Shahrouk Sisters’ Lebanese Jam Crescents
Growing up our mother used to spend hours and hours in the kitchen (with our help) preparing hundreds of these delicious treats at the end of Ramadan in preparation for our Eid celebrations. The smell in the kitchen of our childhood still lingers in our own households today. Some people say they know exactly what Christmas smells like. Maybe it’s the smell of mince pies or Christmas cake. For us, the scent of these lovely treats summons up the end of Ramadan and our Eid celebrations.
Eid is the Arabic word for feast or festival and Eid al-Fitr literally means the feast of breaking the fast. Two to three days celebration marks the end of the month of Ramadan when we have been fasting and focussing on the Quran being revealed to Prophet Muhammad. After a month of fasting, we celebrate the gift of strength and endurance which Allah gives us. It is also a special time to forgive and to ask for forgiveness and a time for charity and sharing of your wealth. There are special morning prayers and we greet each other with ‘Eid Mubarak’ which means ‘Blessed Eid’. We decorate our homes with lanterns, sparkling lights and flowers, and we invite friends and family over to celebrate with us and serve special food including special sweet dishes like these bite-sized jam crescents. Gifts are given to children and to those in need and food is shared with those who have less so that Eid is a time of joy and blessing for the entire Muslim community.
In countries with large Muslim populations, Eid is a national holiday and schools, offices and businesses close so that family, friends and neighbours can be together. In Australia and places like the UK, the USA and Europe, Muslims usually request the day off or take a day’s holiday. Our parents grew up in Lebanon with what you could call a cultural understanding of Islam. We have grown up with a more studied understanding of Islam. Either way, spiritual reflection, rejoicing and charity are the three most important things about Eid al-Fitr.
And the smell of these little jam crescents conjures up all this for us.
It was our Aunty Ibtihaj, one of my dad’s sisters, who taught our family and the whole village how to make these easy, to-die-for jam crescents.
When we say the whole village, we don’t just mean the village of Bakhoun in the north of Lebanon where our parents’ and grandparents’ families came from. We also mean the ‘village’ community that grew up here in Sydney when many people from Bakhoun fled the civil war that made Lebanon such a dangerous place to be between 1975 and 1990. It’s estimated that around 120,000 people died over those 15 years. Nearly one million people fled and were given refuge around the world and our family and many people from Bakhoun were part of that exodus. Given Lebanon’s population was not much more than 2.5million, those numbers are huge. Growing up in the safety of Sydney and bringing our own families up here, it’s hard to imagine the terror our grandparents must have experienced.
We inherited family stories and were taught so many life-skills whilst making those jam crescents – skills we still use today and try to share with our children. Cooking skills and lessons about life; about strength, resilience and hope; about the meaning of Ramadan and of Eid, and of family and community. Australia’s Indigenous women might call it ‘secret women’s business’ and it was definitely a sharing of our aunt and mother’s experience and what our family had endured to start a new life in Australia.
Somehow the process and rhythm of making these sweet treats was like the rhythm of life; lots of little steps that could be undertaken with patience and with love: the forming of dough balls; the rolling; the cutting; the filling; the shaping; the baking….and the grand finale: the dusting with icing sugar.
These sweet treats are not only beautiful to eat and to make but they also have a special significant place and role on our Eid tables. The crescents represent the crescent of the moon at the start and end of the month Ramadan. Ramadan starts with the sighting of a new moon and ends with the beginning of a new moon so the crescents signify the beginning and end of Ramadan and everyone knows they are a special symbol of the holy month.
Our mother uses only homemade jam that she makes throughout the year using apricots, mixed berries and strawberries when they are in season and in abundance. We have sneakily taken some shortcuts and when we are time-poor, we either beg some jars from our mothers pantry or when we are really time short, we even use store-bought jam. For the marathon lovers, homemade jam really is a must but if you are a sprinter, you can easily use mass-produced jam. Other popular fillings are dates, Nutella and preserved figs. The beauty of this biscuit is that you can make it your own by tweaking the filling. We’ve even heard of some cooks using Turkish Delight. #yummy!
Our family favourite is still Jam – probably because it holds so many memories from our childhood and making them with our mother and our aunt. Give them a go and whether you are Muslim or not, start a little tradition with your own family. They’d be perfect at Christmas too.
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Mix together flour, butter and sour cream in a food processor until dough forms a ball. Remove dough from food processor and divide into 8 even balls. An easy way is to flatten the ball of dough slightly and cut as you would a pizza to ensure even size into 8 pieces. Roll out dough like a pizza base and use a pizza cutter or knife to cut into 8 triangle pieces. (Note – The beauty of this is that you can use the dough straightaway as it doesn’t need resting time.)
Put a spoon of jam at the wider end of the triangular ‘pizza slice’ and roll pressing firmly on the edges so the jam doesn’t seep out during the cooking process.
Bake at 190- 200 degrees for approx 15 minutes – until the dough is cooked but not brown.
Remove from the oven, place on a cooling rack and dust generously with icing sugar. If you dust with icing sugar while they are still warm the icing melts a little and binds to the crescents.
Store in airtight container for approximately 3 weeks.
WARNING – once you start eating you can’t stop at one – they are so light and delicious.