Saj Bread, Labneh, Olive Oil and Mint Mille-feuille – A Dessert Inspired by the Classic Lebanese Breakfast

In case you are wondering, yes, these greens in the picture are indeed garden weeds and not micro-herbs; I don’t have easy access to micro-herbs and thought these guys are small enough to do the trick. They look pretty though, do you agree? And another thing, I know this is not a mille-feuille, but let me have this one, please…

I’ve been obsessing about this dessert for around a fortnight now. I came up with the idea in a moment of brilliance (or insanity, call it what you may) and have been dying to make it. For my non-Lebanese readers, a little explanation is needed so that you get a full appreciation of the idea behind the dessert. One of the most, if not the most popular breakfast in Lebanon is a labneh roll. Lebanese bread or saj bread (paper thin bread cooked on an inverted wok, sold in Australia as mountain bread) is slathered with snow-white salted labneh, drizzled with olive oil and rolled up with one or more vegetables and herbs such as mint, cucumbers, tomatoes or olives. Labneh is a cream cheese (yes it is a cheese) made from removing the whey from yoghurt, resulting in a rich, smooth spread. The breakfast roll is salty, savoury and creamy but also light and fresh, a true representative of Mediterranean cuisine with its lavish use of olive oil, dairy, bread and fresh vegetables and herbs.

This superb, yet everyday sort of breakfast was the inspiration for a creamy yet fresh dessert. The labneh is mixed with some whipped cream to give a lighter consistency, and then sweetened with icing sugar. Then, rectangles of saj bread are brushed with butter and crisped up in a pan, with some pressure applied on top to keep them straight. The saj and labneh “mille-feuille” is constructed on a plate drizzled with olive oil butterscotch, then served with a mint leaf tempura; and there you have it: labneh and saj bread with mint and olive oil! An experienced pastry chef could have turned out something a bit more professional looking, but I had to make do with my crooked design skills. And I also wanted to make a tomato jam to go with it but I couldn’t be bothered, so please imagine that it’s there too.  See how the beautifully reddish orange hue of the tomato jam contrasts with the white?

Now unfortunately, I didn’t take note of measurements when I made this as it was just an experiment, but it was not hard to do once the concept was there. I have to admit though, the dessert exceeded all my expectations. The buttery richness of the labneh and cream is complemented by its sweetness and then offset by the yoghurt’s acidity. That’s why it’s important to use Greek style yoghurt labneh (and not that European style stuff). Then, the crispness and delicate saltiness of the saj bread intertwines with that creaminess, and the multiple layers create a textural explosion that is quite out of this world. The olive oil butterscotch added an extra layer of flavour, and the mint tempura is more a visual and textural addition than one of flavour; it’s just a bit of fun really. It may be worth noting that I made my own unsalted labneh using Meredith sheep’s yoghurt, which is more delicious as a labneh than it is as yoghurt. Sheep’s yoghurt has a sensational mouth-feel due to the high fat content and in my opinion makes a far superior labneh than cow’s yoghurt.

Saj Bread, Labneh, Olive Oil and Mint Mille-feuille Recipe

Now, being an IT guy, and seeing I didn’t really write down the measurements, here’s an “algorithm” as to how to make this dessert:

  • Buy or make your own labneh. Make sure it’s low salt. Making labneh is easy: strain Greek style yoghurt through muslin or on layers of paper towel, changing the paper towels when they are fully soaked. The result should be the consistency of cream cheese
  • Cut rectangles from saj bread (sold as mountain bread in Australia)
  • Brush bread with butter and crisp up in a pan on both sides. Press them down to keep them flat as they crisp up
  • Make the olive oil butterscotch by caramelising some sugar and olive oil and then emulsifying them with cream… Easy?
  • Whip up some cream until semi-firm peaks form and then mix with the labneh and some icing sugar. Adjust the sugar to taste. Don’t use too much cream or the labneh flavour will be lost. Maybe a 60% labneh, 40% cream.
  • Assemble as per the photo: drizzle the butterscotch, layer the mille-feuille with bread and labneh
  • Cover a mint leaf with tempura batter and fry until crisp and put on the side

11 Responses to “Saj Bread, Labneh, Olive Oil and Mint Mille-feuille – A Dessert Inspired by the Classic Lebanese Breakfast”

  1. omigosh i love this idea. i actually think it would also be cool to present this as a savoury dish – obviously changing the components, but putting a twist on people’s expectations. very elegantly plated – now where’s my fork?! lol
    Helen (grabyourfork)´s last [type] ..Wolgan Valley Resort -amp Spa- Blue Mountains – Emirates Hotel

  2. LOVE! Nice idea. This is definitely a keeper.

  3. Amanda says:

    Looks gorgeous and seems straightforward enough to do – so in my books a winner!
    Stylish sort of weeds you have at your place – mine are all about a metre tall!

  4. lili says:

    Divine! I want to eat this NOW.
    Plus this totally makes up for you talking about ‘vino’ in your last post, haven’t I told you how much that word makes me want to rage out?
    Wonderful photo.
    xx.
    lili´s last [type] ..Avocado with yoghurt

  5. looks pretty amazing. are you going to do this one for the blogging event at cbd bistro i wonder? :-)

  6. Moya says:

    Yum, yum, yum! A friend introduced me to the Lebanese breakfast years ago and I can never look at cereal again! I agree, this one’s a keeper and definitely one to experiment and expand on!
    Moya´s last [type] ..When the dog bites- when the bee stingsand its freezing cold-

  7. Cherine says:

    Wow this is beautiful!!
    Cherine´s last [type] ..Chicken Parmigiana

  8. Fouad

    This is a masterpiece in my book! I had been toying with the idea of using labneh as a sweet cream for a while too; your use of saj for the mille-feuille is brilliant; what can I say, you are brilliant my friend! YALLAH I want you to give cooking lessons in Lebanon.
    tasteofbeirut´s last [type] ..Fried sardines

  9. That’s very creative! I was having trouble imagining the sweetness when I saw the title followed by the photo but I think it would taste creamy without being overly rich. Nice work, Fouad :)
    Corinne @ Gourmantic´s last [type] ..Looking for Brigitte Bardot in St-Tropez

  10. Viviane says:

    This is not a bad mille-feuille. I saw a crepes mille-feuille on a site that looked similar except it was round. The idea is superb, I would go for a savory version. I dunno why but I am not a great fan of sweet stuff. The tomato jam looks amazing with it hehehe.
    I might just make my version of mille-feuille for dinner.
    I know I am showering you with comments today, but it has been a while since I read you and I am catching on, so I am reading all that I missed. (Mumbles against work).
    Viviane´s last [type] ..Bulgarian Cheese Stuffed Chicken Rolls

  11. donna says:

    it looks so sweet and yummy..i just don’t know if I can handle the taste of the herbs..but I can try it,,,and get use to this Lebanese kind of foods…

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