Lavender-Orange Blossom Shortbread Recipe (Lebanese Graybeh)
Lebanese graybeh are a delicate, melt-in-your-mouth shortbread cookies. They take beautifully to the flavor combination of lavender and orange blossom!
I recently spoke to a group of high school students about life as a writer. They were having a whole week of writerly immersion, to encourage the idea that writing isn’t just about that pain-in-the-neck assignment you have to turn in to your English teacher on Friday.
The students, they had great questions about the writing life, and about what it’s like to be a food blogger. Do people steal your photos and stories? How do you publish a book? What’s your favorite recipe? Don’t you run out of ideas to write about and recipes to cook? Who’s your boss?
Wow. Some questions were easier to answer than others. A favorite recipe? Couldn’t possibly say, but just to choose one, I told them the recipe for lavender-orange blossom cookies I was developing ranks darn high for fun and delicious.
Do I run out of ideas? Hmmm. Not so much. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Because when you’re doing the creative work that you’re meant to do, everywhere you turn, both physically and mentally, seems to lead you down a road of thought that breeds new ideas. And you breed what you feed, emotionally and intellectually. So I try to allow my mind time to wander, quiet spaces to do it in, and to stay open to where the path might lead me.
Example: those lavender cookies? I had no idea what plate I was going to use to show them off for you. I was taking the photos at my mom’s place downstate, and just when I want to lament that I don’t have what I need from my stash of stuff with me, I turn around and see my grandmother Alice’s painted plates on display on the shelf. They’re so beautiful, and though they’ve been in view all my life, I have never actually taken them in my hands to truly look at them. One is painted in the perfect shades of lavender, God bless you Alice. When I reach ever so carefully for the plate, I discover a ribbon taped to the back. Alice took first place in the Spring Art Exhibit in Fostoria, Ohio 1962.
The plate, the ribbon, they explained so much. My mother’s inclination to paint, her encouragement of artistry of any kind in her children, those sorts of things.
But they especially spoke to me of my own creative process, and the way one thing leads to another, and then another. The lavender last summer led me to think about classic lavender shortbread, which led me to our classic melt-away Lebanese graybeh, and what might happen if we added lavender and orange blossom water together in a cookie? Good things happen, very, very good and delicious things. It’s a flavor combination, and a cookie, and a story worth writing and sharing.
Just after I discovered Alice’s ribbon, I received my own sort of ribbon. One for telling stories here, from the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals). They selected Rose Water & Orange Blossoms as a finalist in their annual competition, in the category of narrative culinary blog. How very nice and exciting, an affirmation of the creative process for this endeavor that began long ago. I’d love to be able to tell the students about what it’s like when your boss for that work is yourself, but more importantly when your boss is your readers. It’s to them you feel the most loyal, the most desire to write and cook and create well for, the most grateful that they might read from one sentence you’ve written to the next, without clicking away.
And that while a teacher’s approval, or a ribbon, or a finalist position is a truly wonderful thing, it is in large measure kept taped to the back of the plate while the most hard-won and captivating part, the art itself that comes from deep and mysterious forces, faces the world.
Lavender Orange Blossom Graybeh
- 3/4 cup (6 oz.) clarified butter, solid, at cool room temperature
- 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon orange blossom water
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground dried lavender
- 1 3/4 cups plus up to 3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
- Heat the oven to 325°F and place a rack in the center position. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper.
- In an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar, and salt until it is very light and fluffy, almost like whipped cream, about 6 minutes.
- Lower the speed and mix in the lavender and orange blossom water. Add the flour 1/2 cup at a time, and once 1 1/2 cups have been added, spoon in the flour a tablespoon or so at a time, mixing until the dough is dry but holds together. If the dough is too soft, it will not hold its shape when baked, so it’s better to err on the side of crumbly drier dough than dough that is too soft.
- Shape one-third of the dough at a time into a log about an inch wide and an inch tall, squared off on top (this log is pretty narrow!). Cut the dough with a sharp knife on the diagonal to make 1 to 2-inch diamonds. Place them on the prepared sheet pan about an inch apart.
- Bake one sheet at a time for 15 to 20 minutes, rotating the sheet front to back halfway through, until the cookies are light golden brown. Cool the cookies completely and store them in an airtight container for up to one week.
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I'm so glad you're here! You'll find among these pages the fresh and classic Lebanese recipes we can't get enough of! My mission is to share my tried + true recipes -- and to help our Lebanese food-loving community keep these culinary traditions alive and on the table. What recipes are you looking for? Let me know!
Congratulations Maureen on the IACP distinction. It is nice to see you be recognized for what your readers have known about your beautiful writing that faces forward to us!
R., thank you thank you!
Oh I love this combination! I adore orange blossom water and I’m always looking for ways to use it, thanks for a beautiful recipe!
Hello Sue, and thanks so much!
Beautifully written–lovely ode to Grandmother Alice–and I think I can taste the butter just from the photograph! With much appreciation, Cousin Sarah
Thank you Sarah!
Maureen, your words today feed my soul. They are a grace that arrives just when needed. Congratulations on the recog Orion of your work, but far more Important for the delightful and alluring work that faces out to the world. Thank you for sharing your well-earned wisdom with the young people you spoke to and with us, your loyal and hungry audience.
Thanks so very much, Mr. McGrath.
Congratulations to you, my friend, on this well-deserved nomination. I hope we’ll be able to see each other in Chicago. xo
Well done!It looks lovely! But does unclarified butter the same as samna/ghee?? or can I use butter? thanks
Hi there–I call for clarified butter because it makes a difference in the cookie’s texture, so the result is not the same with unclassified butter
Hello! Fourth generation Lebanese here. Fadel family of Bikfaya, they have a famous bakery. I am watered down to 25% Lebanese, but this is my family food tradition. My grandma only makes a very limited menu of Lebanese food, so I didn’t even know what Talami were. My focus has been on Graybeh, because they are my favorite. I only use flour, powdered sugar and clarified butter and keep them white. Cannot make the “O” shape like an old family friend used to, the dough is so fragile.
Do you know about the new center for Lebanese diaspora here in NC (at NC State U.) ? nclebanese.org It’s kind of crazy to have it here, but we have a Lebanese guy in Raleigh with a restaurant empire (one is authentic Lebanese, it’s called Sitti) and he gave a prof at State $8 million to start it. Check it out! 🙂
Wonderful Elizabeth, thank you!
Lovely recipe. Will be trying it out once I have lavender.
I made these cookies for my book club evening as Orange Blossom cookies with lavender were a big deal in the book we had read, The Story of Arthur Truluv. I had never clarified butter before or made anything like this cookie, and I was thrilled that they turned out. Your step-by-step instructions and photos were so helpful. Everyone at book club thought the cookies tasted amazing. I’ll be making these again!
Great news! What a lovely book club treat Sherri. Thank you for your note!