Food & Culture

A guide to Middle Eastern sweets

Know your baklawa from your basma with our guide to Middle Eastern sweets.

By Harriet Davidson
Middle Eastern sweets
Loaded with nuts and doused in syrups, the pastries of the Middle East are renowned for their crunch and fragrance. Know your baklawa from your basma with our guide to Middle Eastern sweets. Sticky fingers ahoy.

1. Kol wa shkor

/ kolsh-kor /
Often served on special occasions, and traditionally made with layers of fillo pastry wrapped around ground cashew, kol wa shkor, translates as "eat and be thankful". It's made with much less sugar than regular baklava, with orange blossom syrup bringing the sweetness.

2. Ladies' fingers

/ lay-deez fin-gers /
There are a number of variations of this finger-shaped baklava. Greece and Cyprus, for instance, have daktyla, a deep-fried version filled with almonds, cinnamon and sugar. In Lebanon they're called znoud el-sit and are filled with ashta, an Arabic clotted cream.

3. Ma'amoul

/ ma-mool /
Pressed by hand in a wooden mould, the ma'amoul, which means stuffed in Arabic, differs depending on the time of year or the celebration. Date paste is the most common filling for this biscuit, though nuts may make an appearance at the end of fasting or on festive occasions.

4. Baklawa

/ bak-la-wah /
A Middle Eastern classic, this pastry has many variations, whether its in the nuts used (pistachio nuts, walnuts or almonds) or its shape, be it diamond, cigar or floret. Making, and eating, this pistachio baklawa is pure joy.

5. Osh el bulbul

/ ush-el-bul-bul /
Osh el bulbul gets its name from the Arabic for bird's nest, after the shape of the pastry. The nest is filled with pistachio or pine nuts then baked and doused in syrup.

6. Basma

/ bas-mah /
Fragrant with orange blossom water, the basma is made with knafeh pastry that has been dried, crushed and then bound together. A sticky layer of crushed cashew, pistachio or pine nuts sits between the two layers of knafeh.

7. Balurie

/ bal-law-ri-yeh /
The vermicelli-like texture of balurie comes from shredded fillo pastry. These crunchy threads sandwich roughly chopped pistachio nuts in rosewater syrup. The word balurie means glow, per the colour of the knafeh.

8. Burma

/ bur-mah /
Burma comprise a thick layer of knafeh dough twisted around chopped pistachio, pine and cashew nuts. Golden and chewy, they'll often be the first things to disappear from a plate of pastries.

Where to find Middle Eastern sweets

Sooo Sweet 6/7 254 Kingston Rd, Slacks Creek, Qld, (07) 3209 1100, sooosweet.com.au.
Balha's Pastry 761 Sydney Rd, Brunswick, Vic, (03) 9383 3944, balhaspastry.com.au.
Adelaide Lebanese Bakery 67 Chapel St, Thebarton, SA, (08) 8234 9545, adelaidelebanesebakery.com.au.
Little Lebanon Café 13a Wanneroo Road, Joondanna, WA, (08) 9444 1913, littlelebanon.com.au.
Abla's Pastries 48 Railway Pde, Granville, NSW, (02) 9637 8092, ablaspastries.com.au.