In the Middle East, versions of shortbread known as raybeh are some of the most popular and widely available biscuits in the region.
Courtesy of SUQAR: Desserts & Sweets from the Modern Middle East, a cookbook from Greg and Lucy Malouf that recently won in the Baking and Desserts category at the 2019 James Beard Foundation Media Awards, this is Greg’s definitive raybeh recipe. It’s the version he remembers from his childhood as it was a specialty of his grandmother and her sisters.
While traditional versions shape these biscuits as little rings with an almond pressed over the join, SUQAR favors bite-sized discs for this pistachio-dusted version.
(makes around 40)
- 100 g (3 ½ oz.) icing (confectioners’) sugar, sifted
- 500 g (1 lb., 2 oz.) plain (all-purpose) flour, sifted
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 250 g (9 oz.) clarified butter (see below), at room temperature
- 1 egg white, lightly beaten
- Pistachio Dust: 30 g (1 oz.) good-quality blanched pistachio nuts (Iranian slivers have the best color)
To make the pistachio dust, blitz the pistachios to a fine powder in a food processor or spice grinder. Set aside. Line two baking trays with silicone baking mats or baking paper.
For the shortbread dough, sift the dry ingredients together into a large mixing bowl and stir them around a bit with your fingers.
Make a well in the center and pour in the clarified butter. Use your fingertips to push all the dry ingredients into the butter and start working everything together slowly. It’s important to be patient at this stage, and to rub carefully with a firm but gentle touch, until you achieve an even wet sand consistency. If you squeeze a little of the dough in the palm of your hand, it should squish together nicely.
Break off walnut-sized pieces of the dough (for consistency, we aim for 25 g/1 oz portions). Roll them between your palms into smooth, round balls and divide them between the prepared trays (you should be able to get 20 on each tray as they don’t spread much as they bake). Flatten the biscuits slightly – the flat base of a glass jar or tumbler is ideal for this purpose – to 5 cm (2 in) in diameter. Rest in the fridge for 45 minutes.
When ready to bake the biscuits, preheat the oven to 140ºC (275ºF) fan-forced/160ºC (320ºF).
Bake in the center of the oven for 20 minutes, swapping the trays around so the biscuits bake evenly (they should remain very pale). Remove from the oven and lightly brush the surface of each biscuit with beaten egg white, then sprinkle evenly with the pistachio dust and return to the oven for a final 5 minutes, watching carefully to ensure the biscuits do not brown.
Remove from the oven and leave the biscuits to cool on their trays. Once they are completely cold, store them in an airtight container for up to a week.
Clarified butter is indispensable in Middle Eastern pastries and desserts and is favored because it has a mellow flavor and a high burning point. It is made by skimming off the milk solids from melted butter, resulting in a clear yellow liquid. It’s worth making in reasonably large batches as it keeps in the fridge for several months. Commercially available ghee is a similar product and can often be substituted for clarified butter in our recipes.
To make clarified butter, cut 500 g (1 lb., 2 oz.) unsalted butter into small cubes, put in a small saucepan and melt over a medium–low heat. Use a large spoon to skim away the froth as it rises to the surface. Remove the pan from the heat and leave for around 5 minutes to settle. Skim off any more froth so you have as clear a layer of yellow fat as possible. You’ll also see a milky residue (the milk proteins) at the bottom of the pan. Carefully pour off or spoon up the clarified butter, leaving the milky solids behind. The butter will set hard in the fridge. Many pastry recipes require it to be melted gently before using.
Formulation excerpted with permission from SUQAR by Greg and Lucy Malouf, published by Hardie Grant Books November 2018, RRP $40.00