Halawet El Jibn- Sweet Syrian Cheese Rolls
By: Blanche Shaheen/Arab America Contributing Writer
It all began in the 1870s with a sweets vendor in Hama Syria. The patriarch of the Salloura family figured out a way to make sweet cheese pancakes rolled around sweet cream, called Halawet El Jibn, which in Arabic means “sweetness of the cheese.” The cheese rolls were scented with rose or orange blossom, then doused with a simple syrup and crushed pistachios. Just like the ice cream trucks in the west, this Salloura street vendor had lines of Syrians eagerly awaiting for their own portion of this unusual treat.
The Sallouras became so renowned for this dessert, that the family members all worked together to hone their pastry making craft, opening a store that also sold other delicacies like kunafa and “warbat al ishta.” Fast forward into the 20th century, and the Salloura name has become synonymous with dessert all throughout Syria, as the family continued to spread their skills into new towns like Homs and Aleppo. One hundred and fifty years later, the people of Syria and Egypt get to enjoy the sweets of the Salloura family, from baklava and maamoul, to kunafa and their iconic halawet el jibn.
Of course I was curious to try this sweet from the original pastry makers, but sadly upon checking the Salloura Syrian Sweets website, I learned they do not ship their sweets all the way to California. So I did what I have done for many other unattainable recipes. I researched methods and techniques, and after many failed batches in the garbage, I came up with a recipe I could be happy with eating and sharing. Fortunately I am surrounded by taste testers eager to try even my failed attempts.
Now that I have learned how to make Halawet El Jibn, I am excited to share this original recipe with you. You too can now whip up a batch of this delicacy with surprisingly easy to find ingredients. While the recipe is pretty straightforward, the technique really requires a visual explanation, so click on my video below to see exactly how it’s done.
HALAWET EL JIBN
- 1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream
- 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar
- Optional flavoring of your choice such rose or orange blossom water, vanilla
- 1 cup whole milk
- ⅓ cup semolina
- ⅓ cup sugar
- 2 cups shredded fresh mozzarella cheese
- 2 tbsp crushed pistachios
ATAR (SUGAR SYRUP)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 1 tsp rose water (optional)
In a saucepan, off the heat, whisk the whipping cream, flour, cornstarch and sugar. Stir until well combined and the flour and cornstarch have dissolved completely with no lumps. Set the saucepan over medium-high heat and cook, whisking constantly until the mixture forms large bubbles over the surface and reaches a full boil. Continue to cook for about 1 more minute, until the mixture becomes thick. Add in any extract (whether vanilla or rose water) or leave plain. Pour into a bowl and press plastic wrap directly on the surface, and refrigerate until cold and somewhat firm, about 2 hours or up to 3 days. Once you are ready to fill the halawet jibn, you can stir with a spoon to loosen up before using.
To make the atar, or sugar syrup, add the sugar and water to a saucepan over medium high heat until it boils. Then reduce heat to a simmer and boil for about 5 minutes until thicker. Add the lemon juice, optional rose water, and set aside.
In the meantime, you can work on the cheese rolls. In a saucepan off heat, whisk together the milk, sugar, and semolina. Then put over medium heat and cook until the mixture thickens like a cream of wheat. At this stage, add the shredded mozzarella, and whisk rapidly until the cheese melts. Have some parchment paper ready on a flat surface.
Put the mozzarella semolina mixture on the parchment paper while still warm. Add another sheet on top, and roll out until about ½ inch thick into a large rectangle. After the ashta has been set, remove from the refrigerator, and put ⅓ of the mixture in a line along one side of the cheese roll, then fold over twice like a burrito. Cut the roll with a knife, and repeat the same thing 2 more times. You should get three rolls. Then cut each roll into 6 pieces. Drizzle with the sweet syrup or atar, and sprinkle with the pistachios, then serve.
Blanche Shaheen is the author of the cookbook called “Feast In the Middle East, a Journey of Family and Cuisine” which you can order here: https://secure.mybookorders.com/mbo_index.php?isbn=9781545675113 She is also a journalist, and host of the popular cooking show called Feast in the Middle East. She specializes in Arab cuisine of the Levant and beyond. You can check out her cooking video tutorials at https://www.youtube.com/user/blanchetv Her recipes can also be found at: https://feastinthemiddleeast.wordpress.com/