Desserts + Sweets Recipe Index

Arabic Shortbread


“Dangerous” and “addictive” are two qualities I look for in a baked good. “Deceptive” features highly in there as well, especially on those occasions when I’m in the hands of a pastry chef who can turn a ho-hum ingredient into something confoundingly sumptuous.

Today’s recipe for Arabic Shortbread – buttery little discs with hint of cardamom and a crowning pine nut – falls into the two former categories.

The danger lies in its shocking ease to prepare. Cream the butter and sugar until very pale, add the remaining ingredients, chill 30 minutes while you do other things, then squish into little discs and bake. The most difficult part – and it is not difficult – is to handle the dough gently, to keep it light and crumbly when baked.

As for the addictiveness… you’ll find out soon enough.

Makes 6 dozen but easily halved or divided in thirds; adapted slightly from Suzanne Husseini

1 cup butter, chilled
3/4 cup powdered sugar (confectioner’s sugar)
1 1/2 cups plain flour
Pine nuts, to garnish
Optional but recommended: 1 tsp vanilla, 1 pinch cardamom
In a stand mixer, or in a medium-sized bowl with a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until pale and smooth, about 10 minutes (if you are halving the quantity, cream for 5-6 minutes or until very pale). 
On low speed, beat in the vanilla. Sift in the flour and pinch of cardamom, beating in slowly until just combined. 
Cover the bowl with plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 170C / 325F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper while the dough rests.
Form the dough into balls, a little larger than a marble. Place on the cookie sheet, flatten gently with your fingertips, and press a pine nut in the middle. Continue until all the dough is used. 
Bake 10 minutes until the cookies are just set, but not browned — the goal is to maintain their ivory color. Let cool completely on the tray or on a wire rack before serving.
Audio pairing: PJ Harvey, “The Words That Maketh Murder”

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  • Reply Catherine 17/05/2015 at 12:32 pm

    I tried making these tonight. Maybe I’m just a baking neophyte, but I didn’t know how to “cream” butter and sugar. I tried it (with a hand mixer) and globbed butter all over myself! Cutting the butter with sugar first seemed to help. Could you tell me a better way to do this in the future? (They were yummy enough to merit another try!)

  • Reply Ruqqia 22/01/2013 at 3:30 am

    Hi yasmeen,
    I would be really grateful if you can send me the updates on the maa’moul dough! I will let you know how they turn out, I haven’t had a try yet 😉

  • Reply Ruqqia 20/01/2013 at 2:49 am

    Hi yasmeen,
    Thank you so much for that!! I’m going to try it out and mammoul, tomorrow morning! I love your blog, I have two children and want to keep them connected to their Arab routes and your blog is really inspiring for that, I’ve learnt so much. My husbands family are all in Syria and there is no chance to see them at the moment! They only speak Arabic too so if I ever get a chance to see them,I’ll hopefully be able to impress them! In the meantime I’ll keep surprising my husband with your recipes. I’m always browsing through your blog, even so while I’m at work today. I work in an art gallery and am an artist but in between that I browse through your posts on my phone. Thanks ever so much x

    • Reply Yasmeen 20/01/2013 at 12:20 pm

      Ruqqia, I can’t tell you how touched I am by this comment. Thank you so much. Writing this blog helps keep me connected to my roots, so it’s wonderful to know that you are doing the same for your kids, and Wandering Spice is helping. That is truly uplifting.

      I hope the situation in Syria becomes safer so you can reunite with your husband’s family soon. I am sure you will impress them with your sweet gestures towards your husband and your excitement about his culture and cuisine. They’ll love that.

      I actually have a few updates to the maa’moul dough. I’ll send them to you in an email now. If you prefer to use the original one, no problem! Just make sure the dough coating around the dates is nice and thin, since that particular recipe’s dough is a bit dense.


  • Reply Ruqqia 20/01/2013 at 12:57 am

    Hello, I love your blog! I’m married to a Syrian man and I’m trying to surprise him by making some of your Arab sweet recipes. I’ve tried finding the conversions for cups to grams and ozs but apparently it’s different for Americans and Australians, which do you use? I only ever work in grams and ozs and don’t want to mess it up! Really grateful if you could let me know x

    • Reply Yasmeen 20/01/2013 at 1:53 am

      Hi Ruqqia!

      That is so lovely of you to do for him and thanks for the compliment. As far as I know, American and Australian tablespoons are in fact different sizes, but I use American tbsp (15ml) if that helps 🙂 Cup sizes are really similar (1 American cup is 240ml and 1 Aussie cup is 250ml) so I wouldn’t be worried about that minor difference too much.

      I also use a digital kitchen scale to measure grams and ounces. No need for a fancy one, any affordable scale will do and they’re wonderful as they convert measurements for you! Godsend if you’re looking to be more exact.
      Otherwise I find Google can be very helpful for conversions. For example, try searching for ‘3/4c butter to grams’ or ‘1/2 cup milk to ml.’

      Let me know how you go. If you need more help don’t hesitate to ask! This recipe (ghoraybeh, as your husband would know it in Arabic) is forgiving too, which helps 🙂

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