Biraf (Sweetened Cream)

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There are a wonderful variety of sweets to serve, however the busy medieval Middle Eastern hostess some times has to pull a feast from thin air.  All that is needed is a little cream, sugar (honey, rose water, and date syrup are optional) and a bit of fruit.  This is a sweet that is simple easy and very elegant with minimal fuss.


(Sweetened Cream)


Wide ceramic containers are used that have the capacity of a large skillet.  One draws the milk, strains it at once while it is still warm, and then puts it in these pans.  This should be done in the evening when the herd comes back from the pastures.  The pans are place outside, exposed to the air and the damp, but covered by a large cage.  The next morning at dawn, before sunrise, with the aid of a long shell, one collects whatever has risen to the surface and transfers it to another ceramic container that is new and clean.  One continues until nothing is left on top.  Then the containers are covered and let be.  If one fears that the sun may fall upon them, move them to a cool place.  During the day one may draw out whatever has risen to the surface and serve it.

Many people prefer to eat biraf, which is one of the best kinds of nourishment, with out anything added.  Others eat it with honey , others still with powdered sugar.  As for Ahmad al-Safasi, he prefers to eat it with syrup and rose water because this way , according to him, is the best.  I told a group of friends about this way and they liked it because, with rose water not only is it delicious but it has beneficial properties that offset the undesirable effects.  If one fears indigestion after having eaten biraf with out taking anything with it, drinking sikanjubin, which is made from quinces or eat a quince, a pear or some figs.  I saw some one eat zulabiyya with briaf!  I tried it, and it was good.

Zaouali, pp. 110


1 C. heavy cream                     1/3 C. powdered sugar or honey

Optional: ¼ tsp rose water        1/3 C. date syrup or pomegranate syrup


Since most people do not have access to herds of milk producing animals, I used store bought heavy cream as that was what the first part of the translation was describing.

cream sugar honey

Cream rises to the top from fresh milk in cool areas.  I then added powdered sugar.  Regular sugar can be ground finer into a lighter sugar.  Modern powdered sugar may be lighter then period powdered sugar.  The sugar and cream were mixed together until slightly frothy.

Remember those candied pears from a few weeks ago?  Here they are on a plate with fruit and cream.  A sweet ending to any feast!

fruit with cream

If fresh figs are not available the dried figs work well.  Mind you I’d have preferred fresh but the season for fresh figs is not upon us yet, but when they are…I will be dunking fresh figs into the cream as my dinner!!