As I’ve already mentioned, one benefit of my knock-down, drag-out hummus competition was that it required several trips to Atlantic Avenue’s Middle Eastern food shops. At Sahadi’s I slowly wandered among the imported, exotic foodstuffs. I also spent some quality time ogling the piles of pita bread, cookies, and sweets at the Syrian Damascus Bread and Pastry Shop.
Of course I never left either store empty-handed. But let’s concentrate on my visits to Damascus, where I bought sweet, sticky baklava, in both walnut and pistachio varieties. Intricate bird’s nest pastries currently await me in a white paper bag on my kitchen counter, almost too pretty to eat. I stocked up on light, airy, white and whole-wheat pita bread. I also purchased an unfamiliar shortbread cookie that I couldn’t bring myself to save for later: gorayba.
I knew I had to try these bracelet-shaped butter cookies from the moment I saw them behind the glass display case at the pastry shop. They practically begged me to buy them, bring them home, and enjoy them with a hot cup of tea.
Gorayba are usually defined as Arabic cardamom shortbread cookies, made on special occasions and found throughout the Middle East. Sometimes almonds or pistachios are placed at the intersection where the two ends of dough meet. According to Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, it’s important not to overcook the gorayba (also spelled ghorayebah). They must remain quite white in color, because their flavor changes greatly if they even slightly brown.
Some recipes say that the addition of cardamom is optional; I’m not sure I tasted it in the cookies I recently bought. Roden’s book also suggests hazelnut, nutmeg, and cinnamon variations. In any case, these cookies are memorable for their buttery, slightly sweet simplicity. Jim says his Greek grandmother used to make a similar cookie called koulourakia, but we have to investigate this more fully. And I have to make another trip to the Damascus Bread and Pastry Shop, as I’ve eaten all of my gorayba.
Damascus Bread and Pastry Shop, 195 Atlantic Avenue, between Court and Clinton Streets, in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. T: 718-625-7070