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Lose yourself in a world of jaw-dropping intricacy and decadence with these Lebanese desserts, and uncover a side of indulgent richness and sweetness to one of the Mediterranean‘s most delicious cuisines.
Dazzling with their compositions and boasting flavor combinations that both delight and fascinate, these 19 desserts (as recommended by Wedad, a local content writer) are sure to touch mind, body, and soul, if not all three. Let’s dive in, forks and spoons in hand, and find out more.
Lebanese love to have this exquisite pastry for breakfast to start their day on a sweet note.
This dessert has two layers of Kataif, or shredded filo pastry, filled with a thick layer of Kashta, a sweet cream cheese.
The Kaitaif is broken into small pieces and combined with melted butter. A thick layer is pressed into a deep, round dish and topped with Kashta. Another layer of Kataif seals the cheese, and the cake is baked for an hour until the butter bubbles up on the sides and the top turns golden brown.
The pastry is flipped over on a serving dish and soaked with rich syrup flavored with fragrant orange blossom water and sprinkled with crushed pistachios.
Crunchy, creamy, sweet, and tangy, Knafeh brings together all the flavors of the Middle East.
2. Halawet el Jibn
Halawet el Jibn which translates to “the sweet made from cheese,” is a fluffy semolina roll filled with creamy clotted cheese.
Soft and salty Akkawi cheese, semolina, sugar, and a dash of rose water are the main ingredients used for the pastry. Bakers roll it out and pipe thick creamy Kashta cheese before covering it with the pastry.
Halawet el Jibn is cut into bite-size pieces and covered with sweet syrup for extra moisture. Rose petal jam and crushed peanuts give the finishing touch.
This sweet is a huge favorite during Ramadan and one of the Lebanese’ favorite desserts.
3. Znoud el Sit
A favorite Ramadan sweet is Znoud El Sit – crunchy deep-fried rolls of wafer-thin phyllo pastry filled with cream.
Znoud El Sit, which means “a woman’s upper arms,” is often served warm or at room temperature with tea and coffee. It is also a popular treat to gift guests when visiting.
Dollops of melted butter soak the phyllo pastry sheets filled with Kashta cheese and heavy cream. The rolls are deep-fried and covered with rose petal jam, crushed pistachio nuts, and a dab of Kashta on top.
Elegant and luscious, Znoud el Sit’s flavors will take you to new places.
Maamoul is the dessert that all Lebanese turn to celebrate any occasion. Whether it is Christmas, Eid, a birthday, anniversary, or a promotion, this rich butter cookie filled with sweet date paste is an essential part of the festivities. In Lebanese, Maamoul means “it is done,” making it the perfect confection for all feasts.
Making Maamoul is a process steeped in tradition. Women start in the early morning and make the delicate buttery pastry with semolina, flour, milk, and orange blossom water. Getting the consistency right takes time and practice, and experienced Lebanese women can tell by the texture when the pastry is ready.
The biscuits are handmade or pressed into molds that give maamoul their shape. Some of these molds are very old and passed down from one generation to another.
Sweet, sticky Medjool dates are the most popular filling, but pistachios and walnuts are firm favorites. A quick bake in the oven followed by a dusting of sugar, and the maamoul is ready—the perfect bite when making memories.
Originating in the Ottoman Empire, baklava is one of the most internationally famous desserts. Layers of paper-thin phyllo (or filo) dough are filled with crushed nuts, baked until crunchy, and then soaked in a syrup perfumed with rose water or orange blossom water.
Lebanese bakers are masters at making this pastry. Wheat flour, sugar, butter, milk, and a dash of salt create a soft, pliable dough. The rolling process is highly delicate and laborious as the pastry is stretched thin until almost transparent.
Just before the dish goes in the oven, the baker cuts the dough in a distinctive pattern – each one has its own. Layers of this wafer-thin phyllo (or filo) dough are then piled on each other, separated by lashings of melted butter and crushed and sugary pistachios, walnuts, or other nuts. When ready, bakers flood the dish with rose water flavored syrup, which soaks through all the layers.
Baklava is the perfect mouthful, but limiting oneself to one bite is hard. Soft and sweet, crunchy and salty, Baklava brings together all the flavors of the Middle East.
Related: Turkish Desserts You Need to Try
Mafroukeh looks very much like a cheesecake and is a traditional Lebanese dessert that combines their love of pistachio, Kashta cheese, semolina, and rose water.
This sweet has two layers – the bottom is made by gently roasting semolina over medium heat and adding melted butter and powdered sugar. The delicious mixture is pressed into a dish and covered with a thick layer of Kashta cream cheese. This technique gives the sweet its name as mafroukeh means “rubbed.”
A generous sprinkle of crushed pistachios and a touch of rose petal jam finish off the dessert.
Delicate and sweet, Mafroukeh is a staple during Ramadan or to mark special occasions.
7. Halawet el Rez
This popular Arab dessert is a sweet, rich pudding made from rice, cheese, and cream that leaves you wanting more with each bite.
It is similar to Halawet el Jebn, but the rice and rose water give a creamier texture and more complex flavor.
Cooked rice is blended and mixed with Kashta cream cheese, sugar, and rose water. Sometimes, an extra layer of Kashta is added, transforming the dessert into a luscious, milky dish. The dessert is left to cool and set.
Although Lebanese turn to Halawet el Rez (or Halawet el Riz) throughout the year, they love to eat it to keep cool in the summer heat.
Muhallabiyeh is a creamy milk pudding, similar to the English custard but perfumed with the delicate hues of rose water combined with the salty crunch of sprinkled pistachios.
Families fiercely defend their versions of Muhallabiyeh, handed down through generations. Simple, everyday ingredients come together to make this fantastic Lebanese dessert.
Milk, cornstarch, sugar, rose water, and orange blossom water are heated until the mixture turns thick, silky smooth, and creamy. It is then left to cool and set, and garnished with crushed pistachios.
Just like all Muslims, the Lebanese’s craving for sweets hits a high during the month of Ramadan. They prepare a wide variety of sweets to eat after Iftar, or “breaking of the fast,” and Qatayef takes the lead.
Qatayef comes from the verb ‘qatf,’ which means pick or fill. Qatayef is a sweet, rich batter filled with cream, nuts, or fruit jam like a folded pancake.
Semolina, flour, yeast, sugar, and baking powder are mixed and left to sit for an hour. The batter is then poured directly on a hot griddle – no butter or oil is needed – and cooked on one side only. Once tiny bubbles form and the crust turns golden brown, the Qatayef is ready.
The trick is to pinch the sides shut when still hot and fill with Kashta cream. A final dip in a pile of nuts and a dash of syrup are the final touches to this complex but straightforward dessert.
Warm, crunchy, sweet, and creamy, Qatayef is a popular street food sold out within minutes.
Namoura (or basbousa) is an iconic diamond-shaped semolina cake dotted with almonds served during Lebanese festivals and holidays.
Light and airy, Namoura is soaked with fragrant sugar syrup for that extra kick of sweetness loved by the Lebanese.
This dessert is a one-bowl cake made from sugar, semolina, butter, milk, baking powder, yogurt, and orange blossom water. The mixture is poured into a baking tin and left to sit for an hour before baking. The batter is cut into diamond shapes and topped with an almond before baking. Orange blossom-flavored syrup soaks the cake when it comes out.
Namoura is also very popular during Ramadan, and its diamond-cut shapes make it easy to count how many pieces you are eating.
What is better than a tiny mouthful of deep-fried sweet pastry? Awamat is a small golden crisp doughnut ball covered in sticky, sugary syrup and is a Lebanese recipe adapted by neighboring Arab countries. The thin crispy exterior gives way to a fluffy but chewy pillow of sweetness.
Awamat is made from simple ingredients: flour, yeast, sugar, and water. No eggs or butter are needed. The small balls are dropped into hot oil and scooped out when they float. A good soaking in syrup, and the awamat is ready to eat.
Quick and easy to make, Awamat is a favorite sweet snack that the Lebanese turn to at all times of the day.
This dessert is a variety of Baklava filled with crushed nuts that are chewy and sweet but with a hidden crunch. A sweet semolina pastry, like the one used to make Knafeh, sandwiches a mixture of crushed pistachios, pine nuts, and almonds.
Typically served with other Baklava varieties, Basma stands out because of its exquisite and unique taste.
13. Asabe Zainab
Asabe Zainab, which translates to Zainab’s fingers, is a traditional Middle Eastern dessert that combines different textures.
Legend has it that a woman called Zainab made these sweets and distributed them in the village. They were so impressed by their taste and beauty that they nicknamed the sweets Zainab’s fingers.
Bakers press the pastry around their fingers to give it its characteristic curved shape. Some versions of Asabe Zainab have a furrowed look created by pressing the pastry onto a grater.
As with most Lebanese desserts, Asabe Zainab is soaked with sugar syrup before eating, making it another popular Ramadan dessert.
Mushabbak (or mushabak) means buckled or clasped together. Like famous American funnel cakes, Mushabbak is a sweet pastry piped in a circular shape in hot oil. The pastry crisps up while inside remains soft and chewy.
Traditional Mushabbaks are golden in color, but the Lebanese love to add turmeric or saffron to change up the color.
As soon as the Mushabbaks come out of the oil, they are soaked in syrup flavored with cardamom pods and orange blossom water.
Mushabbak is common to many other countries in Asia and Africa. In other areas, it also goes by names such as jalebi, jilapi, and zalabia.
15. Rezz bi Haleeb
Rezz bi Haleeb, or Lebanese rice pudding, is a favorite with Lebanese mothers because of its health benefits. Made out of rice, milk, and sugar, Rezz Bi Haleeb is the ultimate comfort food to soothe after a long day or perfect as a treat.
The three ingredients simmer until they transform into thick, creamy soft pudding. A splash of rose water and a sprinkle of crushed pistachios give it a decadent final touch.
This sweet has a unique role in Lebanese culture as it celebrates the birth of a baby. Meghli is a rice pudding flavored with anise, caraway, and cinnamon, transforming into a golden brown dessert that melts in the mouth.
Meghli is decorated with shredded coconut and topped with different kinds of nuts: walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, and pistachios.
Sweet, chewy, and rich, Semsemiyeh or sesame bites are among the oldest and most renowned Lebanese sweets.
A popular street food, Semsemiyeh is made from honey, earthy sesame seeds, sugar, and cinnamon. Roasted sesame seeds are mixed with sticky sweet honey and fragrant ground cinnamon and boiled with sugar until the ingredients come together into a paste.
For many Lebanese, a bite of Semsemiyeh is a trip back to their childhood.
Jazariyeh transforms the humble pumpkin into a sweet, colorful candy piled high and covered with slivered almonds.
Jazariyeh translates to carrots, which have no connection with this recipe except for the candy’s bright orange color.
The Lebanese love to eat it in the month preceding Ramadan. The sweet pumpkin is grated and cooked with sugar and cinnamon until it turns soft and jammy.
Jazariyeh is either served piled high on a plate, sprinkled with desiccated coconut or almonds, or spread out on a tray where pieces are broken off.
People love these tiny pockets of deep-fried pastry filled with sweet cream cheese and nuts that date back to a 1950s visit of Saudi King Faisal Faysaliye to Lebanon.
Knafeh pastry is shaped into a triangular shape and filled with Kashta and pistachios. Once deep-fried, the slender strings of pastry transform into crunchy, crispy bites that give way to the sweet, creamy cheese and rich pistachios.
Lebanese Desserts Summary
While Lebanese cuisine is known for its fire and spice, these desserts go to show that there is always a spectrum of unique flavors and dishes beyond what a country is renowned for.
The desserts of Lebanon match their savory counterparts in composition, color, and texture while putting the spotlight on sweeter, fruitier, and nuttier flavors.
There’s so much to get excited about when it comes to Lebanese desserts, and a trip to Lebanon simply isn’t complete without trying as many of these beloved dishes as possible. Prepared to be wowed, enlightened, and more than satisfied, all at the same time!
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Contributor: Wedad Khodor is a Lebanese content writer, with a deep passion for her native cuisine and culture, who has written for various publications.
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