Sabayah - classic Yemenite leaf dough. Photograph: anatoly michaello
Sabayah - classic Yemenite leaf dough. Photograph: anatoly michaello

Sabayah – Yemenite Leaf Pastry

Sabayah consists of thin leaves of dough made with a bit of yeast, separated by layers of butter. The result is similar to malawach, but not as heavy

“Ties between Jewish communities from the south of Yemen and those who lived in the north were not close because of the great distance between them- each visit involved walking for days upon days- so it happened that each region had its own unique pastries that were unknown to Jews from other regions. Mazal Kahathi from Kiryat Ekron says “I was born in Barat in northern Yemen and immigrated to Israel as a baby. I first encountered Sabayah, a pastry typical of southern Yemen, in Israel.”

When they immigrated to Israel, Mazal’s family lived in Kiryat Ekron together with other families who had immigrated from other parts of Yemen and only there did she get to know the pastries of Greater Yemen. Mazal completely fell in love with the Sabiya that her neighbor made, she adopted the recipe and has been making it for her own family for almost five decades. “It’s a pastry that is considered more complex than others, it also requires direct heat, so it was largely made on holidays when open fires were permitted, like Sukkot.”

Ingredients for Sabayah

For the dough:

  • 2.2 pounds (1 kg) flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon Sugar
  • 3 1/4 cups (780 ml) water
  • 1 tablespoon Salt
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) oil for greasing

For the egg wash:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • handful of Sesame seeds


Preparing the dough:

  • 1. Sift the flour into a mixer bowl, add the yeast and sugar, mix until homogenous and then add the water. Using a mixer fitted with a dough hook, knead at a low speed for about 1 minute until a dough forms. Add the salt, increase the speed of the mixer and knead for 7 minutes until the dough is soft and pliable. Cover the bowl with a towel or plastic bag and set aside for 10 minutes.

  • 2. Divide the dough into 20 balls weighing approximately 3 ounces/ 80 grams each (about the size of a medium egg) and place them on a greased tray. Gently roll the dough balls in oil to maintain their moistness. Cover the tray with a towel or a large plastic bag and set aside for an hour.

  • 3. Grease the baking pan and your work surface with a cube of butter.

  • 4. Manually flatten and stretch out the first dough ball, forming a thin and nearly transparent sheet equivalent to the size of the pan. Spread a cube of butter over the sheet of dough, patting it down lightly. Roll the dough onto a rolling pin and transfer it to the baking pan. Flatten and stretch the sheet even more so it reaches the sides of the pan. Repeat this process with the rest of the dough balls. Before placing the sheets on top of one another, spread some butter over them. While working on each dough ball, make sure to cover the ones still left on the tray. Otherwise, they will dry out. Do not spread butter over the uppermost sheet. Wrap the baking pan in a large plastic bag and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

  • 5. Heat the oven to 350F/ 175ºC. Remove the sabayah from the refrigerator and stretch the edges of the dough again so they reach the sides of the pan. The result will be a symmetrical and eye-appealing pastry.

  • 6. Beat the egg with the tablespoon of water and brush it over the uppermost sheet of the pastry. Then sprinkle the sesame seeds on top. Transfer the sabayah to the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown. Serve with tomato paste, zhoug and hard-boiled eggs.

◆ ◆ ◆

Rather than spread the butter on the leaves with a pastry brush, use your hands and pat it down gently. To do so, the butter has to be very soft. First cut it into cubes and then let it soften to room temperature.

When stretching the dough, lift it up from the middle and stretch the base each time towards the sides. The first and second layers are likely to tear, but that’s okay. After 5 layers you’ll be mavens, and after 20 you’ll forget that in days gone by there were two torn layers on the bottom of the pan.

The trick is to transfer the thin sheets of dough from your work surface to the pan using a long rolling pin – just like when making a pie crust. The experts among us can stretch out each dough ball on top of the previous one (without transferring them from the work surface one at a time). The butter spread between the leaves will prevent them from sticking together.

The sheets of dough should be stretched until they reach the sides of the baking pan. If the dough ‘refuses’ to be stretched or arranged like we want it to be – no need to worry. After being refrigerated and resting a bit, the dough will concede defeat.

Use the same method to make:

Sabayah with feta cheese: spread a small amount of grated feta cheese between the layers of the dough (a total of around 9 ounces/ 250 grams).

Variation: Instead of dry yeast, you can use about 0.2 ounces/ 5 grams of fresh yeast.

Recipe courtesy of Hashulchan.

*שמנו לב שחסרים כמה פרטים קטנים להשלמת הפרופיל שלך ב־FOODISH, אפשר להוסיף אותם בקלות בעמוד המשתמש שלך.