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Graybeh (Lebanese Shortbread Cookies)

Clarified butter is essential to the melt-in-your-mouth texture of this classic Lebanese cookie, so resist any urge to use regular butter (clarified butter recipe below). Graybeh can be flavored several wonderful ways, with a few drops of rose water, a combination of rose and orange blossom, or with 2 teaspoons of dried ground lavender (my favorite, and so delicate combined with the orange blossom water). Try an anise flavor with a 1/2 teaspoon of anise extract or ground anise seed. Of course, a teaspoon of vanilla is also delicious. –Maureen Abood, author of Rose Water & Orange Blossoms: Fresh and Classic Recipes from my Lebanese Kitchen. 

Ingredients

Makes about two dozen cookies

  • 3/4 cup clarified butter, at room temperature (recipe below)
  • 1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon orange blossom water
  • 1 3/4cups plus up to 3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

For the clarified butter …

Makes 1 1/2 cups

  • 1 pound unsalted butter

Preparation

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two heavy sheet pans (not dark metal) with parchment paper. In an electric mixer beat the butter on high speed until it is very light and fluffy, like a lovely whipped cream, about 6 minutes. Add 3⁄4 cup of the confectioners’ sugar and the salt, and beat on high speed until the mixture is light and fluffy again, another 2 minutes. Turn the mixer off and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

With the mixer on low speed, add the orange blossom water or any flavoring you’d like to use.

Add the flour 1⁄2 cup at a time, watching for the dough to become crumbly and a bit dry, but still to hold together when squeezed. Add the additional flour if needed. If the dough is too soft, it will not hold its shape well when baked, so better to err on the side of drier, somewhat crumbly dough.

Working with the dough immediately (do not chill it, as counterintuitive as that may seem when working with butter dough), shape a quarter of the dough at a time into a compact, very narrow, flat-topped log about an inch wide and an inch tall; the dough, because of its dryness, needs to be pressed, inch by inch, into the log shape rather than rolled. It’s helpful to keep one hand pressing down on the log as you press the dough into the log with the other. Cut the log with a sharp knife on the diagonal to make 1- to 2-inch diamonds. The diamonds are rather small—about an inch tall and wide, and about 2 inches long—and need to be this size in order to bake properly. Use a spatula to transfer the diamonds to one of the prepared sheet pans and space them about 2 inches apart.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, rotating the pan front to back halfway through, until the cookies are very pale golden brown. Fill the second sheet pan with the diamonds and bake those when the first batch is done.

Sift half of the remaining 1⁄2 cup confectioners’ sugar over the cookies while they are still warm, and then again once they’ve cooled. Or, leave the cookies bare without confectioners’ sugar; they’re just as delicious. Store the cookies in an airtight container for up to one week.

For the clarified butter …

The skim and strain method: Warm the butter in a small saucepan over low heat, undisturbed, until it is completely melted. Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside to rest, still undisturbed, for 30 minutes. Most of the solids will have fallen to the bottom of the pan.

Use a spoon or small strainer to skim off and discard any solids that remain on the surface of the butter. Slowly pour the melted butter through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl, and stop pouring when you reach the solids at the bottom of the pan. There will be a teaspoon or so of melted butter surrounding the solids in the pan at this point; discard that with the solids.

The strained clarified butter is ready to use.

The chill and rinse method: Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat, and then pour it, along with the solids, into a bowl. Chill the bowl in the refrigerator until it is firm, at least three hours.

Once the butter is solid, run the bottom of the bowl under warm water to loosen the disk of butter, and then remove the disk and rinse the milky white solids off of the butter swiftly with warm water, patting the disk dry lightly with a clean cloth or paper towel.