I remember my first Kahk experience. It was Easter, I was about 16 years old, and we were visiting my father’s cousin in the morning. We were all given a little drink, some Tia Maria, I believe to toast for Easter. Right after, a box of these cookies came around. They were all delicately wrapped in wax paper. My Uncle asked if I had ever had a Kahk. I had no idea what he was talking about. He said these are special cookies that are only eaten at Easter or Christmas or any special occasion really. I took a bite and I was hooked.
Since then, I’ve noticed them everywhere. Bakeries here in Canada and back in Egypt. Homes of my family and my friends. They are everywhere. And they are not hard to make. But why are they so popular?
Apparently an Egyptian poet, Fouad Haddad, claimed: “Oh kahk, master of generosity … we will never stop making you.” It’s a cookie that has its origins in Egyptian history from the days of the Pharaohs. And it’s a cookie that makes a yearly appearance for Egyptian Muslims to mark the end of Ramadan and bi-yearly for Egyptian Christians to mark Christmas and Easter. Basically, it’s a cookie to mark any major festival. And it’s a cookie that is so filling, that you only need one. It’s commonly called Kahk al-Eid, meaning a cookie of the feast.
Back during the days of the ancient Egyptians, these cookies were made as a snack. There are drawings in some of the Pharaonic temples in ancient Thebes and Memphis (close to Cairo) illustrating the making of kahk. Some drawings, also found on the walls of 18th century dynasty tombs show honey being mixed with butter over a fire, after which flour is added to making a soft and malleable dough. They would mold kahk into different forms or press them into elaborate flower or animal shapes. They were often stuffed with dates and figs and embellished with dried fruits. The image of the sun goddess, Amon, would be added to the cookies. Larger kahk pies, known as shurik, were often made before visting tombs during religious feasts. The idea behind this was the pies served as amulets, thought to boost magical powers.
With the end of the pharaonic period, many of the rituals were kept intact through the Egyptian Christians. Kahk was still a popular ritual, but instead of adorning the cookies with Amon, an image of the cross was added. However, the Amon sun-disc image made a come back when Islam spread into Egypt and the Kahk-making was introduced into Muslim rituals. Regardless of the event, it’s usually made by groups of women who get together and whip these out. It is a delicate process, and each woman has her own secret to successful kahk.
Kahk, also extends into other Middle Eastern countries. The word ‘kahk’ means cookie or biscuit in arabic and can be found in the Levant as the same type of cookie but often made with semolina flour. In other countries, such as Iraq, kahk is a doughnut style hard biscuit that is covered with sesame seeds and eaten as is or with tea. It is known as Kahk bi loz, or almond bracelets. In the Gulf countries, Kahk is known as Mammoul, and is only stuffed with dates.
Don’t be put-off by any of the ingredients in this recipe. Kahk can come filled with dates (agameya), walnuts, pistachios, or simply not filled at all. It’s all a matter of what you want to do. I love all three, so I made all three fillings.
This is one of the easiest cookie doughs you will probably make. All recipes call for ghee (clarified butter) and butter. But since my last bout with ghee, I’ve sworn it off, so I opted for vegetable shortening instead, and it worked out wonderfully. If you have access to a middle-east food store, then you will be able to find the key ingredient: Mahlab. This is the seed of a sour cherry pit. It is a spicing that is used in many sweets throughout the Middle East. I will be using it again for an upcoming bread. The other key ingredient is called Rehet al-Kahk. This translates into the smell of Kahk. It sounds a bit complicated, but it is merely three ingredients blended together. I bought it already mixed at the store, but if you can’t find it, it is equal parts of fennel seeds, anise seeds and mahlab. That’s it. That’s the big secret. Another thing which is useful is a mold. I found a traditional one made out of wood in the mid-east food store.
If you can’t find one, don’t worry, just leave them as is, or use something around the kitchen like a fork to create a pattern.
Preparation time: 1 hour
Cooking time: 25 minutes
Yield: 12 large cookies I
500 grams (4 cups) flour
250 grams ghee (1 cup ) (or vegetable shortening)
50 grams (1/4 cup) soft butter
[OR 300 grams of just entirely butter, or ghee, or shortening]
1.5 tablespoons icing sugar
16 grams active yeast (2 heaping tablespoons or two packs of instant dry active yeast)
100 grams lukewarm water
1 teaspoon kahk extract
1 teaspoon mahlab
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 teaspoons icing sugar
1 tablespoon rose water
1/4 cup chopped pistachios
3 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon orange blossom water
250 grams dates (you can buy already pitted and mashed dates)
25 grams butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1. Prepare the walnut filling.
2. Add all ingredients to a chopper or food processor and set aside.
3. Prepare the pistachio filling the same way, and set aside.
4. For the dates filling, use a pan on medium heat.
5. First add the butter.
6. When it has melted, add the dates and cinnamon.
7. Continue stirring until all the butter has been absorbed.
8. If the date mixture still seems very dry, add a bit more butter.
9. In a large mixing bowl, add the flour, butter and shortening.
10. Mix together until the batter is lumpy and all the flour has been used.
11. If you have bought unground mahlab seeds, you can grind them easily with a mortar and pestle.
12. Mix together the kahk and mahlab and sugar.
13. In a small container, add the lukewarm water. Make sure there is enough room (at least half) for the yeast mixture to rise.
14. Add the kahk mixture and yeast to the water.
15. Keep the mixture loosely covered and at room temperature for at least ten minutes.
16. When the mixture has at least doubled in size, add to the flour mixture.
17. Mix using hands until all the ingredients have been worked in and it is a ball of dough.
18. Set oven to 375F
19. Grab a handful of dough.
20. If you are using a mold like this, then press the dough into it, making a little dip in the middle to put the filling into.
21. If you are not using a mold, use your thumb to create a little dip in the dough to add filling to.
22. Add about a teaspoon of any filling of your choice.
24. Lay on a non-greased baking sheet. Or you can use parchment paper.
25. Once you have finished making all your cookies, put in the oven for about 2o minutes.
26. The cookies are ready when they have turned slightly golden.
27. Take out and dust with icing sugar.
Then make yourself a nice cup of tea and grab a cookie and enjoy!