When a cookie is as white and unadorned as this, it’s a wonder to me that I love it so much. I’m such a devotee of the toasty, of all that is DGB (deep golden brown), that it takes significant restraint for me to let our Lebanese butter cookies be who they are. But as with many things in life, there is a payoff for the restraint, in this case a remarkably good melt-in-your-mouth cookie that would be lost if not for a light touch in the baking.
There are countless spellings for Lebanese butter cookies—ghraybeh, grhybe, gorayba, ghrybe, ghoraibi—but all are pronounced the same: ghri (like high)-bee (A glottal sound sits on the “g;” it has to be heard to be known). Every single Lebanese and Middle Eastern cookbook I own includes a simple recipe for ghraybeh. There are as many variations on this cookie as there are spellings, and each one has its merits. I do mine the way I learned from my mother, with a rather genius way of achieving the cookie shape, and if you expected a blanched nut on top and I didn’t include it, let’s agree that it doesn’t make me any less Lebanese. It’s just that I have more say in my own kitchen than does tradition, and I am not a fan of the blanched nut. And in keeping with my DGB restraint, I pass on using even toasted nuts and let the ghraybeh teach me something about the beauty to be found in keeping things simple.
This is the first of a few great and treasured cookie recipes I’ll post over the next week. May our baking this holiday season be filled with joy as it goes out to others, bringing goodness and light.
Lebanese Butter Cookies, or Ghraybeh
The Lebanese butter cookie is one of the least elaborate, yet most delicious, cookies in my holiday parade. These cookies can be shaped in diamonds, as I’ve done here, or in simple flattened circles (start with a small ball, then flatten). Top with a blanched almond or pine nut (before baking) instead of dusting with powdered sugar. Flavor the dough with vanilla instead of orange blossom water, or nothing at all. Good butter (like Plugra) will always make these cookies taste wonderful. The recipe is easily doubled, and yields about 3 dozen cookies.
1 cup (8 oz.) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon orange blossom water, mazaher
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
Using a stand mixer with the whisk attachment or sturdy hand-held mixer, whip the butter on high speed until fluffy, creamy and pale, about five minutes. Stop and scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula for even whipping. Add the sugars and orange blossom water and whip until well combined and fluffy. Using a large rubber spatula or spoon, slowly blend in the flour, ½ cup at a time. Cover and let the dough rest for 30 minutes.
Heat oven to 300 degrees and place rack in the center of the oven. Handle the dough as gingerly and swiftly as possible to shape the cookies. Take a large handful of the dough and shape it into a log about ½-inch crosswise on a lightly floured work surface. If the dough is crumbly, gently push it together. Use a sharp knife to cut ½-inch pieces diagonally. Place these diamonds on an ungreased, heavy sheet pan and bake until the cookies are baked through but still pale, about 20 minutes. They will spread a bit into a flat diamond shape. The cookies should not be browned except for minimally on the bottom. Remove from the oven and cool on the sheet pan. Remove carefully with a metal spatula and sift powdered sugar over the cookies to serve. Ghraybeh keeps frozen or in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
Print this recipe here.