Friday, October 12, 2007

Egyptian Spiced Date Cookies for Eid al-Fitr - a Recipe


Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim “Festival of the Breaking of the Fast” that comes at the end of Ramadan, begins tonight. In Egypt, the Eid al-Fitr celebrations traditionally last for 3 days, and Muslims throughout the country exchange gifts and don new clothing. And, as you might expect after a month of fasting, they feast.

No Egyptian Eid al-Fitr feast is complete without kahk, the headily spiced yeast cookies that are often rolled in sesame seeds or stuffed with dates or nuts before being baked and blanketed with copious amounts of powdered sugar.

It seems there are as many traditional preparations of kahk as there are villages on the Nile, and authenticity is hotly debated – much as with cassoulet in Languedoc-Rousillon Some areas hold that pleated, ring-shaped cookies, coated in sesame seeds, are the “real” kahk, while other regions insist the patterned imprint made by a specific metal stamp is the mark of legitimacy. Stuffings range from honeyed sesame seeds to ground nuts, but the sliver of anise-redolent date paste I’ve used here is my favorite version.

Rihat el Kahk is a spice mixture or essence used as part of the cookies’ seasoning in Egypt. It contains aniseed, fennel seed, mahlab, and bay leaf. Mahlab is made from ground sour cherry stones, and it lends a bitter almond fragrance to the dish. I love these cookies because they’re rich without being painfully sweet. They have a crumbly texture, and they’re intensely aromatic with cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, fennel, anise, almond, and bay. I’ve adapted my recipe to make up for my sad lack of Rihat el Kahk, so not to worry if you don’t have access to North African ingredients. Happy Eid al-Fitr!


Makes approximately 40 cookies

1 cup whole milk
3 bay leaves, fresh if possible
16 oz. unsalted butter
4 ½ cups all purpose flour
3 tsp ground aniseed
3 tsp ground fennel seed
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp ground cloves
2 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp almond extract
2 cups (about 10 oz.) pitted dates
powdered sugar for dusting

Twist or crush the bay leaves to bruise them and heat with the milk in a small saucepan until very warm – do not allow to bubble or boil. Remove from the heat, cover, and let steep for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the butter in a medium pot and heat over medium-high heat until it foams and bubbles. Continue to cook until the solids have separated to the bottom of the pan and the butter is lightly golden in color.

As the butter is cooking, whisk together the flour, 1 ½ tsps of the aniseed, 1 ½ tsps of the fennel seed, the cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Once the butter is clarified and golden, pour the liquid into the flour and spice mixture and mix thoroughly – I use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.

Remove the bay leaves from the milk, and, once the mixture has cooled enough that it’s just warm to the touch, dissolve in the yeast and the sugar. Allow to bloom for 10 minutes and then add to the flour and butter mixture along with the almond extract. Knead or process until the mixture comes together, and then cover with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm place for 1 hour.

While the dough is resting, place the dates and the remaining aniseed and fennel seed into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture comes together in a thick paste.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Form a ball of dough and flatten it to a disk about 3 inches across. Form a 1-inch disk of date paste and place in the center of the dough. Fold up all 4 sides and pinch together to seal (see photo above). Allow the formed cookies to rest for 15 - 20 minutes, and then bake for 25 minutes or until golden and cooked through. While they're still hot, transfer the cookies to a rack and shake over confectioner’s sugar through a sieve until they're completely covered. Cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

28 comments:

Gloria said...

So nice recipe Amanda I never try Egypt's recipe, but I will try this,husband is from Palestina (him parents) that so I cook some arabian foods that he like. I like the spicies. xxxx Gloria

Garrett said...

THis sounds like a fun step outside the box for cookies. Thanks!

winedeb said...

Now you are getting me in the mood for the Holidays! Those cookies look happy with the powder sugar atop! I am enjoying the ingredients, bay leaves? and I love fennel in cookies. Too fun Amanda!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Gloria, thank you! I'm so pleased you like the cookies - the flavors from the part of the world are so wonderful aren't they? Your in-laws must make some amazing food from Palestina - between your gorgeous food and theirs, you must have some amazing meals!

Garrett, quite right! Just a little something different. The spices are so fun to cook with when the combinations are this exotic.

Winedeb, thank you! All that powdered sugar has me in the mood for the holidays too. From the start of fall until January is my absolute favorite time of year, and Eid al-Fitr sort of kicks off the whole holiday season. So glad you like too.

I Heart Kale said...

These are so cute! My family is from Syria so I've always had the sesame seed ring version, but I really like the shape of these and will have to try some.

Anonymous said...

These remind me of some cookies they make in Germany at Christmas. There are walnuts in the center instead of dates. Pretty!

Wendy said...

These sounds delightful. Might make them for Christmas this year as the spices sound festive to me...
Tell me, how do you do your research? You know so much!!! :)

Anh said...

Amanda, beautiful recipe! I ate some of the sweets from my Muslim friend today (mainly baklava), but I still want more!

Mercedes said...

Bravo aleeki for making kahk- it can be quite an undertaking and the yeasted ones are particularly difficult!
Kahk can be used simply as a general term for any cookie or biscuit (even sweet breadsticks), and also more specifically for ring shaped biscuits. We call the kind with date stuffing kahk bi ajwe, ajwe being the type of dates used in the stuffing. They're similar to my favorite mamoul cookies.
Oh, and I love the term "rihat al kahk," it's like saying "scent of cookies." Eid mubarak!

Joanne Rendell said...

what an amazing combination of spices. i bet they taste divine. so pretty too...

Figs Olives Wine said...

I Heart Kale, thank you! I love the sesame seed ring version too - I get them from a Syrian bakery in Brooklyn Heights. Such gorgeous pastries in Syria!

Anonymous, how interesting! My English mother makes a similarly crumbly cookie rolled in confectioner's sugar for Christmas, and ground walnuts are worked into the dough rather than held separately as a stuffing. The 2 must be related somehow.

Wendy, they do feel Christmas-y with their spices and confectioner's sugar, don't they? And honestly, I don't feel as though I know much of anything. I guess I spent a bunch of time doing research in the Northern Med. But mostly I'm just a big geek and read all the time!

Anh, thank you! Baklava are so good. How lucky you are to have a friend celebrating Eid. We're off to Brooklyn today to get some more pastries!

Mercedes, thank you! This is fascinating about the terminology and all the different types of shapes and flavors - I love how each community or region has their own specific preparation. So un-homogenized, which is, of course, more and more rare.

Jo, thank you! The spices are pretty out of this world. I can't tell you how good the house smells when they're baking.

Cynthia said...

Happy Ed-al-Fitr! You are such a thoughtful blogger to remember...

The Passionate Palate said...

Eid Mubarak! Good to see some Muslim traditional baking for so many reasons. These look delicious enough for any break-fast. :-)

Figs Olives Wine said...

Cynthia, thank you! And the same to you!

Passionate Palate, thanks so much! The spices are a great way to awaken the palate after a fast. And it's funny you should say that - we actually ate them at breakfast today!

Anh said...

Amanda, it may be in wrong post, but I really have to thank you for the great roast chicken recipe. I tried it yesterday and everyone loved it! Thanks again!

Jan said...

What beautiful cookies! They look like they'd be lovely for any holiday this fall and winter.

bea at La tartine gourmande said...

These cookies do not only look cute but very tasty, especially with this powder sugar on top! Very nice!

Rose said...

Eid Mubarak to all! I baked so much for eid el Fitr, I am done with sweets for the whole year (which means for the next two months..hihihi). Thanks for sharing such beatiful cookies. I've never heard of them before but they look beautiful. You've outdone yourself Amanda.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE kahk! Thanks so much for this recipe I can't wait to try it out.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Anh, how wonderful! Thank you so much for telling me! It's one of our favorites too.

Jan, thanks so much! They do feel festive in general, don't they? And they make the house smell festive too.

Bea, thanks so much! I'm so pleased you like them. They have almost no sugar in them, so the only sweetness comes from the powdered sugar, which is something I really enjoy about them.

Rose, and to you also! You poor thing! I hate feeling saturated with sweets like that. Give it a week and I'm sure you'll be back in fighting form and writing cake recipes again! Thanks so much!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Anonymous, I think we posted at the same time! Oops. So glad you like kahk! I do too. Enjoy!

Annemarie said...

The combination of spices sound like a perfect autumn warming cookie. Love the sound of these.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Annemarie, thank you so much! They are nice when you come in from a walk in the brisk weather!

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

My Egyptian friend was just talking about these the other day. This was fascinating and great to see the pictures and a recipe!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Jen, that's so funny! I guess Eid had your friend thinking of them too. Let me know if you have the chance to taste or make them!

Lucy said...

Crumbly, aromatic, and only vaguely sugar-sweetened - I couldn't ask for more. I've always loved the idea of Eid - after so much deprivation, a welcome relief to see such bounty no doubt!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Lucy, thank you! It's so wonderful to have you back,and I can't wait to read about the trip! Eid is such a lovely traditiona isn't it? I'm really looking forward to Eid al Adha now too. Lots of tagines. mmmm

esonja said...

Just searching the internet for elusive references to kahk--thank you so much for shedding some light on these. I know a lady who makes Egyptian cookies with dates that I have been DREAMING about, and have had absolutely no luck at all putting together myself. Mercedes (above) mentioned mamoul, as well, which I have also searched for. Does anyone know how these Eid cookies differ in recipe?

Cheers!

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