Iraqi sweet rolls (Shubbak el-habayeb)

November 8, 2011  •  Category: ,

Another recipe dug up from Nawal Nasrallah’s Delights from the Garden of Eden. The name of these rolls is chureck, a Persian name meaning wheel. These rolls can be served plain or stuffed (with cheese or date paste). This particular one is called lover’s windows (shubbak el-habayeb).

I adapted Mrs. Nasrallah’s recipe by reducing the quantities listed (she calls for 10 cups of flour) and increasing the rising time. I wanted the bread to be more like a brioche with a billowy and soft interior.

These sweet breads give out  the sweet and intoxicating aromas of cardamom and mahlab (as well as rose water and orange blossom); mahlab is sold online and at all Middle-Eastern or Greek markets. I recommend to get the seeds and grind them as needed in a coffee grinder.

These rolls go well with a slice of white cheese, be it goat cheese or mozzarella.

INGREDIENTS: 4 large loaves

  • 1 cup milk (I used evaporated milk)+ 1/2 cup of milk or orange juice
  • 1/4 cup oil or melted butter
  • 3/4 cup of sugar (+1 tsp to activate the yeast)
  • 4 egg yolks (original recipe calls for 1 whole egg)
  • 1/2 tsp of rose water, 1/2 tsp of orange blossom water (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp of cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp of mahleb
  • 1 tbsp of dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup of warm water
  • 5 cups of all-purpose flour (unbleached preferably)
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • 1 egg beaten to shine the pastries (with a teaspoon of water)
  • 1/2 cup of toasted sesame and (or) nigella seeds (original recipe calls for sesame seeds only)



  1. Place the milk, sugar and oil in a saucepan; stir from time to time to dissolve the sugar and scald the milk; turn off the heat and keep warm.
  2. Place the warm water in a small bowl, add the dry yeast and sugar and stir to dissolve; cover and let it proof about 12 minutes.
  3. Beat the yolks in a bowl with the additional milk or orange juice,  add the warm milk mixture as well as the rose and orange blossom water.
  4. Combine the flour, salt, mahlab and cardamom in a mixing bowl; add the proofed yeast and the egg mixture; mix the dough for at least 5 minutes. It will be sticky; transfer it to a bowl or a large plastic bag and let it rise overnight in the fridge or cover it and let it rise in a warm place for at least 2 hours.
  5. Divide the dough into 4 pieces; line baking sheets with parchment paper and taking one piece at a time, pat them with your fingers to produce the shape of a rectangle, about 10 inches long. Cut 4 slits on each corner with a knife and open them up with your fingers into the shape of “windows”. Let the rolls rest for 30 minutes or longer and right before baking, brush them with the egg yolk mixture and sprinkle them with sesame seeds.
  6. Bake in a 375F oven for about 15-20 minutes or until golden and dry. Serve warm or at room temperature.

NOTE: Orange blossom water is used a lot in Lebanese cuisine and not so much in Iraqi cuisine which favors rose water. I like them both so I used them both.


24 Comments  •  Comments Feed

  1. Joseph Hayes says:

    Thank you for this continuously fascinating and surprising blog. I’m constantly learning new things from you.

  2. Rosa says:

    Magnificent! Those must taste really good.



  3. Banana Wonder says:

    You had me with just the sesame seeds alone. Can you send a lovers roll down to Oregon?

  4. Belinda @zomppa says:

    So soft…and orange blossom! Anything with that is a treat.

  5. Priya says:

    With those sesame and nigella seeds, sweet rolls looks excellent and fascinating..

  6. Steve @ HPD says:

    orange + cardamom is the bomb!

  7. Nuts about food says:

    What a romantic name for a bread…

  8. Peter says:

    I love the fougasse look of these and they are so light & airy inside!

  9. Nadji says:

    Je hume d’ici les odeurs et je devine les saveurs.
    A faire impérativement.
    A très bientôt

  10. Cherine says:

    Those look absolutely delicious.

  11. Trix says:

    These look gorgeous – and very, very dangerous, esp if filled with cheese! I would be a carb-loaded goner in their presence.

  12. Nawal Nasrallah says:

    That is beautiful Joumana! I like the way you play with the recipes to suit your taste. Lately I have been adding a little of saffron to the dough, too. I add it to the liquids before incorporating them into the dough so that saffron releases all its beauty and magic. Besides the aroma, it gives the dough a lovely golden hue. Try it next time you make churek.

    • Joumana says:

      @Nawal: Gee thanks Nawal; I just bought some saffron to make a Persian rice and never think to add it to bread! btw, your book is such an Ali-Baba’s cave of interesting recipes and titbits, I am going to be cooking from it for a long long time! 🙂

  13. Erica says:

    That bread looks amazing and sounds delicious! You have wonderful recipes….I just love coming to your blog 🙂

  14. domi says:

    Pour ton savoir faire en pâtisserie et tes belles réalisations, on devrait en prendre de la ” graine “…bisous et bon jeudi

  15. Devaki says:

    What incredible texture Joumana – I was sitting on the floght next to wonderful Iraqi woman and she offered me these lovely date filled rolls and I told her about you and your lovely cooking and how much I am learning about thee flavors from you :))

    chow! Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

    PS – Pie crust is a piece of cake for you darling! so make that sweet potato pie and think of me when you take a bite!

  16. Susan says:

    These rolls look so delicious! I love all of those lovely seeds. I wish I had one with my tea this afternoon!

  17. Heavenly Housewife says:

    Right now I feel so hungry and these beautiful rolls are just killing me. THere is nothing I love more than fresh baked goods… well… maybe my husband… maybe LOL
    *kisses* HH

  18. Melanie@MelanieCooks says:

    Nice roll! The shape reminds me of a pretzel, even though it’s nothing like a pretzel 🙂

  19. Mira says:

    Hi Joumana, I’ve been following your blog for quite a while now. Everything u make looks amazing!! I’m going to give the Churek a try over this weekend.
    I noticed u like drinking turkish coffee as it is makes it’s way to most of your sweets photos. I would love to send you a sample of our Black Goat Turkush coffee, made in California. Please send me your address to my email so I can get u a sample and I would love to hear what u think of it.

  20. Mely says:

    Thanks a lot for adding a little bit of history about the recipe. I love learning the background of a dish. We also used orange blossom flower for some of our sweet breads .


  21. nadia says:

    i love this but its actually called {churak} and {Shubbak el-habayeb} is a totally different recipe 🙂

  22. Nawal Nasrallah says:

    I have just seen your comment on the Iraqi churek, I notice it has been awhile, but better late than never. The lover’s window you have in mind is a totally different thing, as you say. It is made with thin pancake-like batter. A special ornamental metal mold with holes is used, it has a long handle. This mold is dipped in the batter and then deep fried. After that it is dipped in syrup or sprinkled with super fine sugar. Very light and delicate, almost lace-like.

    Now to my churek, Churek is the general name for this pastry, but the wheel-like churek in particular has inspired names like sukkan (steering wheel) and my favorite shubbak il-habayib (lovers’ window). It is not unusual to call two dishes by the same name. What comes to my mind at the moment is the Iraqi eggplant musaqqa’a, which may designate fried slices of eggplant smothered in yogurt-garlic sauce but also casserole of fried slices of eggplant layered with slices of onion, pepper, and tomatoes, simmered in tomato sauce.

Add a Comment