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Saturday, January 16, 2021

Recipe Round Up: Shabboura and Basbousa



Shabboura is a crisp cracker that is almost like biscotti that I grew up eating with this spready cheese that came in glass jars that you could wash and turn into tea glasses. I'm not sure if other Arabs have a different name for them, because even at the Arab markets I haven't been able to find them and the shopkeepers (one Iraqi, one Lebanese) have no idea what I am talking about when I say it. I found almost no references to it online, in English or Arabic, though I found one video that made a version that was more like a cookie than the savory cracker I remember. So, I started with her method and played with the ingredients and proportions and this is what I came up with that was the closest. Honestly, I think the ones we got from back "home" when I was growing up may have been a little stale and, therefore, harder and more sturdy, than these, but this is the taste I remember. I thought these would be hard to make, but really they were quite simple, and very worth the little effort. Eating these reminds me of summer vacations with my family, eating and having picnics and traveling. Even that cheese in the glass jar is imbued with a flavor and honor that it really doesn't deserve (my kids don't like it nearly the way I did, though they do like the jars for tea glasses). I hope you enjoy these. They are flavorful enough to eat without anything on them, but a little briny cheese really makes them.

5 cups pastry flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 tablespoons whole cumin seed
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon nigella (black sesame) seeds
2 teaspoons salt
4 large eggs
3/4 cup safflower, or other, light oil
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup ghee or clarified butter, melted and divided

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease a jelly roll pan with 1 tablespoon ghee and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cumin seed, sesame seed, sugar, nigella seed, and salt.

In another large bowl or KitchenAid mixer bowl, whisk together eggs, safflower oil, and milk.

Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix well. The dough will be slightly stiff, but flexible, with a consistency like cookie dough.

Press the dough into the prepared pan and flatten with your hands to an even thickness.

Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the pan and cut into 1 inch by 3 inch strips, placing them cut side down into the pan again, and drizzle evenly with remaining 3 tablespoons of the ghee or clarified butter. Place back in the oven and back another 15 - 20 minutes to brown slightly.



This dessert is a lovely, dense, comforting semolina cake. I grew up eating it with whole blanched almonds in the center of each triangle or diamond, which is a little fancier, but for every day, I use finely crushed pistachios (not as finely as I should have in that picture above). It is common to include dried coconut in the cake batter, but I didn't remember my mother doing that very often, nor the texture of the strands of coconut in the cake, so I modified the family recipe to include coconut flour for the flavor while retaining the texture I remembered. The soaking syrup I use here is wonderfully aromatic, and it is well worth seeking out the saffrom and orange flower water, if you don't have them already, like we do. Some people grease the pan with tahina, and say that it really elevates the cake, but neither my mother nor my aunt do that, so I am hesitant. One day, I may try it and report back to you.

Sheera (Syrup): (can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator for at least a week)

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1/8 teaspoon saffron, crumbled
1/4 cup orange flower water


2 cups fine semolina flour
1 cup coconut flour
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup melted ghee, clarified butter, or unsalted butter
2 cups plain, whole fat yogurt
4 large eggs, slightly beaten

1/2 cup finely crushed raw, unsalted pistachios or about 30 - 40 whole blanched almonds, to garnish

Make the syrup by bringing the sugar, water and saffron to a boil in a larger than necessary saucepan. Boil for about 5 minutes over medium heat, then remove from heat to cool. Stir in the orange flower water and allow to cool completely. Refrigerate until needed.

Preheat oven to 375˚F and grease the bottom and sides of a 9" X 13" or equivalent round baking dish with ghee or butter.

In a large bowl, mix the semolina, coconut flour, sugar, and baking powder well. Pour in the melted ghee and mix to coat the flours. Add the yogurt and eggs and mix to a smooth consistency.

Spread into the prepared pan and pat the top smoothly with wet hands. Scrore in a diamond or triangle pattern to mark the pieces, creating 30 - 40 pieces (depending on how you cut the cake). Sprinkle with the pistachios, evenly over the top, or place one blanched almond in the middle of each marked piece.

Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and pour cold syrup over the top. Cover pan with foil and bake for another 5 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely, with the foil off, at least 2 hours, so the syrup will soak into the cake. This cake is really better the next day, but who can wait?


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