Halawat El Jibn – Sweet cheese rolls

Rolls of soft, sweet cheese dough get stuffed with clotted cream and adorned with pistachios and rose petal jam in this delectable Arabic dessert.

The recipe for the sweet cheese dough comes from Cleobuttera, an Egyptian food blogger with expertise in Middle Eastern sweets. I included my own recipe for the fresh ishta, or clotted cream. The quantities can be halved.

Makes about 60 pieces.

2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water
A squeeze of lemon juice (about ½ teaspoon)
¾ tsp orange blossom water
¾ tsp rose water

Cheese rolls
1 cup water
½ cup sugar
1 cup fine semolina
2 cups (10 oz) mozzarella cheese, shredded (*see note)
2 Tbsp rose water

3 cups full fat milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/8 tsp crushed mastic gum (see note)
1 tbsp & 1 tsp sugar
1 ½ tsp orange blossom water
3 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice

Pistachios, ground
Rose petal jam

Sugar syrup (can be made up to a week in advance): In a small saucepan, com
bine sugar, water and lemon juice. Over medium-high heat, bring to a rolling boil, then immediately reduce heat to low and let it simmer for 10 minutes. The mixture will thicken to a consistency similar to pancake syrup. If it simmers for longer it could thicken too much to be pourable.

Stir in the orange blossom and rose water.

Transfer to a serving bowl and allow to cool to room temperature.

Ishta: In a heavy-bottom pot, add the milk, cream, gum, sugar and orange blossom water. Heat to 80 C (190 F), stirring occasionally, scraping the sides and bottom, to make sure nothing sticks. Remove from heat.

Add lemon juice. Stir once or twice gently. Let the pot sit undisturbed for 5 to 7 minutes.

Line a fine sieve with coffee filters. I separate them and overlap them so there aren’t any gaps. Use a slotted spoon to scoop out the milk curds, until all that’s left is semi-clear liquid. Cover with more coffee filters and let the ishta filter for an hour and 10 minutes.

When it’s ready, it’ll be a nice, thick, spreadable cream.

Note: Mastic gum is the hardened sap of the mastic tree and resembles hard little rocks. For best results, place the amount needed in the freezer for at least an hour (it can also be stored there) and crush with a mortar and pestle or a food processor. Use sparingly to add just a hint of the flavor to the cream.

Cheese rolls: In a saucepan over medium-high heat, heat water and sugar, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil, then add semolina, stirring constantly with a spatula until well combined and slightly thickened, about 30 seconds.

Turn heat down to medium, add cheese and rose water and stir well until the cheese melts and the mixture forms a soft, cohesive dough. Allow to cool briefly until the dough is warm enough to handle.

Divide dough in half; cover and reserve half. Turn out the other half onto a sheet of plastic wrap and cover with another sheet. Roll out dough between the sheets of plastic wrap into a roughly 9-by-13-inch rectangle. Remove the top sheet of plastic. Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, trim dough to form a rectangle.

Fill a piping bag with the ishta and snip 1 inch off the tip. Start piping on the long side closest to you, leaving a 1 inch border. Alternatively, spoon the ishta on the dough and spread with the back of the spoon or a spatula.

Using the plastic wrap under the dough, lift dough and roll it over the cream just until the filling is completely covered and the roll looks like a thin log. Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, make a cut alongside the log to slice it off from the rest of the dough. Repeat this process to make two more logs.

Using a sharp knife or bench scraper, slice the logs into 1.75-inch pieces. You should have about 30 pieces.

Repeat with the other half of the dough.

Arrange rolls on serving platter, sprinkle with ground pistachio in the center and top with rose petal jam.

Serve with syrup on the side, drizzling each piece with syrup before eating.

Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator.

Note: Authentic recipes for Halawet El Jibn calls for Arabic cheeses like Akkawi and Majdoola instead of mozzarella. I’ve opted for mozzarella here because of its wide accessibility, low salt content and the great results. If you’d prefer to use Akkawi and Majdoola, use 1 cup of each, slice them and cover them with warm water in a bowl. Let them soak for 30 minutes, then drain. Taste; if still salty, repeat the process until all the salt has been removed. Using your hands, squeeze cheese to remove any excess moisture.

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