People ask me about the significance of my blog name all the time. Cardamom is my favorite spice, and tea is my favorite drink, and the two are a perfect match, so that would be the easy answer, but that’s not exactly what inspired the name. There’s a very particular reason these are my two favorite things. Right before I started my blog, my sister and I were talking, and she reminded me that when we were growing up, our grandparents’ house always smelled like cardamom and tea.
One of my grandmother’s first jobs after immigrating was at the Swedish Bakery in Andersonville, Chicago. She had been living in the US for a few years, but she didn’t speak English yet, and the bakery owner, Mr. Bijour decided to place her at the cash register, which was incredibly stressful at first. But Marlies, the manager, who would later become the owner, gave her a study guide with all of the English phrases she would need for the job (this did the trick, and my grandmother started speaking English fluently in no time).
Even after she left her job to start working as a tailor, our family kept in touch with Marlies, and every year around Christmas time (right up until they closed up shop last year) she would sell my grandmother at least one pound of cardamom at cost, and this cardamom would end up dusted between thousands of layers of filo in dozens of trays of baklawa all year long.
Over the years, the whole house absorbed the scent of these bags of cardamom, tucked away in the pantry, as well as the heavenly aroma of cardamom baklawa, which was often baking away in the oven. The smell of cardamom had become a permanent fixture, whether or not there was any cardamom or baklawa actually present. And alongside the cardamom, there was the ever-present scent of black tea, or chai, as so much of the world calls it. We would drink chai and eat baklawa every weekend for dessert.
Ghraybeh (also spelled ghoraibi) isn’t a cookie I grew up eating, and I learned how to make it from Maureen Abood’s very helpful explanation and recipe. But while this recipe itself isn’t from my childhood, I’ve infused it with cardamom and tea, the namesake of my blog and my two most nostalgic sense memories. As you might expect, it’s perfect served with a cup of chai (which simply means “tea,” with or without spices—but either is lovely).
As anyone who’s tried it will tell you, the special thing about ghraybeh is its meltiness. This comes from the use of clarified butter instead of sweet cream butter. Clarified butter is entirely made up of butter fat, without any dairy solids or water, which are naturally present in unprocessed butter. Because clarified butter doesn’t have water, as long as you don’t add moisture to the dough, the clarified butter keeps the cookies from developing gluten, which makes the cookies even more crumbly and melty than shortbread made from sweet cream butter. To way oversimplify a complicated scientific thing (sorry scientists!), flour forms gluten when its proteins (gliadins and glutenins) combine with water. That doesn’t mean that avoiding water makes flour gluten free—wheat in all its forms is never suitable for a gluten-free diet. It just means that clarified butter lets you see flour from another delicious perspective.Print
cardamom and tea ghraybeh
loosely adapted from Maureen Abood’s ghraybeh
- Prep Time: 45 minutes
- Total Time: 4 hours 30 minutes
- Yield: about 2 dozen cookies
To clarify the butter:
- 227 grams (8 ounces / 2 sticks) unsalted butter*
To bake the cookies:
- 180 grams clarified butter, at room temperature**
- The contents of 2 bags of black tea (2 teaspoons of black tea)
- 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
- 125 grams powdered sugar (about 3/4 cup)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon orange blossom water
- 305 grams sifted all purpose flour (about 2 1/2 to 3 sifted cups) ***
- Optional: 25 to 30 blanched almonds or pine nuts
- Clarify the butter: Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter has completely melted, reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to simmer. Keep an eye on the temperature and adjust it as necessary, so that the butter solids don’t brown, and so that it doesn’t boil out of control. Within the first couple minutes, the white solids will separate from the yellow liquid (they will float to the top, and then some of them will sink to the bottom).
- Remove from heat as soon as the simmering has quieted down a bit, but before it goes silent—this should take about 7 minutes. Use a spoon to carefully skim off any curdled solids from the surface, and then slowly pour the liquid into a measuring cup, leaving behind any of the solids left at the bottom of the pot.
- Leave the butter at cool room temperature until it solidifies a bit (although it may still be runny), or refrigerate and then leave at room temperature to soften. You can also give it a head start by placing it in the refrigerator for about 30-45 minutes, and then at room temperature.
- To bake the cookies: In the bowl of a stand mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter, tea, and cardamom with the paddle attachment for about 1 minute, until the butter becomes a little fluffier. Add the powdered sugar, salt, and orange blossom water and continue to beat for about 3 minutes, until it’s light and fluffy.
- Add the flour and mix together. Stop mixing once you can form it into a ball of dough.****
- Move the dough to a long sheet of wax paper, shape it roughly into a log, fold the wax paper over, and use an offset spatula or cutting board to apply pressure over the part where the two sheets of wax meet. Use this pressure to shape it into a round or rectangular log and place it in the refrigerator to solidify for about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- Once the log is solid enough to hold its shape, slice off pieces that are between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick, and place on parchment-lined baking sheets with some space between them (see above photo). (Optional): gently press one almond or pine nut onto the center of each cookie.
- Preheat the oven to 325° F, and let the sliced cookies come to room temperature while you wait on the oven to preheat (this prevents cracks).
- Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, until the almonds are a little golden-brown (the cookies themselves shouldn’t change much in color).
- Cool on the parchment, and then serve with tea.
* I use European butter (because it’s most easily available where I live), which has less water. If you’re using American-style butter, use an additional 2 tablespoons, because yours might end up reducing more in volume.
** The melted clarified butter is 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons volumetrically, in case you don’t have a scale.
*** If you weigh all your ingredients, you shouldn’t have any issues, but measuring with cups is less exact, so you need to be a bit more cautious if you don’t have a scale. Be sure to sift the flour before measuring 2 1/2 cups (I sift directly into the measuring cup with a flexible cutting board underneath to catch the spillover), and be sure to measure level cups by sweeping the tops with a straight edge (not packing it in). Too much flour will make the dough unable to stick together.
**** A perfect ghraybeh dough will seem crumbly when you mix it together, but it will stick together into a ball when compressed in your hand. If you measure everything by weight, you won’t have an issue, but if you do have an issue, don’t sweat it: if the dough won’t stick together, simply add an additional tablespoon of softened butter and work everything together, adding another one if it really needs it.
I wasn’t sure how these would turn out since my scale malfunctioned. My dough was very soft after being refrigerated but cookies tuned out amazing! Perfect texture and so very flavorful!
Oh my gosh, so glad it ended up working out! 😀 Technical difficulties are no fun!
Hi, I made these once and they were perfect. But I just made them a second time and absolutely could not form them. When I cut the log, the slices would just fall apart. I eventually used a spoon to form cookies, but they tended to crack during baking. I’m wondering what the issue could be and what fixes you might suggest.
Hi Erica! Oh no, I’m sorry to hear the recipe has been hit or miss! (And apologies for not answering your comment from last week—I haven’t had a chance to moderate comments in a couple weeks, and am just now going through and approving them 😅).
Here are a few suggestions, and thoughts for more troubleshooting:
1) Butter fat content varies a bit from brand to brand. The note with this recipe says that I started w/ European butter when recipe developing, and European butter has a higher fat content than most American brands. That means that if you start with American butter, you’ll end up with less clarified butter, and that you need to add more to begin with before you start clarifying. Even some brands of European butter will vary in fat content, so it’s always important to measure your clarified butter (even if you already measured your butter before clarifying), and even top it off with a tablespoon of olive oil if you’re in a hurry and coming up a little short (not a perfect solution, but better than not adding enough fat).
2) Did you use the volume or weight measurements? Weight is more precise than volume, and sometimes flour and powdered sugar can pack together too tightly (or not tightly enough) and throw things off. If you make them again, I highly recommend weighing ingredients if you have a kitchen scale around, which should give you more consistent results (and even if things don’t work perfectly for you, it makes it so much easier to troubleshoot, and pin down other variables like chilling time, oven temperature, etc). I like to include volume measurements with all my recipes in addition to weight, because I know not everyone likes cooking by weight, but volume results will always be a little more variable (it just depends on how your flour is feeling that day, haha).
Another thing that might be going wrong is the dough temperature. It’s really important to make sure the dough is chilled before slicing through it, otherwise it’ll tend to crumble on you. But then (and here’s where ghraybeh become kind of a pain haha), you’ve got to let them come to room temperature once they’re sliced. I know this sounds kind of crazy and high maintenance, but I’ve tried it a bunch of times both ways, and for some reason they tend to crack when they go into the oven cold. But if you let them sit out for just a few minutes to soften, they don’t crack at all. Perhaps the first time you made them you were taking your time with a new recipe, and the second time you were in the zone and got them into the oven more efficiently? Or maybe it was a warmer day when you made them the first time, which would help them come to room temperature faster than a chilly day.
One last thing—ghraybeh are a little like macarons/meringues, in that they don’t love humidity. They’re not quite as finicky, but the sometimes tend to change texture and melt a tiny bit if it’s very humid once they come out of the oven. I just mention this because maybe it’s possible that humidity also affects the dough (although I’m guessing one of the above is more likely, and this is more speculative).
I really hope that helps nail down the problem, and sorry for writing a novel in response to your question haha. Let me know if any of these seem like they might be the problem, or let me know if you’re still not sure what’s up and I’ll keep brainstorming possible problems and solutions.
Thanks so much for this comprehensive response. I did indeed use a different brand of butter the second time––I added more to what dough remained and just baked them up, and they came out great. (And even the crumbly ones from the previous batch were still tasty!)
An unrelated question: have you ever tried making ghraybeh with coconut oil?
Ah that must explain it! These things can be so frustrating, and I’m so glad you got to the bottom of it! I’ve actually had that request a couple times and have been meaning to start experimenting with it. It’s such a great idea, because coconut oil has such a similar texture to clarified butter (and the flavor would be wonderful).
I’m in the middle of this giant dolma project right now, and am always craving something sweet when I’m taking a break from it, so I’ll move that to the top of my list and will hopefully come up with something good in the next couple months. Thanks again for the suggestion!
Can regular butter be used instead of clarified butter?
It’s really important to use clarified butter for ghraybeh, but there are a ton of other delicious shortbread that call for regular butter. I love Alison Roman’s chocolate chunk shortbread, and I’ve been meaning to try Hilda Sterner’s shakar lama, which are similar to ghraybeh but made with sweet cream (unclarified) butter: https://hildaskitchenblog.com/recipe/cardamom-shortbread-cookies-shakar-lama/
Is it possible to use the skimmed off butter solids for anything? Have you tried it?
Oh yes for sure! Don’t throw them out—they’re delicious! I usually salt them and spread them on toast, or sprinkle them on stovetop popcorn. If I’m clarifying butter for something with dairy in it, like spanakopita, I add the solids into the filling (and use the clarified butter for the filo). Basically, anywhere you’d like a little extra cheesy-buttery flavor.
Yum! Thank you!
Yay! You’re so welcome! Hope you enjoy 🙂
I’m obsessed with cardamom and most always use it in most cookie recipes. I never remembered the smell from childhood, how could my parents deprive me of such an amazing scent, but the first time I tried it on rice pudding I was hooked. Happy feasting.
Aw, this made me smile! So true, it’s wonderful on rice pudding <3