Excellent Middle Eastern Desserts Beyond Baklava at A Sweet Factory

If you leave with only baklava, you're missing out. 

That's the most important thing you need to know when you go to A Sweet Factory. In the dwindling daylight of a weekday afternoon, the bakery still attracted a steady stream of customers, confirming its status as one of the most comprehensive purveyors of Middle Eastern sweets in Houston. Although many bakeries in town offer those Arab and Mediterranean delicacies more familiar to Western clientele, such as baklava and lokma, few vend regional specialties such as mamoul, shaibiyet, and mafrouki. 

These treats were certainly not in my palate purview until I traveled in Syria and Lebanon, where I was introduced to my all-time favorite sweet-savory dessert: knafe. A Sweet Factory offers two variations, both of which layer a soft, buttery crust with gooey white sheep's or goat's-milk cheese (traditionally hatay or Nabulsi), and are then soaked in sugar syrup and dressed in rose water. The soft floral and sweet notes combined with the supple texture necessitate using a fork to (neatly) enjoy knafe, though when no one's looking, you may be tempted to devour the square by hand. 

Other standouts at A Sweet Factory include the namoora, made with farina, yogurt, almonds and orange blossom water, and the tender katayif pockets stuffed with walnuts or pistachios. Both are delightfully devoid of the often cloying flavors of American pastries, which, when poorly prepared, overwhelm the potential of their component ingredients through the addition of too much sugar.

All of the aforementioned desserts can be purchased in generous single servings for $3 or less; a full sheet, however, is terrific for a party or ample for one peckish food writer.

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