Book review: Middle Eastern Sweets by Salma Hage

02 September 2021 by
Book review: Middle Eastern Sweets by Salma Hage

Middle Eastern Sweets is a collection of classic recipes from Salma Hage's childhood in the mountains of the Kadisha Valley in north Lebanon. In this, her fourth book – following The Lebanese Kitchen, The Middle Eastern Vegetarian Cookbook and The Mezze Cookbook – Hage indulges her sweet tooth in 240 pages of sugar, orange blossom, rose water, cardamom and an abundance of nuts and spices.

The beautifully illustrated book covers all sugary bases, including cookies, pancakes, filo and dough, through to sweets, syrups and confectionery, as well as ice-cream, cakes, fruit, sweet breads, creams and puddings, and drinks.

Hage has a wonderful way of breaking down intimidating recipes into simple steps, such as kunafa, a popular dessert across the Middle East, which is made by encasing akawi cheese in vermicelli-like kataifi pastry drizzled in syrup. She offers alternatives to hard-to-come-by ingredients (switch akawi for mozzarella, she suggests) and, as someone who tried kunafa in Beirut a few years back and has scoured Lebanese restaurants in London for a decent replica ever since, this will be the first of many recipes I will be attempting.

Next will be ma'moul, Lebanese cookies stuffed with dates, pistachios or walnuts – the filling dictated by the pattern of the intricate traditional wooden moulds, which are featured proudly on the book's front cover.

Helpfully, the book uses icons to point readers to vegan, dairy-free, nut-free and gluten-free recipes, such as the gluten-free apricot semolina cake, and a rich dairy-free date cake made with Medjool dates and aquafaba. Hage even shares a recipe for a vegan kunafa, served with a crown of strawberries and orange zest.

Tahini makes a welcome addition to many of the pages, liberally added to brownies, cheesecake, truffles and ice-cream, while a labneh baked cheesecake takes a popular, often savoury ingredient, giving it a sweet twist.

For any chef who wants to try their hand at halva or perfect their baklava, this is for you.

Middle Eastern Sweets: Desserts, Pastries, Creams & Treats, by Salma Hage (Phaidon, £24.95)

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