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May 16, 2017

Shubbak el-Habayek | Iraqi Sweet Bread

Shubbak el-Habayek is an Iraqi sweet bread. The name, translated, means The Lover's Window!

Shubbak el-Habayek | Iraqi Sweet Bread

 This is a fragrant bread, with orange blossom water, rose water, cardamom, and mahleb.

Mahleb (or mahlab) is a powder made from the seeds of the St. Lucy's cherry. I had a jar in my pantry, which I had hunted down from when I made Ka'kat, so when I spotted this recipe, I knew I had to make it! Plus, I had the orange blossom water from making the Fouace Nantaise. All of these ingredients can be found at a Middle Eastern market. If you can't find them, don't fret too much. You can just add a bit of orange zest and some vanilla to the dough. You'll still end up with lovely rolls.

There are different intensities of flower waters. If you use the Nielson Massey flower waters, cut way back on the amounts, as they are a lot stronger than the middle eastern versions.

Here's a photo of the Middle Eastern ingredients that I used:

Shubbak el-Habayek | Iraqi Sweet Bread

This bread is delicious the day it is made.

To quote my friend Tanna, these are "mysterious in taste and aroma. Exotic in just the right way."

Leftovers should be wrapped individually and frozen. They're wonderful with butter, orange marmalade, and/or date syrup. I've actually reheated defrosted leftovers in the microwave for about 20 seconds, and they were delicious. When I took one to work for breakfast, everyone wanted to know what that gorgeous aroma was.

Shubbak el-Habayek | Iraqi Sweet Bread

Here's another shot, just so you can get an idea about the slits. I used both "regular" and black sesame seeds to finish this bread.

Shubbak el-Habayek | Iraqi Sweet Bread

They kind of look like masks, don't they?

I found this bread in the book, The Book of Buns, from Jane Mason. To quote Jane: the name means ".. The Lover's Window, which kind of makes me want to cry every time I think about it - it's just lovely! I would love to know who named it and whether they ever found their true love."

I love how Jane ends the recipe. "Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack, before eating them while you think of your true love."

I found the original recipe to be a bit low in hydration, so I added water slowly as I kneaded it, which I included in the instructions. You could also up the amount of milk at the beginning, and then add more flour if necessary.

P.S. Another great Middle Eastern bread you should try is Uzbek stamped bread

This month, the Bread Baking Babes are making Shubbak el-Habayeb. Learn more about the Babes after the recipe.

Shubbak el-Habayeb

Shubbak el-Habayeb


  • 600g/4 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 3 g/1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
  • 100 g/1/2 cup sugar
  • 225 g/1 scant cup milk, scalded
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange blossom water
  • 1/2 teaspoon rose water
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground mahlab (see note below)
  • 12 grams/1 tablespoon salt
  • 50 grams/3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
  • about 1/2 cup water, added to the dough by wetting you hands as you knead the dough.

For the Glaze

  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Sesame seeds (white or black, or a mixture of both)


  1. Pour the flour into a bowl, and create a well in the middle. Sprinkle the yeast and sugar into the well, and add the milk. Cover the milk with some of the flour from the sides. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a towel, and let rest for one hour.
  2. Add the eggs, flower waters, cardamom, mahlab, and salt to the mixture in the bowl and mix with your hands to form a rough dough. Turn it out onto an unfloured counter, and knead for 10 minutes.
  3. Add the butter, and knead for 10 more minutes. While kneading, if the dough is too stiff, dip your hands in the water, and continue to knead. Continue to dip your hands in the water until you have a supple dough. You can also do this with a dough hook, adding the water, one tablespoon at a time.
  4. Place the dough into an oiled bowl and let rise in a warm spot, covered, for about two hours, until doubled.
  5. Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and form them into balls. Cover with a towel or oiled plastic wrap, and let rest for 15 minutes.
  6. Roll each ball with a rolling pin into a square that is about 1/2 inch thick. Slit the dough with a sharp knife to make short vertical cuts in each quadrant of the dough. Open the slits with your hands to make sure they are cut through.
  7. Place the squares on baking sheets (you will need two sheet pans, prepared with parchment or Silpat), six squares per pan.
  8. Cover each sheet pan with oiled plastic wrap, and let rise for one hour. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C) with a rack in the middle of the oven.
  9. Whisk together the glaze ingredients and brush the glaze over the rolls on one of the sheet pans. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Bake the first pan of rolls for 15 minutes, until golden. Remove them from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Repeat with the second pan of rolls.
Yield: 12 rolls

Note: In Jane Mason's Book of Buns, she gives a substitute for Mahleb. Use 1/2 teaspoon of this blend: 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/4 teaspoon ground bay leaves.

I am a member of The Bread Baking Babes, a group of bloggers who absolutely love baking bread. Each month, one of the Babes chooses a new (to us) recipe, and we all post our results on the 16th of the month. This month, the Bread Baking Babes are baking Shubbak el-Habayek, and I am hosting. 

Please visit all of the Bread Baking Babes and check out their versions of this month’s recipe:

Would you like to comment?

  1. Your breads look nice and pillowy. I think I flattened mine a little more than necessary, not that it made any difference to the taste. :)
    Thank for picking such a delightfully flavoured bread, Karen.

  2. Don't you just love when simple and easy are so compelling! These were wonderful Karen. And you are forgiven for compelling me to add another bread book to my already huge collection.

  3. Really delicious little breads, I was glad to bake them for a second time. Love the touch of sweetness in it. Great choice! (love the book of her with all these different kind of buns).

    1. Me too! It's such a gorgeous book isn't it?

  4. They just smelled so wonderful! Loved being able to use some of my neglected ingredients as well as the new ones.

    1. I love it when I can use neglected ingredients!!

  5. Hello Karen,
    After your earlier post on a recipe from this book, I ordered the book. It just arrived! I am thrilled by this international collection of buns.

    I can't wait to try this recipe. It was very helpful to see the photo of the brands you used for the orange blossom water, rose water, and mahleb.

    I have a zillion bread books. But if I had a Sophie's Choice decision to pick only one reference to keep, it would be your posts. I know I would have an endless variety of warm, well-written, interesting recipes to bake!

    Three cheers for all you do.

    Grateful im Seattle,

    1. You just totally made my day! Your comment means so much. xoxo

  6. We love these buns! What a wonderful choice, Karen. And you're right, they're great with marmalade.

  7. Wow awesome... Love homemade breads. Will definitely try this.

  8. I want to make these just so I can sniff the aroma! Okay, and eat them, but you get the idea.... Great choice!

  9. Karen, your rolls look fabulous! Thanks for choosing this bread. I loved these buns! I can't wait to make them again.

    1. Thank you Cathy. I love your spelt version!

  10. This is an AWESOME recipe Karen! We can imagine how amazing these buns must smell! M-m-mmmm! Hope peace can finally be achieved in the war-torn Iraq as well.
    Thank you for the delicious post dear! xoxo


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