We knew Easter was coming when our Teta (grandmother) was busy in the kitchen making these. Hers were unbelievably soft and crumbly and filled with the luscious and buttery date paste. She also made round ones with almonds and walnuts. I would sneak in and grab some when no one was looking. …I yearned for those for years, never daring to make them. Then, a few years ago, my mother started making them for Easter and shipping us a tin from Beirut. Now I feel it is my turn to carry on the tradition and put up a resistance front against all the girlscout cookies that my kids and their friends profess to love so much! So one summer in Beirut I found a great cookbook Al Helwayat Al-Arabya wal Gharbya written by Lina Shbaro Beydoun. Her recipe includes mahlab, which my grandmother never used, as well as milk and yeast.
These are not hard to make and their preparation can be spread out over several days. One day to make the dough, the following day to shape the kaak. They keep for weeks in a tin and can be frozen. I was told that their shape is a representation of Jesus’ crown and the stones thrown at Him . My grandmother would delicately pinch each cookie as a final touch, as this was to show the thorns on His crown. I have skipped this step however, mainly because I could not find the special implement to do it in Dallas (called malkat). Another way to make them is to use a special wooden mold called a taba’, found in middle-eastern stores. This process is faster and simply requires oiling the mold a bit with a spray such as Baker’s Joy every so often to ease unmolding of the dough.
1 lb. of semolina
1 lb. of farina or cream of wheat
4 sticks of unsalted butter
3/4 cup of granulated sugar
1/2 cup of milk
1/4 cup of rose water
1/4 cup of orange blossom water
1 teaspoon of mahlab, (optional)
1/2 teaspoon yeast
1 large package of date paste (1lb)
8 Tablespoons of unsalted butter
- Mix the semolina and cream of wheat (farina) and sugar to obtain a homogenous mixture. Add the melted butter and mix again very well. Add the milk, orange blossom water, rose water.
- Mix well and leave to rest for a few hours or overnight. Some recipes call for adding 1/2 teaspoon of dried yeast to the mixture which can be dissolved in the milk. I have omitted yeast in mine. Also, one can add a teaspoon of mahlab if the taste is something one fancies in these pastries.
- Knead the dough for a few minutes by hand or in a mixer with the paddle attachment until the dough feels smooth, shiny, and easy to shape into logs.
- On a marble or granite counter place a large sheet of wax paper. Place a fistful of dough on it and put another piece of wax paper on top of it. With a rolling pin, flatten the dough and shape it into a long rectangle.
- Take a piece of date paste and knead it to loosen it. You can add up to 8 tablespoons of butter to the date paste to make it more malleable using the food processor. Form it into a 1/3 in. rope and place the rope directly on the dough. Using the wax paper, roll the log enclosing the date paste. A marble or granite counter is helpful here.
- Roll out the log on the marble counter and roll it with the bottom of your wrist back and forth until it thins out to your liking. Cut the rope into individual cookies, each about 4 inches long.
- Place the cookies on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 325F oven till the cookies are light gold and the dough feels dry. Cool the cookies and keep in a tin for 2 weeks or more. They can also be frozen for about one month. This recipe will yield at least 50 cookies.
You can use the wooden mold if you are pressed for time, because it is faster to shape them this way. Simply prepare small balls of dough on the counter. Taking one at a time, use your thumb to carve out a deep hole in each ball. Place a smaller piece of date paste in the hole and close the opening while rolling it on the counter to make sure it is nicely smoothed out. Place the stuffed cookie in the mold, press gently and unmold by tapping it on the cookie sheet. Bake for about 15-20 minutes in a 325F oven till golden and dry. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if you want.
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