Ghorayebah (Middle Eastern Butter Cookies)

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One of my favorite takeaways from my college education as a comparative literature student is the term synecdoche–using the part to refer to the whole. In baking, we use images in our heads of flour (scattered all over our aprons), butter (creamed to whipped perfection), and sugar (its crystals dazzling in the light) to stand in for the entire process of making cookies or loaf cake. In reality, there’s chocolate chips and vanilla extract and a couple of eggs in the batter, too.

But today, the part is really the whole cookie. Today’s butter cookies contain nothing but butter, sugar, and flour. Of course, we use some nuts for garnish, but let’s let the synecdoche stand.

These cookies hail from the Middle East. As my year of exploring Middle Eastern cuisine for Sargento winds down, I went through the archives and noticed there were no desserts. I’ve tried pomegranate molasses on grilled cheese sandwiches and made lentils every which way. I got stupidly obsessed with za’atar and dukkah. But I haven’t shared anything sweet. Perhaps this is because cheese doesn’t figure in Middle Eastern dessert (though there are plenty of delicious-looking milky puddings). So today we’re venturing away from the cheese and the savory so that I can share these cute, simple, three-ingredient cookies with you in time to get them on your Christmas table.

Yesterday I shared a holiday tart, kicking off a sweets week of sorts. Tomorrow, we’ll have chocolate-dipped shortbread gems from a really talented contributor, so keep your sweet teeth tuned in!

This sponsored post is part of an ongoing collaboration with Sargento, called Flavor Journey. Throughout this year, with the support of Sargento, I’ve been exploring Middle Eastern cuisine–at home, in Brooklyn, at cooking classes, and wherever the flavors may take me. You can see the whole series here. Sponsored posts let me do some of my best work on this blog, and I only ever work with brands whose values and products mesh with the content I love to produce for you. Here’s my affiliate disclosure.


Ghorayebah (Middle Eastern Butter Cookies)
Adapted from Claudia Roden

Makes about 30 cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
Handful of blanched whole or sliced almonds, shelled pistachios, and/or pine nuts, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter in a large mixing bowl until it turns white, about 1 minute. Add the sugar and continue to beat for about 5 minutes, until very smooth and creamy. The combination will look a lot like buttercream! Retire the mixer and slowly work in the flour with a spatula. The dough will be quite soft.

Take walnut-sized pieces and roll them into balls, then flatten slightly. Place them on the baking sheet 3 inches from each other (these spread a bit). Press a nut onto the center of each cookie.

Bake for 12 to 18 minutes, watching carefully: you want the cookies to be firm but completely white…not brown at all. Cool on the sheets for 10 minutes, then remove to a rack to cool completely.

  • Joann

    This is the EXACT same recipe as my Scotch Shortbread! Except that I double it and make it in a jelly roll pan.I got my recipe from a Scot.

    • BGSK

      So funny! I guess it’s cross-cultural somehow.

  • Warm Vanilla Sugar

    Mmm these look fabulous!! Such a fun cookie.

    • BGSK

      Thank you!

  • Rebecca

    They look delicious 😀

    Thanks for sharing, rebecca

    • BGSK

      Thanks for commenting, Rebecca!

  • Y.A.

    Hi Cara,

    These Middle Eastern cookies look awesome. I will definitely have to try them! I think the garnishing with nuts is what gives it the Middle Eastern look.

    You mentioned that Middle Eastern desserts don’t have cheese in them and I wanted to clarify that. The kunafa or knafeh as it is spelled in some places, is a classic Middle Eastern dessert made with shredded fillo dough, a cheese filling, garnished with pistachios, and drizzled with sugar syrup before serving. The fillo dough is coloured with a little bit of orange food colouring to give it a nice orange colour, which creates a great contrast with the green pistachios on top. Google “kunafa” and check out the images. It is mouth-watering! You have to try it!
    Note: some recipes might have a custard filling instead of cheese, but let me tell you, it is way better with a cheese filling! Yes, the cheese makes it a heavy dessert, but a small serving size is enough to fill you.

    Though I’m not Middle Eastern, I was however, born in the Middle East and lived there for several years before moving to North America. I had been deprived of this dessert for 13 years so one day I decided to search the recipe online and make it myself. I was a little hesitant in trying it at first and thought it would be too difficult, but it wasn’t hard at all. If you were to try it, I would suggest that you buy the cheese from an authentic Middle Eastern grocery store. If you want to try it, I can send you the recipe I used.

    In the mean time, I will try your cookies and let you know how they turn out.

    Take care :)

    • Kiki

      I second this! Knafeh is delicious. The best come from the bakeries and pastry shops in Nazareth.

    • BGSK

      This is such a thoughtful comment–thank you for weighing in! I would absolutely love to see your recipe for knafeh! You can email bgsk@biggirlssmallkitchen. (Also, I was sort of carelessly referring to cheese in dessert as, like, cheddar, which was silly because not too many cultures use cheddar in sweets to begin with!)

  • Katy

    I love baking these cookies! I add cardamom to mine :)

  • Nick

    have you checked out the Middle Eastern restaurant in Brooklyn called, Tanoreen? full of middle eastern gems there. lots of desserts and one of their most famous ones is made with cheese.

    • BGSK

      Tanoreen has been on my list! Upping it to the top – thanks for the recommendation. Any favorites I should be sure to order?

      • Nick

        Eggplant Napoleon is my favorite! the brussels sprouts and the knafeh dessert.. mmmm

  • Carson

    wow i just made some Ghorayebah for the second time and it was way bester that the first time i made them.

  • Carson

    Better* Than*

    • BGSK

      So glad they turned out well!!

  • nicole

    Is it regular sugar or powdered sugar because I have seen other recipes call for powdered

    • Cara

      Regular granulated.

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