The wordka’akin the Lebanese dialect means any kind of dry cookie or galette; most ka’ak are dry, very crunchy, and come either plain or covered with sesame seeds.
This one is a very traditional ka’ak which uses grape molasses instead of sugar; grape molasses was used in a number of desserts, cakes, breads and cookies as well as in making beans and cereal dishes, in lieu of sugar.
Every year, we get a few jars of molasses from our grapes; the grapes are taken to the village press. Out comes a wonderful thick, caramel colored molasses that tastes sweet and reminiscent of pumpkin.
Here I used a grape molasses from the store made in Turkey. Most of the countries alongside the Eastern Mediterranean basin still make grape molasses. (Of course, it is a far cry from the homemade version). You can buy the molasses online as well.
These cookies are sold in Beirut in every pastry shop as they have come back in vogue and are advertised as healthy, natural and good for people with diabetes.
They are apparently made in the village of Qartaba, with local grape molasses and olive oil, in celebration of Palm Sunday.
- 1 Cup of whole wheat flour (135 g.)
- 1 Cup of all-purpose flour (135 g.)
- 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
- 1/3 Cup (+2 tablespoons) of olive oil (110 g.)
- 1/2 Cup of grape molasses (125 g.)
- 1/2 Teaspoon of mahlab (see Note)
- 1 Tablespoon of anise seeds (15 g.)
- 1 Tablespoon of lemon rind (optional)
- 1 Cup of toasted sesame seeds (135 g.)
- Place the white and whole wheat flour in the bowl of a food processor (or mixer); process a few seconds to combine. Add the mahlab, anise seeds, lemon rind and baking soda; process to mix the spices.
- Add the olive oil through the feed tube; process a minute or so until the oil is no longer visible and the dough is sandy in texture; add the grape molasses through the feed tube and process until the dough leaves the sides of the bowl and clumps, a couple or so minutes more. If needed, add more molasses to the dough to make it hold together.
- Gather the dough: It should be moist, firm and compact. Pinch off small pieces and form into a small sausage shape, rolling it back and forth till it reaches 4 inches in length. Bring the two ends together to form a ring. Dip the ring in the sesame seeds. Place the cookies in a baking sheet lined with paper or silpat. Bake for 15 minutes at 325F or until the cookies feel dry. They will be extra-crispy as they cool. Store in a tight container for up to 7 days. (They won’t last seven days).
Source for the recipe: The Culinary Heritage of Lebanon by Chef Ramzi, adapted.
Note: Mahlab is a spice extracted from the inner pit of the black cherries in Lebanon; it comes in seeds, which can be ground in a coffee grinder, or in powder form; it is sold at all Middle-Eastern stores and online.
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