What are znoud el-sit?
Znoud el-sit could be translated to “lady’s upper arms”. They are rolls of phyllo dough, stuffed with milk cream then fried. Finally, they are dipped in sugar syrup, flavored with blossom water before being sprinkled with crushed pistachios.
It is a very popular pastry in the Middle East, it can be found in Arab countries, Iran, Turkey but also in Greece and the Balkans. Znoud el-sit are among the famous baklavas served during the month of Ramadan.
How to make znoud el-sit?
The preparation of znoud el-sit begins with making the syrup. A mixture of sugar, water and lemon juice is boiled to get a concentrated liquid. Flower water, usually rose or orange blossom water or a mixture of the two is then added and the syrup is allowed to cool completely.
The filling cream is prepared separately from a mixture of milk, starch, Arabic gum and semolina. While cooking, this mixture should form a smooth cream. It must also be cold before it can be used and has to be stirred from time to time to prevent it from drying out. In Lebanon, this cream is called ashta.
The making of znoud el-sit begins with the cutting of 11×3 inches strips of phyllo dough. These strips will be crossed and stuffed with cream, then folded and rolled. The “cigars” thus formed should rest for half an hour before being fried in hot oil.
As soon as they are golden brown, they must be quickly drained and immediately immersed in the syrup. They must then be drained again, sprinkled with roasted pistachios and crushed directly into the serving dish.
What is the origin of znoud el-sit?
The name znoud el-sit could come from the similarity between the shape of these baklava and that of a woman’s arms. These pastries are extremely popular in the Middle East in their current form. They are said to have originated in Lebanon and Syria.
In Beirut, they are mainly found during the month of Ramadan.
In Iraq, they are also savored on this occasion and are an excellent accompaniment to coffee or tea.
The origin of znoud el-sit could go back to the pre-Ottoman period.
One theory is that these pastries could be linked to the puffed breads of the peoples of Central Asia.
A second one brings them closer to the placenta, a Roman cake found in Byzantine cuisine and stuffed with cheese and honey.
Finally, a third theory links them with the Persian lauzinaq.
In any case, the current form of znoud el-sit and all the different baklava is attested under the Ottoman Empire where Sultan Mehmet II at Topkapi Palace offered baklava to the Janissaries on the 15th day of Ramadan. This ceremony was called Baklava Alayi.
What are the other versions of znoud el-sit?
There are different varieties of baklava, their composition differs from one region to another by generally using local products such as pistachios in Iran, honey in the Maghreb or nuts in the Balkans.
In Armenia, baklava is seasoned with cinnamon and cloves.
In Greece, the number of dough layers must traditionally be 33 in reference to Christ’s age at his death.
In Iraq, there are a multitude of baklavas, some can be stuffed with pistachios and scented with cardamom and rose water. They are generally cut into rectangular or diamond shapes.
The names of baklava are almost always very evocative, such as kol w’chkor (“eat and be thankful”), assabih Zaïnab (“Zaïnab’s fingers”), boaj (“little nests”) or znoud el-sit (“Lady’s upper arms”).
This recipe is validated by our expert in Iraqi cuisine Nawal Nasrallah. An award-winning researcher and food writer, Nawal is the author of the definitive cookbook on the Iraqi cuisine Delights from the Garden of Eden.
- 16 oz. phyllo dough sheets
- Vegetable oil (for frying)
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon fine semolina
- ¼ teaspoon gum arabic (or mastic)
- 5 tablespoons flour
- 5 tablespoons water
- 1¼ cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice , freshly squeezed
- 1 tablespoon rose water (or orange blossom water)
- 2 tablespoons roasted pistachios , coarsely ground
- Place the sugar, water and lemon juice in a saucepan over medium heat.
- Mix with a wooden spoon and bring to a boil.
- Reduce the heat and simmer over low to medium heat for 15 minutes uncovered until the liquid is reduced and concentrated.
- Remove from heat, add the rose water (or orange blossom water) and let cool completely.
- Add the whole milk, cornstarch and semolina in a nonstick pan over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture is bubbling and it thickens until creamy.
- Reserve and let cool completely, stirring occasionally.
- In a bowl, whisk together the flour and water.
Using a pair of scissors, cut the phyllo sheets into 3 equal strips of about 11 x 3 inches (28 x 7 cm).
- Lay a first phyllo strip vertically on a work surface, then place a second strip horizontally on top of the vertical strip to create a cross shape.
- Place a tablespoon of cream in the center of the cross.
- Fold the ends of the horizontal strip over the cream.
- Then roll up the vertical band.
- Using a brush, spread the mixture to seal around the edge and continue rolling to form a cylinder.
- Renew the process until all the phyllo sheets have been used.
- Leave to rest in a cool place for 30 minutes.
Heat a large volume of oil in a deep skillet to a temperature of 350 F (180˚C).
- Fry the znoud el sit until golden brown.
- Remove the pastries using a skimmer and immediately immerse in the completely cooled sugar syrup.
- Arrange in a serving dish and sprinkle with ground pistachios.