Sunday, May 1, 2016

How to make Qatayif for Harun al-Rashid

From Annals of the Caliph's Kitchen,  c.1226, translated by Nawal Nasrallah:

For the batter:
Take 2 pounds of sifted fine samidh flour [high starch]. Also take four ounces yeast made from huwwara or samidh flour. Dissolve the yeast in water and remove any lumps. Add nine grams said, and three grams burn al-`ann [baking borax], both should be crushed and sifted.

Add the dissolved yeast along with some water to the flour, and knead the mixture well until it becomes smooth and free of any lumps. In consistency, it should be soft enough to the point if you were to pour some of it on a rukham [marble], it spreads.

Set the dough aside to ferment and put a mark for the height of the dough on kayl al-daqiq [container]. The batter is done fermenting when it puffs and rises about a finger's width above.

Heat a clean marble slab on the fire. When it is hot enough, ladle some of the fermented batter, and pour it onto the marble, the size is up to you. When it is done, take it away, and examine the back. If it looks too brown, reduce the fire.

Whenever you bake five pieces, wipe the marble with a piece of cloth. When you are done baking, cover the crepes with a clean damp cloth for about an hour and fill them with whatever you wish, God willing.

For the filling:

Choose fresh ripe walnuts whose shells can be easily rubbed off, and peel off their thin skins. Chop walnut with a knife, the way you chop fresh herbs. Take a similar amount of tabard sugar [white cane sugar], pound it, and mix it with the walnut. Sprinkle the mix with rose water of Jur, and mix and bind the mixture with almond oil.

Use this walnut mix to fill qatayif crepes [recipe above] Let each piece be as small as a morsel. Arrange them on a platter in attractively organized layers and pour freshly extracted almond oil on them. Sprinkle pounded sugar over and between the layers. Put the platter in a big wide bowl filled with ice, and present it, God willing.

My Redaction:

3.5 C bread flour
2 tsp yeast dissolved in 1 C warm water
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Mix dissolved yeast plus ~2 cups additional water with dry ingredients, getting it to the point of more liquid than solid (would definitely spread if put on a flat surface). Cover and allow to rise about 20%. Heat a non-stick pan on medium-high flame enough that water sprinkled on its surfaces steams instantly. Use a 1/3 cup measure to pour batter onto the pan and spread it around as evenly as possible by tilting the pan. When it appears to have set, flip with a motion of the wrist or with a spatula. Both sides should, like modern crepes, become firm and if possible slightly browned, although it is harder to achieve browning with this mixture. Makes about 9 crepes.


11 oz walnuts
8 oz sugar
2 tsp rose water
4 T sesame oil

Grind all together in a food processor, then spoon into crepes, perhaps 2 tbsp per crepe. Make a stack of crepes by alternating lines of them perpendicular to each other, log-cabin style. Sprinkle additional sesame oil and sugar on top and serve.


I didn't have almond oil available, hence the substitution of sesame oil, which the Caliph's kitchens would certainly also have had. The flavor combination seems to work well. The crepes are perhaps not as delicate as they could be, certainly compared with French-style crepes containing butter they lack a certain flexibility. Conceivably baker's borax would yield a different consistency, but I am inclined to think that baking powder is an effective leavening agent here.

Sadly, broad marble cooking slabs to place on a fire are less common than they were for the Caliph, but happily non-stick pans are a very convenient substitute.

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