This is a selected list of traditional Lebanese sweets you’ll find in restaurants and sweet shops across the country. These are traditional accountings, but of course, as with all Lebanese cuisine, today you’ll find new fusions and experiments mixing old recipes with fresh ideas.
In Lebanon, desert nearly always includes fresh fruit, no matter what time of year. And if you don’t have room left over for heaping platters of melon, apples, plums, grapes, figs, pears, quinces, tangerines, persimmons and peaches, Lebanon’s juice stalls offer a wild variety of blends—citrus, carrot, kiwi, berries, etc.—topped with ice cream or ashta, which is similar to cream cheese but thicker, and finished with any number of syrups and nuts.
Bouza Arabiyeh is Arabic ice cream. It’s made with salep and mastic, which gives it a slightly chewy consistency and prevents it from melting as fast as Western ice creams. The most popular flavors are pistachio, ashta (which is like vanilla), lemon, cherry and mint as well as chocolate and coffee, and all are available with chopped nuts. Arabic ice cream cones tend to come in a cup shape.
Pastries and Confections
A specialty of Saida, sinoura is a crunchy trapezoidal cookie. They’re very simple, vanilla being the prime flavor. Similarly, ghraybeh is slightly denser, more buttery, and come in little doughnut shapes. (Saida is also famous for candy bars made of nuts and seeds.)
An essential accouterment of the both Christian and Islamic holidays, maamoul come in two sizes, flavored with rose water and filled with pistachios, walnuts or tamr (crushed date). Another version is called maamoul med, which is the same but baked in a pan and cut into squares.
Kaak, a smaller version of the traditional breakfast food of the same name, incorporates nutmeg and sugar, baked into a smaller size. They’re smothered in sesame seeds.
Sfouf are cake-like squares made with semolina and flavored with turmeric and baked with a covering of ghee. They’re finished with almonds or pine nuts.
Namoura is a dense, rich bar made with the usual suspects: semolina, topped with almonds, while ballouriyah is a bar made with a pistachio filling and topped with shredded filo dough.
A regional classic, knefeh is made alternately with ashta, a clotted cream flavored with rose and orange blossom water, or akkawi, a mild, soft, unripened brine cheese. Whatever the filling, the top and bottom are made of shredded filo dough that browns to a beautiful, deep-golden crust. It’s then drizzled with syrup and sprinkled with pistachios.
Attayef is based in flour, semolina, dried milk and lemon juice, and a number of things are done with the dough that results. One version uses the dough to cradle ashta that is topped with candied orange blossoms and pistachios. They’re served with a bowl of syrup for dipping. Another version uses the dough to wrap a mixture of walnuts—these are then enclosed, pan-fried, and finally glazed in a syrup immersion.
Halawet jebn are finger-like wrapped delicacies with a filling of baladi (similar to ashta). The wrapping is made with semolina and sugar syrup, which is spread thin while still hot, which are then cut into squares and rolled with baladi. They’re generally sprinkled with candied orange blossom and of course pistachios.
Aysh al-Sarayah is made with toasted bread soaked in syrup with rose water and covered with ashta, heaped with a forest of chopped pistachios, and finished with honey. Another variation is mafroukeh.
While the world is familiar with the Greek baklava, in Lebanon, baqlewa refers to a whole range of incarnations of nuts and filo dough. Some employ cashews, others walnuts, and various designs sport the famous pistachio.
Awammat are balls of fried dough that are filled with various starches, such as potato and rice. They’re soaked
Maakrouns are the Lebanese version of the macaroon. Light and sweet, they’re flavored with anise, fennel and mahlab, which is made from the soft seeds inside the stones of a certain species of cherry.
A small galaxy of invention is put into Lebanese malban, which is made from grape molasses and starch and flavored with rose water and mastic. They’re constructed exquisitely after the fashion of sushi, taking many bite-size forms that showcase the wide range of specialty ingredients they are apt to include. They’re often decorated with Qamareddine stripes (apricot leather).
Puddings and Jams
Bousfeyr is a jam or jelly made with Seville orange peel. It’s the most distinct among the preserves made in Lebanon, which also include quince, strawberry, fig, apricot and pumpkin.
Meghli is traditionally made when a child is born or to celebrate Christmas. It’s made with floured rice and flavored with cinnamon, anise, and caraway, and topped with nuts, shredded coconut and raisins.
Mhalabiyyeh is a corn flower-thickened milk custard flavored with rose water. Riz b-halib is the same thing with rice, and kamah b-halib, the same with wheat.
Ashtaliyieh is also milk based and thickened, but is flavored with orange blossom water and topped with pistachios, almonds and syrup.
For a cozy drink in winter, try sahleb, a viscous, sweetened cup of milk and sahlab with rose water, cinnamon and vanilla.