Lebanese Butter Cookies, or Ghraybeh

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.

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27 Responses to Lebanese Butter Cookies, or Ghraybeh

  1. Thank you once more, Maureen for bringing back such wonderful childhood memories! I remember these melt-in-your-mouth cookies that my Sitou used to make at Christmas time. I think I’m inspired to try these myself.

  2. Laviza says:

    Yummmm. How do you make clarified butter ?

    • Joan DeAngelis says:

      You make clarified butter by putting sticks of butter in a heavy sauce pan and cooking on low heat until all of the salt is in the bottom. You should be able to see the bottom of the pan. Be sure to cook on low heat because butter burns so quickly. I have cooked lebanese food since a very young age by watching my mother and aunts make baklava, kibbie, and everything lebanese.

  3. Maureen, wonderful, makes me think of my Mom’s when she would bake these. Thanks

  4. Elizabeth Moore says:

    Hi Maureen…I was introduced to these through Charlie and had the distinct joy and responsibility to create these for Adele’s…it was great to be a part of your lovely family’s heritage and tradition…so yummy too!

  5. I grew up eating Americanized “snowball” butter cookies. I’m sure the orange flower water in these adds such a nice flavor and scent. Thank-you for sharing the recipe.

  6. STH says:

    I have fond of eating these–with the blanched almond on top–made by my Palestinian ex-mother-in-law, Lovely, lovely little cookies. Looking forward to trying this recipe and the one for kibbeh, another favorite of mine.

    She also made fat little miniature cakes with anise in them. She told me they had both yeast and baking powder in them. Have you heard of such a thing, or, better yet, seen a recipe for them? I’d love to make them again.

  7. Hi Maureen – I’ve been meaning to write to you about a new virtual cooking community I have started with my friend Sarene Wallace (aka @fringefood) called Tasting Jerusalem. We are learning about Middle Eastern cuisine through the lens of Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Ottolenghi and Tamimi. We are heading into our second month of recipes and are celebrating Valentine’s Day by cooking with roses – rose water and rose petals. One of the recipes is Ghraybeh. I am going to share your post on Twitter hashtag #TastingJrslm and on our facebook page. This is a lovely version – I like it’s absolute simplicity. When I was young, my grandmother made hamantaschen dough (a jewish triangular cookie for Purim which falls in March) in the summer when she visited. It was a simple dough but somehow the taste of those plain orange scented cookies is still one of my strongest memories of her baking.

    I hope you will come by and join our conversation – your knowledge of the cuisine would be a welcome addition to our learning and cooking community!

  8. Sarene (FringeFood) says:

    Your cookies are gorgeous! I made ghraybeh and they tasted wonderful but were really crumbly. I wonder what I did wrong. Any ideas?

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Hi Sarene–thank you and I’m glad you made ghraybeh! They can be very crumbly, which is wonderful for the meltaway texture but of course you want the cookie to hold together. Maybe they were overbaked?

    • Joan DeAngelis says:

      Probably added too much flour.

  9. Joan DeAngelis says:

    Maybe too much flour!!!

  10. Joan DeAngelis says:

    I make these cookies by taking a pinch of dough, rolling in a small ball and then putting the ball between my hands and slowly making about 1/4″ rope and then folding over and looping. I know that there are many different names for cookies but my mother call them (ka’kal howa) which in arabic means like the wind because they simply melt in your mouth. I am sure the spelling is incorrect since I am American born of Lebanese parents, but they are sooooo good.

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Hi Joan! Thanks for your great comments! Is your graybeh recipe passed down from your mother similar to this one, same proportions?

  11. roula says:

    Is that 300C degrees Celsius or Fahrenheit? I made these exactly as described but the cookies spread dreadfully!

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Roula, I’m sorry that happened! It’s 300F, but I know that these cookies can be surprisingly temperamental. It sounds like the dough was too soft and warm; sometimes chilling it can help.

  12. Cathy says:

    Hello Maureen,
    I had graybeh at a Lebanese food festival last summer and loved them. I am going to try making them. Can this dough be frozen? Thank you.

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Hi Cathy–I have not frozen the dough; I suspect it will work fine though. I am working on a new recipe for this for my cookbook, and recommend swapping a cup of the flour for a cup of ground almonds (almond meal).

  13. Matthew says:

    Hello Maureen,

    I tried making your Ghraybeh recipe this evening and had a bit of trouble with the dough. After whipping the butter and adding the sugar and mazaher, I added the flour 1/2 cup at a time until I got to 1cup which resulted in a very coarse, dry dough that was not able to be formed into a ball. I added the remaining flour, so 1 cup, but of course this only made it worse. I threw that out :( and tried again but same result – granted it is 19 F outside (which I am sure has something to do with it).

    In the end I added just about 1/4 of water which of course made a dough form and then another 1 tsp of mazaher just to help with the flavor since the gluten is going to over develop now. :(

    Any thoughts or recommendations? Have you faced such an issue before? I know you’re in ice box MI and I am sure the lack of humidity is making kitchen life hard.

    Thanks in advance!
    Matthew

  14. Magda Reichenberg says:

    Hi Maureen,

    have you ever tried to bake the ghrayeb gluten free?

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Hi Magda–thanks for asking. I haven’t tried it but I’ll look into it. It would be great if that same texture were possible without flour for gluten-free diets!

  15. Charlene says:

    I made these cookies recently using my grandmothers recipe….. one pound of butter whipped for about 5 minutes, slowly adding 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, then all purpose flour until dough could be handled by hand. They contained a nut filling (1 cup of coarsely ground pecans was mixed with 1/2 cup sugar). The cookies were shaped similarly…folding the dough around a tsp of nut mixture…baked off at 300 and dusted with powdered sugar. Yield about 36. So light and airy, and a huge hit at the Lebanese dinner I attended.

  16. Sis says:

    Is it okay to add some milk if the dough is too crumbly?

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Hello–yes, you can add a drop or two. The challenge of this dough is that it ought to be pretty dry to get the right texture, which means that working with it can be tricky! Let me know how it goes!

  17. Sis says:

    I’ve also noticed my cookies always remain soft in the Middle and aren’t hard like a cookie should be?

 

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