Zalabia, Glazed Lebanese Donuts

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These traditional Lebanese zalabia donuts are made with a yeasted dough, spiced with anise and cinnamon and glazed with flower water syrup. Zalabia donuts are made by Christian Lebanese to celebrate the feast of the Epiphany in January, but we love them whenever we want homemade donuts. We also make zalabia with “leftover” dough on baking days and dust them with sugar (find that recipe here).

Lebanese donuts on a rack with syrup glaze

I know, I know. It’s the first week of the new year, and we’re all supposed to be focused on making amends for all of the indulgences we ate and drank during the holiday season and throughout 2017 and every day of our lives until now.

And here we are making donuts.

But my apology is made with this: Christian Lebanese, from which I descend on both sides, my mother (Maronite) and my father (Melkite), mark the religious feasts of the year with incredibly good food (they’re called “feast days” for a reason!).

Flour and spices for Zalabia donuts
Dough in a bowl for Lebanese zalabia donuts
Dough shaped into little balls on a floured pan for Lebanese Zalabia donuts
Pulled dough in a glass bowl, for Lebanese zalabia donuts

I especially love the tradition of the Epiphany, a word which derives from the Greek “to show,” and refers to the showing of Jesus to the world (or, biblically, to the three kings).

Our people, God love them, somewhere deep in the heart of the birth of tradition, said: how about we celebrate with donuts?!

And why not a donut in the shape of a little ball, to symbolize hope and gratitude for coming full circle, and health/prosperity/all good things hoped for in the New Year?

And why not glaze that donut with flower water syrup, to gild the lily?

Lebanese zalabia donuts in the frying pan
Flower water syrup in a jar for Lebanese Zalabia donuts
Lebanese donuts on a rack with syrup glaze

Zalabia, we love you.

So, while everyone puts away the Christmas (I had to hold Dan back from doing it on Christmas Eve…), and gets their healthy on, over here we’re going to do our part in keeping alive our traditions. It isn’t easy, but someone’s got to do it.

Lebanese donuts on a rack with syrup glaze
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Zalabia, Lebanese Glazed Donuts

By Maureen Abood
Consider the dough your palette: flavor it any way you like. In my experience, if you want the children to love these, you better leave the anise out. For the syrup, use a combination of rose water and orange blossom water, or just orange blossom water, for flavoring. 
Prep: 2 hours
Cook: 15 minutes
Servings: 24 donuts


For the Syrup:

For the Zalabia:

  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water (about 105 degrees)
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground anise
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon canola or safflower oil, for the bowl
  • Canola or safflower oil, for frying


For the syrup:

  • In a small heavy saucepan, combine sugar, water and lemon juice and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat and add the orange blossom water and rose water (measure away from the pan so spills don’t happen in your syrup!). 
  • Pour the syrup into a heatproof container and refrigerate to chill completely.

For the Zalabia:

  • Use a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, or mix by hand. In a small bowl, mix the yeast with 1/4 cup of the warm water and 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Let this stand until it is creamy and a bit bubbly, about 10 minutes.
  • In a large bowl or the bowl of the stand mixer, combine the flour, remaining sugar, salt, anise, and cinnamon. Add the proofed yeast and mix by hand, or with the dough hook on the mixer, slowly adding the remaining water. Knead until the dough is smooth, sticky, and soft.
  • In another medium bowl, coat the interior of the bowl with the teaspoon of oil. Place the dough in the bowl, coating the ball of dough with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap (without touching the dough with it), cover that with a kitchen towel, and set aside to rise in a warm spot for 90 minutes.
  • Deflate the risen dough, cover again with the plastic wrap and towel, and let the dough rise again for 30 minutes.
  • Fill a nonstick frying pan to about an inch high with oil. Heat over medium heat to 370 to 375 degrees.
  • Pull off walnut-sized pieces of dough and shape them into balls. Place the balls on a lightly floured sheet pan. The shape of the balls don’t have to be perfect!
  • Set up a rack over a sheet pan next to the frying pan. Fry several balls at a time, taking care to cook them through before the exterior is browned by adjusting the heat down as needed. Flip the balls over with a slotted spoon, then remove them when they are golden brown all over and place them on the rack.
  • To glaze the donuts, pour the cold syrup over the warm donuts, or dip the donuts in the syrup. Serve immediately with additional syrup for dipping.

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Author: Maureen Abood
Prep Time: 2 hours
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Servings: 24 donuts
Like this recipe? Leave a comment below!
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  1. o, my, maureen, finally some reference to the melkite religion!
    my mother was maronite, my father, also, melkite.
    aren’t we the lucky ones to have both influences?
    happy new year to you and dan!

  2. Maureen….our Maronite church has Zalabia every Sunday after Mass and the ‘ladies’ of the church rotating who is on the Zalabia Patrol! The only difference from yours is that they make the dough into rings and then fry, add glaze and then with our without powdered sugar. Thanks for brining back such wonderful memories of home.

    Georgia Hobaica Frasch

  3. What is Melkite and Maronite? My family are Antiochan Orthodox. My Grandmother was proud that the first Christians were from Antioch. She claimed to be from those first. Dier Mimaa has several churches but none are of the two you mention

  4. The Epiphany also marks Christ’s baptism in the Jordan by St. John…thus the donuts that are dunked in syrup.

    Also, I’ve never seen anyone actually roll the balls before…

  5. I love this feast ! (And not just because we get to eat donuts)

    It feels like the last of the 12 days of Christmas.

    Here’s a little more about the Epiphany in the Maronite rite, if you’re interested 🙂

    At midnight, on the night before the Epiphany, Maronite tradition has it that Jesus will pass over and bless the homes and that at the moment He passes all creation bows down to Him except for the cursed fig tree and the proud mulberry tree. We greet each other with the term “Deyim Deyim” which means “everlasting everlasting” and signifies that the Everlasting never forgets to visit.

    On the eve of the Epiphany open all your windows and doors so that Christ can pass over your house at midnight. Stay up till midnight and bow down with the rest of Creation.

  6. Maureen, I love your blog and my family is forever grateful that I purchased your cookbook. 😉
    I’ve been wondering why the syrup should be cold. Does it help it adhere better to the warm zalabia?

    1. Thanks so much Michelle! Interesting question–we always pour cold syrup over hot pastry for baklawa, so that the syrup will properly adhere to the pastry. Here, it’s a little different since it’s a yeasted fried dough, and yet cold over hot is always done anyway. The same idea applies I suppose, so that the syrup will sink in more to the donut. We often then dip the donuts again in the syrup while eating….

  7. Hello Maureen. I love reading your posts and trying your recipes. I’m a first generation Lebanese from Australia. I’m Orthodox but my mum is Melkite.
    The zlabya and awaymet (balls) being fried in oil and dipped in syrup are representative of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan river which is also celebrated on January 6 as”Eid el-Ghtas” or theophany.
    Lopitta Fares

  8. Thank you gor sharing this recipe! I had searched everywhere to find this Lebanese version, so I can’t wait to try hours. My mom and grandma rolled them into long strips and twisted them, same thing just a little different.

    I made your baklava recipe over the holidays and it was so delicious!

  9. I just tried some at Beirut Bakery in Redford which were fabulous. I have a feeling that the dough was flavored with Mahlab (sp?) Could that be possible? If so, how much would I use in place of the cinnamon, for example?

    1. Hi Barbara–yes, absolutely, you’ll often see mahlab in zalabia. You can sub it for cinnamon or use it in addition to cinnamon, about 1/4 teaspoon.

  10. Most doughnuts look nothing like nuts, but yours do! I’m all for celebrating the Lord Jesus and 2020 with donuts! Peace and blessings to you and Dan!

  11. I have been looking for this recipe for years. My grandfather and aunts use to make this for New Years all the time.
    I cant wait to make them for my family. I love keeping traditional things I had as a child, now for my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
    They use to make something else too. Perhaps you can help me find the recipe. I believed it looked like a pancake with garbanzo beans. Maybe I am wrong with the ingredients but do you know of something like this. I miss this and all the older relatives are deceased.

    1. Wow, you have quite a clan. They are blessed with your delicious traditions. I know there is a pancake dessert called atayef filled with cream or nuts but not sure about the garbanzo bean situation!

  12. I’ve had Zalabia every New Year’s Day my entire life. I’ve never seen this version. But plan to try it. My mom just used bread dough and cut a bit from the bowl stretched it and fried it. Covered with butter and powdered sugar. Heaven!! She kept the oil and the dough out all day so when visitors came throughout the day she would fry them fresh. What a great memory.

    1. I hope you like this version too Marti. The butter on the fried dough sounds divine. I’ll try it, thank you!

  13. Blessings to you! Love your spirit and recipes! Can I make this zalabia dough and use it next day so my grandchildren can participate! Please let me know! May 2021 drench you with God’s love!

  14. Thanks for getting the word out about our Christian Arab traditions, Maureen! Our family is proudly Melkite Greek Catholic, too. My mom is from Zahleh; her mom was Orthodox and her father was Melkite. My father’s dad was Melkite, and his mom was Maronite. They all used to compete in their celebrations but shared a very old tradition of adding coins to the leavened dough, wrapping it in cheesecloth, and tying it to a tree branch the night before ‘eid al Ghattas, the feast of Christ’s Baptism/Epiphany. The belief is that Christ passes these homes on this holy vigil and blesses them in a special way; the coins are distributed to remember His blessing throughout the year. In New England we had to break through the frozen dough to get at the coins the next day! Our family will be doing that on Thursday night, as we do every year. The rest of the dough is used to make sweets like zlaybiyy, ‘awayyim, and mshabbak, to share, too. Catholic and Orthodox Christians, alike, call out “Deyyim, deyyim” on that day to share the joyful news of Christ’s presentation to all the world. Deyyim, deyyim, Maureen and all!

    1. That is beautiful Charles, thank you so much for affirming these very special Christian traditions we hold so dear and that mean much to many.