Where do I start with Halawt Al-Jibn?
There’s so much to say I really don’t know where to begin!
For starters, it’s a dessert. A delectable, slightly sweet, cream filled, pillowy dessert that literally means cheese dessert (or dessert of cheese if you want to get technical). A delicacy in the Middle East, it’s made of a semolina and sweet cheese orange blossom scented dough that’s rolled into a log filled with a clotted cream. It’s garnished with pistachios for a bit of crunch and drizzled with ‘Ater (a.k.a. Qater in other dialects), which is an orange blossom infused syrup to make it a perfect, sweet-tooth satisfying dessert.
After a trip to Syria in 2009 where my family and I toured the country and experienced some of the most authentic and delicious Halawt Al-Jibn, my mom and I came back wanting to make some for ourselves. Halawt Al-Jibn is an intimidating dessert for many and although she had made it plenty of times before, it had been years since she’d done so because of the tedious process. There was always that fine balance of getting the cheese to melt just right to form the semolina and cheese mixture into a dough without it hardening too quickly or becoming too sticky.
While we were going through her old notes, we thought of using fresh mozzarella cheese to make the dough easier to work with in place of the traditional sweet cheese that would take longer to melt, make it harder to roll out and firm up more quickly. Subbing the fresh mozzarella ended up being great and made the process SO much easier that the dessert became a go-to when she needed something impressive that could be prepared ahead of time and forgotten until you were ready to serve.
Now, on to my experience making this delicious treat…
I had made it with my mom countless times. I had done everything from prepping the ingredients to making the cream to watching her cook the dough and had even cooked it myself. I had seen the ease with which she rolled out the warm, soft dough, filled it with cream and rolled it into a log. I had admired the way she cut those luscious logs so smoothly and formed perfect little diamond shaped pieces. She would easily arrange them in a platter and top them with crushed pistachios and within 45 minutes of starting, the pillowy bites would be chilling in the fridge awaiting their debut. It was SO easy. I just didn’t understand why it was considered a complicated dessert.
I finally attempted them on my own from start to finish and was so happy with the results. It came together so quickly and that made me even more excited about sharing the recipe with you. I served it to my friends who instantly fell in love and the only thing missing to get it up here were the right pictures of the process.
This brings me to the second time I made them completely on my own. I went in FULL of confidence. I was making them for a party and didn’t even think about starting the day before because, you know, it is THAT easy. I set everything up so it was going to be smooth sailing. I was going to get all the beautiful photos annnddd videos I needed so that the recipe would be up within the day.
Well, I had another thing coming to me.
It started out easy enough, but for some reason the cream didn’t set up the way it had the first time. That was ok though because I chilled it in the fridge and it was thick enough to use by the time I needed it. First hurdle overcome.
I began making the dough. I brought the water and sugar to a boil, added the cheese followed by the semolina, mastic gum and orange blossom water. I stirred everything up and although the cheese melted easily, it took a lot of effort to get it all combined. It gave me pause, but that was okay, it still came together. Now to roll it out.
I cleared my work surface and dumped half of the dough and started spreading it out with my fingers like my mom would. I burned my fingers on it, it was still that hot, and it was sticking to my hands like crazy. Okay, it’s still too warm to work with I thought, let me allow it to cool a little longer and it should lose its stickiness.
I allowed it to cool to a workable temperature, but it was still so sticky that the first log I formed was hideous. I was starting to get very disheartened and worried that they weren’t going to be presentable (thankfully it tasted great, just wasn’t looking so good). I decided I would use plastic wrap underneath the dough which I had seen my mom do once or twice before. I did, and it really helped me form the logs but when I came to cut them, they were not cooperating. The dough was stretching and warping and rather than a smooth cut, the pieces were looking very stringy. I was getting really frustrated! After this I wrapped each log in the plastic wrap I had used to roll it and popped it in the freezer to set up. Thankfully when I pulled them out, I was able to cut them more easily, and they were looking a lot better.
So while the end result came out to be delicious, the process made me realize why most people viewed this as a complicated dessert. I spoke to my mom and realized my mistakes and have adjusted my technique since then so that now it is finally ready to share with you.
What I learned from this experience? Approach food humbly! You never know how it’s going to react!
It is probably a good thing that this happened to me because I really was planning on writing about what an easy dessert this is to make and while the technique I am sharing with you makes it much easier, I am more cautious of how to portray it. If you encounter any of the issues I did along the way, don’t stress out too much, many times it will be salvageable.
For the flavorings, you may come across a few slight variations of Halawt Al-Jibn. The dough and the ‘Ater can be infused with either Ma Zahr, Ma Ward, or a combination of both, to give it those floral notes. Ma Zahr is Orange Blossom Water and Ma Ward is Rose Water and with each you’ll end up with delicious results. My mom always preferred Ma Zahr which is what I have been making it with, but next on my list is to try the Rose Water version and even a combination! Which do you prefer??
Now, after all that, I have a little confession to make. I had typed up this whole post (including the recipe itself) back in August!! I came to check my draft and had totally forgotten how detailed I had gotten. (I hope I didn’t bore you with all the words up there ↑↑↑! If you made it this far, thanks for sticking with me, it really does make me happy. 🙂 ) I was waiting to get the right pictures and video to post and I finally got it done almost 7 months later!! Where did the time go?!! Anyway, hope you enjoy and would love to hear your thoughts on the video, the story, the recipe or your experience with Halawt Al-Jibn!
- 2 cups Whipping Cream (1 pint)
- 1/4 cup Cornstarch
- 1/4 cup Water
- 1 1/2 cups Water
- 1 1/2 cups Sugar
- 16 oz. Fresh Mozzarella, cubed
- 1 1/2 cups Fine Semolina
- 1 1/2 tbsp Orange Blossom or Rose Water
- 1/2 tsp Mastic Gum, crushed
- 1/2 cup Water
- 1 cup Sugar
- Squeeze of Lemon Juice
- 1 -2 tsp Orange Blossom or Rose Water (or to taste)
- Pistachios, halved or crushed
- Dissolve the cornstarch in the water to make a cornstarch slurry.
- Pour the cream into a medium pot, then add the slurry and bring it all to a boil over medium-high heat.
- Stir the cream constantly until it thickens then remove from heat and allow to cool completely.
- Set aside until ready to assemble the rolls.
- Start by bringing the sugar and water to a simmer to dissolve the sugar.
- Add the cheese and allow it to melt, stirring to help it melt easily.
- Once the cheese has melted, add the semolina, orange blossom water and mastic gum and use a wooden spoon to stir until its completely combined and forms a dough.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool to a workable temperature.
- Once the dough is ready, you will need to roll and fill it while it is still slightly warm. Knead the dough a bit to give it a smooth, even texture.
- Roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thickness.
- Cut off any uneven edges so you have a fairly straight line.
- Pipe (or spoon, as I do in the video) a 1/4 inch thick line of cream along the edge of the dough, leaving a bit exposed so that you can roll it.
- Roll the dough over, overlapping it on the other side and cut along the formed roll.
- Cut the roll at an angle into 1/2 inch pieces. Repeat with remaining dough and cream.
- Refrigerate for a few hours to allow the rolls to set.
- Bring the water, sugar and lemon juice to a boil.
- Reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 8-10 minutes.
- Stir in the Orange Blossom Water and remove from heat.
- Allow to cool completely.
- Once you're ready, garnish with the pistachios and serve with a side of the syrup and enjoy!
- This dessert does get better the next day, so you can make it ahead of time and store it in a tightly sealed container until ready to use.
- Orange Blossom, Rose Water or a combination of both can be used in the dough and the syrup.
- Refer to the video for a visual of the technique.