Ghraybeh are Middle Eastern shortbread cookies with a unique melt-in-your-mouth texture that will leave you mesmerized. They are usually rolled into balls, topped with a pistachio and baked at a low temperature. This recipe uses ghee instead of butter for even more richness!
Baking With Ghee
Ghee is Indian clarified butter, obtained by simmering butter to remove the water content. The milk solids which settle at the bottom start to brown giving the ghee a characteristic nutty flavor. The liquid butterfat is then strained to remove the milk residues.
While butter is 80% fat and 20% water, ghee is 100% fat making it the perfect ingredient for these cookies:
- Water contributes to gluten formation which makes baked goods tougher. Using ghee will give you cookies with an incredible melt-in-your mouth feel.
- Baked goods with ghee won’t spoil as easily as those made with butter since ghee does not contain water.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- Incredible texture: Ghraybeh cookies seriously have the most amazing, unusual texture. If you love cookies but need a change from more traditional recipes, then you really have to try these.
- Minimal ingredients: No lengthy shopping list for these cookies! We’re keeping it short and sweet!
- Holiday baking: These cookies will keep for quite some time so they are perfect for early holiday baking. That is, if you can actually refrain yourself from eating them all!
- Perfect with a cup of tea: Seriously, try it!
- Ghee: For a nutty flavor, richness and to bring the dry ingredients together into a cohesive dough. Different brands of ghee can have different smells and flavors, some bolder than others. If you find the smell too overpowering, try switching to a different brand before you give up on ghee!
Don’t replace the ghee with butter, which contains 20% water. You won’t get the same results. Use this recipe instead if you’d like to make shortbread cookies with butter.
- Sugar: For sweetness. You’ll need powdered (icing) sugar for these cookies to get a smooth, soft texture.
- Flour: All purpose flour, for structure. You’ll need just enough to make a workable dough. If you add too little, the cookies will spread and won’t be smooth. If you add too much on the other hand, the dough will be dry and cracked.
- Flavoring: The flavoring is optional but I would strongly recommend using something to complement the flavor of ghee. I love using Arak, a Middle Eastern alcoholic drink flavored with aniseed. Just a teaspoon is enough. You probably won’t even notice it on the first day but the flavor will develop over time. Alternatively, the cookies taste wonderful with orange blossom water. You could also use rose water.
- Pistachios: The ghraybeh are traditionally topped with shelled pistachios. You can top them with other nuts if you prefer.
Now let’s see what to do with those ingredients!
Prepare the dough
- Place the ghee in a mixing bowl. Mix on medium-low speed, scraping the bowl occasionally, until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes). You can use a hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
- Sift the powdered sugar over the ghee. Briefly combine using a spatula.
- Mix on medium-low speed for about 7 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally. The mixture will be lighter in color, fluffy, glossy and will look like frosting. Don’t be tempted to stop if you get this appearance after 2 minutes. You should mix for a while to get smooth cookies.
- Add the arak or orange blossom water and mix once more until combined, about 1 minute.
- Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl then gradually sift in the flour, folding it in with a spatula. Don’t pour all the flour at once. It’s best to add it in 3-4 additions.
- Mix just until there are no more streaks of flour. The dough will look very dry initially but will come together.
- Divide the dough in two and wrap in cling film or parchment paper. Chill for about 1 hour. The dough is too sticky and soft to roll into balls at this point.
Tip: The dough will quickly soften when shaping it into balls. It’s best to work with half the dough and keep the remainder in the fridge until needed.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. You might need two if your baking sheets are small.
- Remove half the dough from the fridge. Take out about a teaspoon of dough (15 g/0.53 oz.) and roll into a ball. If the dough ball is too crumbly and falls apart, squeeze it in your palm to warm it up then try rolling it again. If the dough is too sticky, it’s best to return it to the fridge. If you roll the dough when it is sticky, the surface of the cookies won’t be very smooth.
- Place the dough on the prepared baking sheet. Gently press a pistachio on top, slightly flattening the ball. You can flatten it a bit more than I did in the picture below. It will cook more evenly if it’s not too tall. The cookies don’t spread much if they are properly chilled.
- Repeat with the remaining dough, spacing the cookies on the baking sheet about 5 cm (2 inches) apart. Chill for about 15 minutes while you preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F, conventional setting).
The dough will quickly warm up while you are shaping it. It’s best to chill the dough balls once more before baking them, to ensure they don’t spread too much. If however you don’t have space in your fridge, you can skip this step.
- Bake in the middle of the oven for about 13-15 minutes, or until slightly firm to the touch. You’ll notice a white residue on your finger and the surface of the cookie will feel velvety. The cookies should remain pale (even the bottom). Don’t bake for too long or the cookies will be hard instead of soft.
What separates these cookies from others is their unique texture, which is greatly affected by baking temperature and time. To ensure you get the optimal texture, it’s best to try baking 2 or 3 cookies before baking the whole batch.
- Remove from the oven and let them cool on the baking sheet until the surface is no longer sticky (several hours). If you try to transfer them too soon, your fingers will leave marks on the cookies.
Ghraybeh are very delicate cookies that are greatly affected by the mixing process and the oven temperature. You might occasionally notice a few fines cracks on the cookies. If the cracks are large however, it could be due to the following:
- Too much flour: You’ll know you added too much flour if the (room temperature) dough cracks while you are shaping it. The dough should be smooth and easy to handle. You’ll also notice that the cookies don’t spread during baking (pictured left, below). Solution: Don’t add the flour all at once. Add it in several additions and test the dough before adding the last batch of flour. Try squeezing a small amount of dough with your hand. If the dough is smooth and workable, then you probably don’t need to add more flour. If it’s very sticky on the other hand, add a little more and test again.
- High oven temperature: Ghraybeh should be baked at a low temperature. You’ll know the oven is too hot if the cookies start to crack and the bottom of the cookies is golden-brown instead of pale (pictured right, below). Solution: Try reducing the oven temperature next time. If possible, use an oven thermometer to check the actual temperature.
- Dough too cold: If the dough is cracking and crumbling as you are trying to roll the balls, it might be too cold. Solution: Take out a teaspoon of dough and squeeze it in the palm of your hand to warm it up. Alternatively, you can let the dough sit at room temperature for a few minutes.
Ghraybeh cookies are meant to be soft with a melt-in-your-mouth texture. If they are crunchy, the oven temperature was probably too high. Solution: Try baking them at a lower temperature. If the temperature was already low, try removing them from the oven earlier next time. If however you like them crunchy, then you can bake them at a slightly higher temperature. I wouldn’t recommend exceeding 160°C (320°F) as the cookies will start to crack.
- Warm dough: The dough will warm up quickly as you mix it. If you place the cookies immediately in the oven without chilling them, the ghee might start to melt before the cookies have a chance to set. Solution: It’s best to chill the dough twice, once after preparing it and once after shaping it into balls.
- Too much ghee: If you use too much ghee, the cookies won’t have enough structure to hold together. You might also notice a little bit of grease forming around the cookies during baking. As a result, the cookies won’t have smooth edges and will have a slightly wrinkly surface. Solution: Try using a little more flour next time.
- Dough: If the dough is very sticky, you probably need to chill it for longer. If this still doesn’t help, try adding a little more flour.
- Baked cookie: The cookies will be sticky when they come out of the oven. You’ll need to let them dry out on the kitchen counter before storing them in a container. I’ll normally make them in the morning and put in a box whatever is left in the evening! If they remain sticky, you probably need to bake them for longer next time.
- Underbaked: When you cut the cookie in two, it should have a uniform color. Cookies that haven’t been baked enough will have a wet, darker patch inside.
And that’s it! I hope you give these cookies a try! I owe a big thanks to my mother-in-law for sharing this recipe with me! I (conveniently!) lost count of how many cookies I’ve eaten over the past few days!