Sweet Sensations

Tap your meal with one of these delicious Middle Eastern desserts—because the entrée shouldn't be the only course with flavors to savor.

Layered custard and nut crumble (kshtaleia)

Yields: 12 servings

Ingredients for the pudding

  • 2 quarts milk
  • 2 Tbs. rose water
  • 2 Tbs. orange blossom water
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar or honey
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. mastic (optional)
  • 1 cup rice flour 

For the crust

  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup unseasoned standard breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1 cup almonds, chopped
  • ⅓ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 Tbs. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. ground cinnamon

Finishing touches

  • 1 cup jam of your choice
  • 1 cup blossom-scented simple syrup


Preheat the oven to 300°F. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with butter.

To make the pudding: 

In a large saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer over medium heat. Add the rose water, orange blossom, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla and mastic, if using. Slowly add the rice flour, stirring all the while. Cook until the pudding begins to thicken and a whisk leaves tracks in the mixture. Spread evenly on a baking sheet to cool.

To make the crust: 

In a large bowl, combine the panko breadcrumbs, walnuts and almonds. Add the melted butter, vanilla and cinnamon, working the mixture with your hands. Spread half of the breadcrumb mixture over the bottom of the prepared pan. Using a spatula, pack it down evenly and firmly. Spread the pudding mixture over the top, then spread the jam over the pudding. Sprinkle the remaining bread mixture on top of the jam and press it down.

Bake until the crust is golden brown. Pour the simple syrup over the top and let it cool for a few minutes. To serve, cut into squares. The kshtaleia can be served cold too. To store, cover the pan with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator, where it will keep for up to 1 week.

Butter cookie sandwiches (graybeh)

Yields: 36 cookies


  • 1 lbs. (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1½ cups confectioners’ sugar
  • seeds from 1 vanilla bean
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup jam or preserves (fig, quince or apricot)
  • ½ cup ground pistachios


Put the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and gradually beat from low to high speed for 3 minutes until light and fluffy. and continue to beat until the mixture is foamy. Beat in the vanilla seeds. Add the flour a little at a time and beat until the dough holds together when pressed between your fingers. Divide the dough in half and pat each half into a disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two large baking sheets or line with parchment paper.

On a slightly floured surface, roll one disc of dough to a thickness of ¼ inch. Cut out circles using a 2-inch round cookie cutter. Gather the scraps, roll out, cut and repeat until you’ve used all of the dough. Transfer to one of the prepared baking sheets and place in the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.

Repeat the rolling and cutting process with the remaining disc of dough. Then use a smaller (no bigger than 1 inch) cookie cutter or the wide end of a piping tip to make a cutout in the center of each circle. (Discard the small cutout pieces.) Transfer the circles to the second prepared baking sheet and place in the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.

Place both baking sheets in the oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the edges of the cookies are just beginning to brown. Let the cookies cool for 5 minutes on the sheets, then roll in ground pistachios if desired and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the sandwiches, turn the cookies without the holes flat side up, and gently spread each with 1 tsp. of jam. Top with the cutout cookies, flat side down. Store in airtight containers for up to 1 week.

Triple almond cake


  • butter and all-purpose flour, for the pan
  • 20 oz. almond paste (see below) or store bought
  • 2½ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 6 large eggs
  • 3 Tbs. rose water
  • 2 cups almond flour
  • 2½ Tbs. baking powder
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • pinch of sea salt
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • sliced almonds and confectioners’ sugar, for serving

For the almond paste

  • 20 oz. blanched slivered or whole raw almonds
  • 6 Tbs. honey
  • 2 Tbs. vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbs. Amaretto liqueur (optional)
  • 1 Tbs. Frangelico liqueur (optional)

Directions to make the almond paste:

In a food processor, process the almonds until ground and clumpy. Add the honey and vanilla as well as the Amaretto and Frangelico, if using. Process until the mixture is the consistency of dough. You can make the almond paste in advance; it will keep, covered in the refrigerator, for up to 1 week.

To make the almond cake: 

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Grease a Bundt pan and dust lightly with flour, shaking out any excess.

Place half of the almond paste in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add the butter and mix for 3 minutes or until it becomes foamy. Carefully add the eggs one at a time as you mix. Add the rose water and beat until fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. In another bowl, whisk together the almond flour, baking powder, granulated sugar, salt and lemon zest. Gradually add these dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix for 5 minutes.

Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan. Evenly top with the remaining half of the almond paste by breaking off bits and scattering them over the batter (they will sink into the batter). Top with the rest of the batter. Bake for about 1 hour, until the cake springs back when pressed. Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool in the pan for a few minutes. Run a thin knife around the edge of the cake to make sure it has released from the pan, then flip it onto a plate. Let the cake cool completely. Serve at room temperature, sprinkled with sliced almonds and dusted with confectioners’ sugar.

Categories: Morris/Essex Health & Life