Warbat or Shaabiyat is a Middle Eastern dessert that's made of crunchy phyllo dough filled with a delicious thick cream, drenched in simple syrup. It's an impressive dessert that's so easy to make, using just a few ingredients!
What are Warbat?
Warbat are also referred to as "Shaabiyat" in certain regions of the Middle East are popular especially in the Levantine region. They are very similar to Baklava but are filled with a thick cream or custard, instead of nuts.
They become quite popular especially during the month of Ramadan, which is a time that many of us in the Middle East like to enjoy middle eastern desserts! Some of these desserts then become delicacies that are special to the holy month. Warbat is one of them!
Warbat is made up of three components:
- Phyllo dough. This is purchased ready made and really easy to work with.
- Ashta or thick cream. Ashta is used in many middle eastern desserts such as aish el saraya, mahalabia and znood el sit.
- Simple syrup, which is made of just sugar and water. Simple syrup is used for so many middle eastern desserts, especially phyllo based desserts like warbat, baklava and znoud el sit.
When you bite into warbat, you get very crucnh phyllo pastry and a luxurious tasting cream, along with a hit of sweetness. It's delicious!
Warbat are also an excellent beginner-friendly middle eastern dessert, because they are really easy to make. Let me show you the easiest way to make them!
Ingredients to Make This Recipe
Here are the ingredients you'll need:
- Use store-bough phyllo dough, which looks like the box in the photo below. It typically comes in a 454g package with 18-20 sheets. This recipes uses one package.
- To assemble the pastry, you'll need melted butter or ghee.
The Ashta Filling:
- Whole milk
- 35% whipping cream, per the photo below. You can also use half and half, to replace both the milk and the cream
- Cornstarch to thicken the ashta
- Sugar to lightly sweeten it, and;
- Rosewater or orange blossom water for the authentic flavour
The Simple Syrup:
- A squeeze of lemon juice, to avoid crystallization of the sugar, and
- Rosewater or orange blossom water
How To Make This Recipe, Step by Step
Step 1: Make the Simple Syrup
Simple syrup is extremely easy to make. All you have to do is add the sugar, water, and lemon juice to a sauce pan and place it on medium heat.
TIP: The lemon juice ensures that the sugar syrup does not crystallize, due to the acid's ability to break down sugar molecules into glucose and fructose, and prevent it from crystallization. It's also important to simmer for 10 minutes, as was proved here.
Once bubbling rapidly, lower the heat to medium low and simmer for exactly 10 minutes. Remove, add the rosewater, and set aside to cool down.
TIP: Ensure that the simple syrup fully cools down to room temperature when ready to be poured on top of the hot warbat. Cool syrup ensure that the baked phyllo pastry does not get soggy and remains crunchy, and it also ensure that the pastry absorbs the syrup.
Step 2: Make the Ashta Cream Filling
The Ashta needs to be made next, in order to have 30 minutes - 1 hour to set in the fridge. To start, add all the ingredients except the rosewater to a sauce pan and whisk well before putting it on the heat.
This ensures the corn starch dissolves well while the cream and milk are still cold.
Place the ashta on medium heat and continue to whisk it. Don't stop whisking as it cooks and thickens. If you stop whisking it, there is a risk that the bottom of the ashta will burn slightly.
Once thickened, place it in a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Make sure the plastic wrap is in contact with the surface of the ashta to avoid a film forming. Place in the fridge to cool for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Step 3: Melt the butter
Next, melt the butter. You can also use ghee instead. In order to get the most crispy warbat, I always prefer using clarified butter. It's very easy to make.
Simply start by melting the butter in a pot or in the microwave. Next, allow the butter to sit in a vessel like a measuring cup. You'll see that after about 10 minutes, a solid layer will start to form on top. Scoop that out with a spoon. These are milk solids.
You'll also notice that some of the milk solids will collect at the bottom. Simply make sure you use the butter fat only, and leave out these milk solids. You can do this by transferring the butter fat to a different bowl, tipping it over until you reach the bottom.
If this seems hard - don't worry. You can use the butter as-is too; I've tried it. But this additional step simply ensures the phyllo is extra crunchy and will help the crunch to last for days.
Step 4: Cut the Phyllo Pastry
Next is the fun part! Time to prepare the phyllo. It is typically sold frozen, so ensure it thaws in the fridge overnight, and take it out a couple of hours before using to get it to room temperature. Keep it in its package while it warms up on the counter.
Open up the phyllo pastry package and lay it flat. The easiest way to cut the phyllo is to do it before buttering the layers. Dry phyllo dough is much easier to cut precisely. Just work fast to avoid the dough drying out.
Most phyllo sheets come in a standard size of 16 inches by 12 inches. This means that we can achieve 12 perfect 4" by 4" squares. If you have different dimensions, the aim is to get even square pieces. Feel free to use a ruler or measuring tape.
Using a very sharp knife, cut the phyllo into 12 squares. In this recipe, I use all 18 sheets for one square. You can also double the amount of warbat pieces that you make by using only 8 sheets per piece. That means you'll have 24 pieces. You can do this by separating the phyllo sheets into two sets of 8, before cutting them into squares.
TIP: If you're serving a bigger crowd, I suggest you do this to ensure you make the most of one box of phyllo. However, if you want a smaller portion, use all the layers. This will result in a very delicious and super crispy final product. The more phyllo sheets the more crunch!
Step 5: Fill the Warbat and Bake!
The last step involves filling the phyllo squares with the cooled ashta from the fridge. Spoon roughly 1.5 to 2 tablespoons of the ashta into the centre of the square, placing it on a diagonal.
Next, fold over the squares into triangles, by bringing one corner over the ashta and on top of the opposite corner.
Place the triangles on a sheet pan, arranging them in a way where they form a big square. This ensures that the seams of the warbat are facing each other, and helps prevent the ashta from oozing out when baking.
Next, spoon the clarified butter over all the warbat triangles until they are completely soaked and the butter is used up. Don't be scared of the amount of butter! Use a pastry brush to ensure all corners are fully saturated with butter.
Bake the warbat in a 400F oven for roughly 25 minutes until golden brown. Ensure you give them another few minutes as required to get golden.
As soon as they are out of the oven, immediately pour over the simple syrup. Pouring the cold syrup on top of the hot pastry helps ensure the pastry absorbs the syrup and remains crunchy.
Garnish with chopped pistachios and serve!
How to Serve and Store Warbat
Warbat can be served either hot or cold, this depends on your preference. I personally prefer them hot out of the oven. I suggest serving them immediately.
However, they can also be made ahead by a few hours and served at room temperature. Just ensure that when doing this, you pour the simple syrup on top as soon as they are finished baking. Don't wait to do this step until later.
Warbat can be stored in the fridge, either uncovered or loosely covered with plastic wrap. They will remain crunchy in the fridge for 2-3 days.
To enjoy them, remove from the fridge and bring to room temperature to allow the ashta to warm up. Or you can warm them up piece by piece in the microwave to enjoy.
I don't recommend freeze them at all. They will likely become soggy once thawed.
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Warbat Bil Ashta (Cream Filled Phyllo Pastry)
For the Ashta Filling (see notes)
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups 35% whipping cream
- ¾ cup cornstarch (or 6 tablespoons if halving the recipe)
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon rosewater
For the Simple Syrup
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 squeeze lemon
- 1 tablespoon rosewater
For the Clarified Butter
- 1 ½ cups unsalted butter
- 18 sheets phyllo 450 grams
- 2 tablespoons crushed pistachios (garnish)
For the Simple Syrup
- In a pot, add the sugar, water and squeeze of lemon
- Mix and place on medium heat. Bring to a boil, then simmer on medium low heat for 10 minutes. Sugar should dissolve and you should end up with a clear sugar syrup. Remove from heat and allow it to cool at room temperature. If using rose water, add it in at this point.
For the Ashta Filling
- In a pot, add the whole milk, cream, sugar and corn starch. While everything is still cold, whisk well to incorporate the corn starch until dissolved
- Place the pot on the stove on medium high heat and continuously whisk for about 10 minutes until thickened. Don't stop mixing as the cream may burn at the bottom of the pot
- Once thickened, remove from heat, add the rosewater, mix and place in a dish covered with plastic wrap. Make sure the plastic wrap is in contact with the surface of the ashta to avoid creating a film. Place in the fridge to cool for 1 hour
For the Clarified Butter
- Place the butter in a pot over medium-low heat to melt or melt in the microwave
- Pour it into a measuring cup and allow it to sit for 5-10 minutes
- Scoop out the solids that form on the top, and strain out the white that collects at the bottom. You can do this by simply adding the butter to another bowl, and ensuring you don't pour in any of the white solids that collect at the bottom.
- The clarified butter is ready to use!
Assembling the Warbat
- Pre heat oven to 400F
- Unroll the phyllo sheets and using a ruler, cut them into 4x4 inch squares. This should result in 12 pieces (see notes)
- Scoop 1.5-2 tablespoons of the cooled ashta and place in the middle of the square, on a diagonal. Fold the phyllo over on the diagonal to form a triangle
- Place the triangles on a sheet pan and spoon over clarified butter until they are fully saturated and the butter reaches all the layers
- Bake for 25 minutes until golden brown. If needed bake for an additional minute or two to get that golden brown colour
- Remove and pour the cooled simple syrup immediately
- Garnish with crushed pistachios if desired
- Serve warm or refrigerate and serve cold (follow blog post storage directions)
- If you only want 12 pieces, using all the phyllo layers (16-20 depending on the package). However, if you want to make more pieces, split the layers in half and use 8 layers for each piece, forming 24 total pieces. The more layers the crunchier the warbat, but both methods will work well
- If you are using all phyllo sheets and making 12 pieces, you can halve the ashta recipe. If using 8 phyllo sheets and making 24 pieces, make the full batch of ashta.
- Make sure the simple syrup is completely cooled before pouring it on top of the baked warbat, to ensure they don't become soggy
- Serve warm, at room temperature or cold
- Store in the fridge very loosely covered with plastic wrap for 2-3 days