Honestly, for a long time, I didn’t think the awesomeness that is halawet el-jibn could be made at home. No one I knew had ever made it and everyone just bought it, especially during Ramadan, which is when you see it absolutely everywhere! It wasn’t until I got married and had it at my mother-in-law’s house that I realised it wasn’t hard at all!
This dish originated in the Syrian city of Hama some 60 years ago, and it spread across Syria. Funnily enough, the city of Homs became the most famous place to get this dessert, despite it not originating from there. This dessert consists of a bubble gum-like dough made from cheese and semolina, stuffed with ishta, topped with crunchy pistachios and drizzled with sweet sugar syrup.
Although this dessert is traditionally made with akkawi cheese that is soaked in water for 24 hours, changing the water regularly, in order to sweeten the cheese, it is really difficult to find this cheese, especially outside the Middle East. However, mozzarella is a great substitute for this dessert because it gives you the same stretchiness and neutral flavour. I would recommend using the blocks and shredding them, as the fresh mozzarella balls have too much water and would stop the dough from coming together. If you are able to get some akkawi, I would recommend mixing it with mozzarella, because outside the Middle East akkawi just isn’t as great and stretchy and it needs the help of mozzarella.
This dessert may sound weird to some, and a little too savoury for dessert, but trust me, you can’t even tell there is cheese in it. All you can tell is that it tastes absolutely delicious and you’ll look forward to making it again.
- ¾ – 1 cup sugar syrup
- 1 cup fine semolina
- 2 cups (284g) mozzarella or sweetened akkawi cheese (or a mixture of both)
- 2 tsp rose or orange blossom water (to taste)
- Pistachios and rose jam for garnish
- Ishta (cream found in Middle Eastern shops)
- 3 cups sugar
- 2 cups water
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- Rose or orange blossom water to taste (optional)
1. To make the syrup, place the sugar and water in a saucepan and allow to boil for 10 minutes. Add the lemon juice and leave to boil for 2 minutes before taking off the heat.
2. To make the dough, prepare a bain-marie (a pot with boiling water topped with another smaller one to prevent the cheese from burning) and melt the cheese in it.
3. Once the cheese is melted, gradually add the semolina and sugar syrup then mix. The dough should become stretchy and gummy.
4. Allow the dough to cool slightly so that you can handle it. Roll out half of the dough onto a silicon mat or plastic wrap to a medium thickness, not too thin, just thin enough to be able to roll easily. Cut into strips and then fill with ishta and roll. You can also roll the dough into a large rectangle and pipe or spoon the ishta in a line along the edge of the dough and then roll to cover the ishta. Then cut into smaller pieces.
5. Arrange the rolls onto a serving platter, top with pistachios and drizzle with sugar syrup. You can also garnish with rose jam if you’d like. Enjoy!