Friday, November 06, 2009

WHB #208 - Mahlab shortbread

To celebrate 4 years of Weekend Herb Blogging I'd thought I'd try to find something I hadn't used before and the solution came in the form of Mahlab

mahlab© by Haalo

You may well be asking "What is Mahlab?"

mahlab© by Haalo

When you crack open the stone of the St Lucie Cherry (a sour cherry) the tiny seeds found inside are dried to form the spice known as Mahlab. The first thing you'll notice when you come into contact with Mahlab is a rather unique aroma which I've found terribly hard to pin down.

It is strong, a bit bitter, a bit resinous, somewhat sweet and sour with hints of almond and cherry. Because it is a powerful spice, it is used sparingly as a flavouring for many traditional Greek, Cypriot and middle eastern dishes.

I've decided to use the mahlab in traditional shortbread biscuits (cookies) as a replacement for the usual suspect, vanilla. There's also the addition of the finely grated rind of an orange to give it almost christmas-y feel.

mahlab shortbread© by Haalo

Mahlab Shortbread

200 grams plain flour
100 grams rice flour
200 grams butter, cut into cubes and softened
100 grams caster sugar
grated rind of 1 orange

When the word sparingly is used in relation to mahlab, it really means just that.


I've taken a few seeds and crushed them in my mortar to form a fine powder - you could use a spice grinder or you can also purchase ground mahlab but be aware that pre-ground spices will not have the potency of those that are freshly ground.

Place the butter and sugar into bowl and beat until light and creamy and the sugar has been absorbed. Sprinkle in the finely grated orange rind and the ground mahlab and beat until incorporated.

Double sift the flour and rice flour together and then add to the creamy butter mixture. Beat at the slowest speed until just combined.

Tumble the mixture onto a lightly flour board and press together to form a dough. Divide into two.

Take a sheet of baking paper and form a rough sausage shape with the dough - roll the sheet around this and twist the ends to form a tight roll. Repeat with the other half. Place in the fridge until firm.


When ready to cook, remove the dough from the paper and cut into even slices - about ½cm thick. Lay these onto a baking paper lined tray and bake at 150°C/300°F until firm and just starting to colour.

Let them rest for a few minutes before moving to a rack to cool. For these shortbreads, I've decorated each with silver cachous before going into the oven - you can leave them plain.

mahlab shortbread© by Haalo

I've served these as a companion to an orange flower water panna cotta topped with macerated strawberries.

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  1. I've seen this in a ground form sold from Penzeys and the Spice House, but never had any idea how it was used, very interesting!

  2. I love the flavour of mahlepi, it pairs perfectly with mastiha, too.
    The shortbread-pannacotta combo sounds excellent!

  3. you always manage to find such interesting ingredients - this sounds amazing - I am very curious to taste it now - but meanwhile love looking at your photos

  4. Thanks Johanna - you can find this at Essential Ingredient or Peter Watson

    Thanks Heart, maybe a mastic pannacotta with mahlab shortbread?

    Thanks Kalyn

  5. mastic pannacotta sounds delicious!

  6. I actually posted about mastic pannacotta in the past and maybe it's time I made it again

  7. aha! thanks for the link haalo (can i just point out a tiny slip? the word Chios in your post changed into Chois in the recipe) I'd love to make it, you'd have to make tsoureki, too, definately worth it:)

  8. Thanks for that, all fixed now. I will add tsoureki onto my list of things to make.

  9. As a Coloradan, I made these with cannabutter and they turned out fabulous <(‾◡◝ )>


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