Bakers busy as residents enjoy sweet treats of Eid

In the runup to Eid Al Fitr, a sweets shop in Dubai prepared to serve up more desserts to meet the demand.

Dubai, August 29, 2011 - Mericres Israel arranges baklava on a tray in Firas Sweets in Dubai, August 29, 2011. (Jeff Topping/The National)

DUBAI // Dozens of shiny trays piled high with baklava and the sweet smell of freshly made kunafa greet guests as they enter Firas Sweets in Al Qusais.

All around the cramped shop this week, as in many confectioners, there was hectic activity with the rush of Eid Al Fitr customers.

"We're working at maximum to meet the demand and it's the same every Eid," said Shady Mohammed Mourad, marketing manager for the shop, one of a chain of seven across Dubai.

Firas specialises in Arabic sweets and confectionery from Syria, the Palestinian Territories, Jordan and Egypt.

All around the store are colourful piles of treats stacked in pyramids. They include griba, made of soft, floury dough, and three different kinds of mammoul made with filled dates, walnuts and pistachios.

There is also the freshly-baked Egyptian dessert basbousa, which is similar to kunafa but made largely with sugar and syrup.

"Egyptian desserts are very easy to make compared with some of the others," Mr Mourad said.

"The biggest difference between what you will find in our shops compared with a big supermarket is the quality and the taste.

"In supermarkets, it's all about presentation but for us it's about the taste."

In a small kitchen hidden away at the back of the store, two cooks were preparing the latest batch of kunafa. The Palestinian delicacy is baked on giant steel dishes, 80 centimetres in diameter.

The first step is to add ghee to the tray and spread it evenly across the surface.

Next, the flour, which has been mixed with water, is dried and processed through a machine that shreds it into the familiar, stringy mixture that is added on top.

"Then we let the flour mix settle for a few minutes," Mr Mourad said. "You tend to find that a lot of places use different kinds of cheeses for the dish.

"But the real secret to having the tastiest kunafa is to have traditional ingredients - by that I mean having Nabulsi cheese from Nablus in Palestine.

"We import the cheese from Palestine to make our kunafa, unlike many other places."

The cheese is normally salty, so it has to undergo a careful process of washing to remove all traces of the mineral before it can be used.

"Once that is done you are left with a very sweet cheese that is perfect for a dessert," said Mr Mourad.