Don't use butter! - Use clarified butter or ghee that has fully evaporated all the water.
- Chill the dough for a full hour before baking
- I have experimented with freezing the dough and it worked beautifully. Secret: shape the dough to the size and shape you want and freeze it in a freeze safe container. Bake from frozen.
Why are some of the cookies in your picture shaped like an S ?
- In Mai's family, they make Ghraybeh 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.
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: Butter is made up of fat, water, and milk solids.
- At room temperature (or colder), these are bound together in those beautiful soft sticks.
- However, when melted to a liquid, they separate:
- The milk solids turn into a foam, then eventually fall to the bottom
- The water evaporates (eventually - that's the burbling, gurgling sound you hear).
- The fat is left in the middle.
Clarified butter: Once the water evaporates, you'll be left with butterfat and milk solids. You'll scrape and drain the solids away.
Ghee: Ghee is just clarified butter cooked longer, so that the milk solids turn 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 compared to ghee.
I love ghee, but not for these cookies.
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