Halawet el jibn are delicious Middle Eastern sweet cheese rolls that are filled with ashta cream, decorated with pistachios and drizzled with orange blossom syrup.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- Delicious: It is really, really tasty! You’ll find yourself sneaking one small roll after another until there are none left!
- As sweet as you’d like! Serve the syrup on the side. Whoever is lucky enough to be eating this dessert can decide how sweet they want it to be. I usually just skip the syrup as I find the dough very tasty on its own!
- Bite-sized: Good for portion control or for eating several pieces without feeling guilty! You decide!
How to Make Halawet El Jibn
Halawet el jibn is traditionally composed of four parts:
- Sweet cheese dough: A semolina dough mixed with cheese and sweetened with sugar.
- Ashta cream: Middle Eastern clotted cream.
- Syrup: A mixture of water and sugar flavored with orange blossom water and/or rose water. In case you missed it, we discussed in detail how to make orange blossom syrup last week.
- Topping: Ground pistachios to decorate the dessert before serving.
Let’s briefly go through all the steps so you have a general idea of the process.
- Prepare the ashta cream: The cream should be chilled for at least 2 hours before making the dough. We’ll be spreading it over the dough before forming rolls. This will be much easier to do if the cream is firm and holds its shape.
- Prepare the syrup: The syrup is usually prepared in advance to give it time to cool down and thicken.
- Prepare the dough: Mixing the dough does take a bit of arm strength but you will be rewarded with a wonderful dessert!
- Roll out the dough into a rectangle: We’ll roll it out between two sheets of parchment paper brushed with orange blossom water to ensure it doesn’t stick.
- Fill with ashta cream then roll into logs: The parchment paper will come in really handy here when trying to roll the sticky dough. Simply lift it and shape the rolls.
- Cut into small pieces, drizzle with syrup and decorate with pistachios: And enjoy!
Let’s take a look at the ingredients needed for the ashta cream and the dough.
Sweet cheese dough
- Sugar: You’ll need white granulated sugar to sweeten the dough. You can add as much as you’d like. If you’re not planning on making syrup, you can increase the amount of sugar in the dough a little.
- Water: To add moisture and soften the dough. We’ll be boiling the water and sugar together in the first step before adding the semolina flour.
- Semolina: I like to use fine semolina for a softer dough. But you can use coarse semolina for more texture if you prefer. The more semolina flour you use in the dough, the firmer it will be. It will also make the dough less sticky and easier to handle. In case you missed it, we previously talked about baking with semolina when making sfouf.
- Mozzarella cheese: We’ll be using shredded mozzarella cheese for this recipe, for convenience. Middle Eastern recipes will traditionally call for Akkawi white cheese and majdouleh (braided) cheese. But they can be quite hard to find. And you would have to soak them in cold water before use, to get rid of the salt.
- Flavorings: For me, Middle Eastern desserts aren’t complete without the wonderful flavorings: orange blossom water and rose water. I wouldn’t recommend skipping them.
- Heavy cream: For richness and flavor. I use cream with 35% fat.
- Milk: It’s best to use whole milk for maximum flavor.
- Cornstarch: To thicken the cream.
- Sugar: Just a little bit, to flavor the cream. You can omit it if you’d like.
- Sliced bread: To thicken the cream and give it a clotted texture. Cut the crust off the sliced bread before using it.
- Flavorings: A bit more orange blossom water! Optional this time!
If you’ve made aish el saraya, then you already know how to make the ashta cream. I’ll quickly walk you through it again before we prepare the dough. It’s best to make the ashta in advance, to give it time to cool down properly. I will usually prepare it the night before.
Prepare the ashta
- Place the sliced bread in a food processor and process until reduced to crumbs. Set aside. I use a food processor. But if you don’t have one, you can cut the bread into small pieces. Just try not to press it too much with your fingers so it doesn’t stick and form larger lumps.
- In a medium-sized pot, whisk together the cornstarch and milk until fully combined. Make sure there are no lumps of cornstarch.
- Mix in the sugar (if using) and heavy cream then add the bread crumbs and whisk once more.
- Place on medium-high heat (heat 6 out of 9 for example). Bring to a boil (about 8 minutes), stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula.
- When it starts to boil, lower the heat to medium-low (heat 4 out of 9). Keep heating for about 5 more minutes or until it thickens and coats the back of a spoon. The ashta will firm up even more as it cools down.
- Remove from the heat and add the orange blossom water, if desired.
- Transfer to a wide container so it cools down faster. Press a piece of parchment paper (or cling film) on the surface to prevent a film from forming. Let it cool down at room temperature (about 30 minutes). Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until firm enough to spoon onto the dough.
Prepare the sweet cheese dough
- Prepare two large pieces of parchment paper. Rub them generously with orange blossom water to prevent the dough from sticking later on. Set aside. You can use syrup or water instead.
- Place the sugar and water in a small pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.
- When you notice bubbles forming, reduce the heat then add the semolina flour.
- Stir constantly so the semolina doesn’t stick to the pot. The mixture will start to thicken quite quickly and will resemble mashed potatoes.
- When it starts to pull away from the sides of the pot and form a dough, gradually add the shredded cheese (4-5 additions), stirring constantly.
If you don’t cook (and dry out) the dough enough before adding the cheese, the final dough will be too sticky and very hard to handle.
- When the dough is completely smooth and the cheese is no longer visible, add the orange blossom water and rose water. Stir until combined. Don’t worry if the mixture separates a little. It will come together again if you keep stirring it.
Consistency of the dough: The dough will be completely smooth and elastic. You can test this by lifting the dough. If it tears or looks stringy (like a web), keep heating it to melt the cheese fully.
Assemble the halawet el jibn
- Immediately pour the hot dough onto the parchment paper. Cover with the second piece of parchment paper and roll out into a rectangle with a thickness of about 2 mm (a little over 1/16 inch). My rectangle was about 33 x 38 cm (13 x 15 inches). Tip: Fold the edges of the parchment paper to contain the dough before rolling it out. The shape of the rectangle will be more defined so you don’t have to trim the dough later on.
- Remove the top parchment paper and trim the edges of the dough with a knife if needed to make a nice rectangle.
- Generously spoon cold ashta along the long edge of the dough in one thick log, leaving a gap of about 1 cm (1/2 inch) from the edge.
- Gently lift the parchment paper and use it to roll the dough around the ashta into a log. Using a sharp knife, cut along the long edge of the roll. Roll just enough to seal the ashta in the dough. If you roll more than that, the dough will be quite thick at the bottom.
- Cut the log into equal portions, about 4 cm (1.6 inch) each. Wipe the knife with a paper towel each time you slice a piece. Transfer to a serving platter to clear the parchment paper before rolling the remaining dough. If you find the dough too sticky to cut, refrigerate the log first before attempting to cut it again. You can wrap it in parchment paper or cling film then carefully lift it and place it on a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough.
- To serve: Decorate with ground pistachios. Serve with syrup on the side, if desired. Tip: If the pistachios don’t stick to the dough, spoon a little bit of syrup on it first then sprinkle with pistachios.
And that’s it! Hopefully you’ll get it right from the first attempt. But here are a few troubleshooting tips, just in case.
Troubleshooting Halawet El Jibn
The dough is too sticky
- You didn’t cook it enough: When adding the semolina flour, you should heat the mixture until it forms a dough. If it still looks wet, the final dough will be very hard to handle.
- Not enough semolina: The semolina firms up the dough and makes it easier to roll. If you don’t add enough, the dough will be too sticky.
- You didn’t brush the parchment paper with liquid: Don’t forget to brush the two pieces of parchment paper with orange blossom water (or water, syrup) before placing the dough. If you don’t do this, the dough will stick to the paper and tear.
There is too much dough in each bite
- The dough wasn’t thin enough: Roll the dough out to a thickness of about 2 mm (a little over 1/16 inch).
- The log of dough was rolled over itself too many times: When you fill the dough with ashta, roll it just enough to cover the ashta.
- Not enough cream: Don’t be shy with the cream. Generously spoon it over the dough to get the perfect balance of cream versus dough.
I hope the step-by-step instructions are helpful and that you’ll try this recipe out. But if you are still intimidated by this dessert, you can make the simplified version without ashta and syrup.
Variation: Easy Halawet El Jibn
Prepare the sweet cheese dough and roll it out into a rectangle as explained previously. But then instead of filling it with cream and cutting it, sprinkle it generously with coarsely ground pistachios and then roll it (several times) into one thick log. You could also sprinkle pistachios on the parchment paper before placing the dough. Refrigerate the dough then cut into small pieces.
- Less time consuming
- Fewer calories
- Lasts longer without ashta cream
- The easy version is not the traditional halawet el jibn. Middle Eastern people might (will) complain!
- Makes less rolls, since you need more dough per roll to account for the lack of cream.
- No syrup means people can’t choose how sweet they want the dessert to be.
Up to you to decide what you’d like to make, based on the flavor and richness you are looking for and the baking time you have.