There is an unbeatable thrill to be found in baking, and with Sweet Levantine, her second cookbook, Lara Ariss explores the joy of creating sweet treats – something that has fascinated her since she was a child on visits to the old souk of Saida in Lebanon. Sweet Levantine continues down the path taken in Lara’s previous Levantine Harvest with a further celebration of freshly harvested local ingredients and clever medleys of flavor. Whether the desire is a plate of cookies to offer friends over coffee, a comforting pudding to round off an evening meal, or an elegant centerpiece to mark a significant life event, this selection of recipes will satisfy the need of any sweet tooth, and will give a sense of accomplishment and confidence to bakers of all levels of experience.

Lara Ariss was born in the United States and her family returned to Lebanon in the early 1990s. She started a career in advertising but, determined to follow her passion, she soon left to attend Le Cordon Bleu in London, where she also worked at several upscale restaurants. She later spent some time taking writing courses in New York City. In 2016, Lara released her first cookbook, Levantine Harvest. She currently resides in Beirut, where she runs her own boutique catering kitchen.

Recipe by Lara Ariss 

Serves: 12 to 15



  • 600g caster sugar
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 tsp rosewater
  • 1 tsp orange blossom water
  • 500g akkawi cheese, diced into 2cm cubes
  • 500g coarse semolina
  • 100g fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 30g caster sugar
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  1. Place the sugar, lemon juice, and 340ml water in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
  2. Bring to the boil for 5 minutes.
  3. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the syrup thickens, about 20 to 30 minutes.
  4. Stir in the rosewater and the orange blossom water. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool at room temperature.
  5. Preheat the oven to 190°C.
  6. Grease a 30cm shallow baking tin.
  7. Place the cheese in a medium bowl and immerse in cold water.
  8. Set aside for 10 to 15 minutes, then drain. Repeat several times, until the cheese has lost all traces of salt. To test for readiness, taste the cheese to ensure it is no longer salty.
  9. In the meantime, spread the coarse semolina in the baking pan to form an even layer about 1½cm thick.
  10. Place in the oven and bake until the bottom and the side of the dough turn golden in color, about 20 to 30 minutes.
  11. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for 10 minutes.
  12. Spread the cheese over the baked semolina and return to the oven for 20 to 30 minutes or until all the cheese has melted.
  13. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for 10 minutes.
  14. In the meantime, to prepare the strawberry syrup, place the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.
  15. Stir gently until the strawberries become soft and start to release their juice.
  16. Continue stirring for 2 to 3 minutes, until the juice begins to thicken and become jammy.
  17. Remove from the heat and stir into the remaining syrup.
  18. Place a serving plate over the knefeh pan and turn upside-down.
  19. Remove the pan slowly, allowing the knefeh to drop onto the plate.
  20. Slice into squares and serve immediately with kaak bread and strawberry syrup on the side.
  21. To reheat the knefeh, place the serving plate on a bain-marie over medium heat and heat until the cheese begins to melt.