If you’re into baking, especially Mediterranean and Middle Eastern baking, you’ve surely heard about simple syrup. As its name suggests, simple syrup is a very simple sugar syrup that needs only two main ingredients, water and sugar. To elevate this simple syrup, most Middle Eastern recipes call for floral waters, rose water and orange blossom water.
Let me show you how to make this very easy sugar syrup with a Middle Eastern twist.
Here’s a list of ingredients for the simple syrup the way it’s prepared in Middle East cuisine.
- Water: Regular tap water is the foundation of your simple syrup.
- Sugar: Regular white sugar is commonly used. I recommend a water-sugar ratio of 1:1 for a slightly thick syrup with a moderate sweetness. An equal amount of sugar and water works great if you’d like your syrup to sweeten baked goods, beverages or fruit. Some people want their syrup to be very thick and extra sweet, which requires a water-sugar ratio of 1:2.
- Lemon: A dash of lemon juice helps break down the sugar molecules. The amount is very low and the lemon won’t affect the taste or color of the syrup. If you have some fresh lemon available, you can add a few drops of lemon juice to your syrup. However, the lemon is optional and it also works great without.
- Rose Water & Orange Blossom Water: For a true Middle Eastern touch, we’ll infuse our simple syrup with rose water and orange blossom water. You can use them in combination, or just either of the two. Rose water and orange blossom water are natural floral extracts that are hugely popular in Middle Eastern cuisine. They add a pleasant floral note that perfectly balances the sweetness of many desserts. If you can get your hands on both, I strongly recommend adding them to your syrup.
Note: You can find exact quantities (depending on serving size) in the recipe card at the end of this recipe.
How to Make Sugar Syrup (Step-by-Step)
Ready to make sugar syrup? Yallah, let’s get started!
Step 1: Squeeze lemon
If you have fresh lemon available, squeeze some lemon juice. The lemon juice helps break down the sugar molecules which makes the sugar dissolve in the water more easily. For each cup of water, we’ll only add a few dashes of lemon juice. The lemon won’t be seen or tasted in the simple syrup. If you don’t have fresh lemon available, you could use bottled lemon juice, or omit it.
Step 2: Prepare the syrup
Combine water, sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan. Heat over medium heat, bring to a boil and cook until the sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally.
Step 3: Simmer
Once the sugar has dissolved, turn your stove to low heat and simmer for 8-10 minutes to thicken. Turn off the stove.
Step 4: Add floral waters
To give your simple syrup a Middle Eastern touch, stir in some rose water and orange blossom water. You can use both, or just one of them. Adding the floral waters at the end, after the syrup has thickened, intensifies the flavor more than if you added them at the beginning.
Step 5: Leave to cool
Leave to cool before you add the sugar syrup to any desserts or beverages. You can keep the syrup in the saucepan (no lid required) to cool.
How to Use & Serve
Simple syrup is an essential ingredient in many cuisines around the world. In Middle Eastern cuisine, it’s mainly used for baking, to sweeten cakes. It can also be used to sweeten beverages such as iced drinks and cocktails.
In most recipes, the simple syrup is poured on the cake or sweet after it’s baked/prepped. For example for Basbousa (semolina cake) or Knafeh (sweet cheese pastry), the syrup is poured over the baked treat and will then be soaked up.
What’s good to keep in mind is that not everyone enjoys the same level of sweetness. In fact, some people prefer their dessert/cake/drink to be less sweet, while others enjoy it very sweet. That’s why I recommend that you always serve some simple syrup alongside your desserts for people to adjust the sweetness to their liking.
Some Middle Eastern sweets using simple syrup:
- Layali Lubnan (semolina cake with cream and pistachios)
- Knafeh (cheese filled pastry)
- Basbousa (pictured) (a simple semolina cake infused with sugar syrup)
Make Ahead & Storage
Simple syrup can be perfectly made ahead of time. In fact, for most recipes and usages it’s important that you leave it to cool completely (takes about 30 minutes) before you combine it with other ingredients or store it. Making the syrup ahead of time is a great way to save time when you’re hosting or short in time.
For storage, let the syrup cool completely. Transfer it to an airtight container and store it in the fridge for up to one month.
Learn Middle Eastern Cooking
Are you a new to Middle Eastern cuisine? Then this Middle Eastern cookbook is what you need! In addition to a varied choice of recipes, the cookbook offers plenty of insights on ingredients, cooking techniques and Middle Eastern food culture.
Simple Syrup (Arab Style)
- 240 ml (1 cup) water
- 200 g (1 cup) sugar
- ¼ tsp lemon juice
- ½ tsp rose water optional
- ½ tsp orange blossom water optional
- Squeeze some fresh lemon (we’ll only need a dash of lemon).
- Add water, lemon juice and sugar to a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium and stir occasionally to dissolve the sugar.
- Once the water is heated and the sugar dissolved, reduce your stove to low heat and simmer until it thickens (takes about 8-10 minutes). Turn off the heat afterwards.
- Add rose water and orange blossom water (if using) to the syrup. Stir to combine.
- Leave to cool (in the saucepan) before you add the sugar syrup to any desserts or beverages.
Nutrition information is only a rough estimate and may vary depending on factors such as the cooking method, exact weight, type, and brand of ingredients used.