Mabrousheh, The Streusel Jam Bars of the Levant
By: Blanche Shaheen/Arab America Contributing Writer
Childhood summers spent at my grandmother’s home in Bethlehem, Palestine meant playing among trees brimming with sun ripened fruit. I spent hours climbing trees, observing busy fire ants, kicking a ball around with my sister, and feeding the chirping baby chicks my grandmother bought us from the market. We were surrounded by trees bursting with juicy lavender mulberries, blushing apricots, and wine colored figs. Vines hung overhead dripping with green grapes, providing shade from the hot Mediterranean sun. I never had to ask for a snack when hungry, for all I had to do was climb trees and stuff my face with nature’s fruit salad until I felt like my stomach would explode.
I loved my grandmother’s rituals involving the fruits. She would drop tons of apricots and sugar into a massive black cauldron, patiently stirring until jam with a brilliant shade of sunset orange would emerge, ready for canning to enjoy all winter long. All of her desserts were homemade. Whether she pressed and dehydrated the grapes to make a mildly sweet fruit leather, or bake one of my favorite bars of all time, Mabrousheh made with that apricot jam.
Mabrousheh are the Arab answer to streusel bars, which are very similar to the shortbread or crumble bars you find in the west. The base is like a buttery and chewy shortbread, covered with a thick layer of jam. Then more of the dough is grated on top to form a streusel. As a matter of fact the word Mabrousheh means “to grate,” alluding to the grated topping.
The most common style of Mabrousheh is filled with apricots, enhanced with the zest of oranges or lemons in the batter. I decided to hold onto the farm-to-table spirit of my grandmother, instead making this dessert with figs as I have a massive fig harvest from my garden. In this way I create my own family ritual, incorporating the recipes passed down to me.
I have also made a couple of modern modifications to the recipe, which you can choose to use, or not depending on your dietary preferences. My changes reduce the saturated fat and add more filling protein, without sacrificing flavor.
My first modification reduces the amount of saturated fat. Many mabrousheh recipes use 2 sticks of butter. I got rid of one stick, and substituted 1/2 cup almond butter instead. I find using nut butter instead of actual butter in baked goods retains the creamy richness, while adding filling fiber and protein. My second modification adds more filling protein, which I do by reducing the amount of flour by using milk powder instead. The milk powder adds 16 grams of satiating protein to these bars, which is great when packing these bars in kids lunches as a snack.
So, whether you want to make these bars the traditional way, or with a higher protein, lower saturated fat method, I have provided both versions in the instructions below. To see the visual technique, click on the video below:
- 2 Eggs
- 1 cinnamon (use 1 tbsp orange zest if using apricot jam)
- 1 tsp Vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup coconut or regular sugar
- ½ cup or 1 stick unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
- ½ cup almond, sunflower, or cashew butter
- 2 cups flour (use 2 ½ cups flour if you want to omit the milk powder)
- ½ cup milk powder
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 2 cups Fruit jam (I am using fig, but you can use apricot or any jam you prefer)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Beat the eggs first. Then blend in the sugar, butters, cinnamon, vanilla, eggs, and optional orange zest until creamy. Then, slowly add the milk powder, flour and baking powder and mix and blend until just mixed, do not overmix.
- Use ⅔ of the dough for the base, and use ⅓ of the dough for the topping. You can also divide the dough 50/50 if you want thicker bars (for this option I suggest using an 8 by 8 baking pan) For the topping, you can freeze the dough for 30 minutes, then grate it on top, or you can break it into pieces by hand.
- Spread the base dough into a layer on the bottom of a 9 by 13 baking pan. Spread the jam evenly on top. Grate the rest of the frozen dough over the top, or break it into small pieces by hand to cover the top to create a streusel.
- Bake in the middle rack of the the oven for 20 minutes, then place on the top rack to brown for another 10 minutes. Makes 24 bars
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/