Isn't it amazing how food is an essential part of almost every cultural and religious celebration? From July 4th burgers and cake to Thanksgiving turkey and pie to Eid lamb and ka’ak, the holidays wouldn’t be the same without them. While eating these delectable meals will surely bring much joy (and calories), the more rewarding aspect of holiday food is the tradition of family and friends gathering to prepare all kinds of sweet and savory goodies.
Across the Muslim world, a variety of traditional foods are prepared on the eve of Eid al-Fitr. In the Middle East in particular, the aroma of freshly baked ka’ak and ma’amoul fill the air in anticipation of the Eid celebration. In addition to the staples of syrup soaked pastries like baklava, mabroomah, ghraybeh, and the like, bakeries in cities across the Arab world will feature these special Eid treats. In our own home, we get the best of many worlds, as we also enjoy some traditional Pakistani desserts made by my mother-in-law on Eid morning- seviyan (a vermicelli pudding), sooji halwa (semolina dessert) - and some good old Betty Crocker cupcakes to top it all off.
Ka’ak and ma’amoul, mostly found in Palestine, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, are semolina based cookies that are typically filled with dates, pistachios, or walnuts. Women across cities and villages will gather a few nights before the first day of Eid or Easter for our Arab Christian neighbors to prepare large batches of these delicacies. These Gazan women are hard at work this week making the freshest ka'ak in traditional ovens (source).
The assembly line and team effort, sprinkled with laughing and singing, is one of the more enjoyable experiences of the holiday season. Here in the US, Middle Eastern bakeries are not always around the corner, so making these favorites at home is even more common.
One of my children's favorite books is KAAK, the tale of a mischievous cat name Simsim who steals a round ka’ak from his friend Ali and goes on a wild chase through the souq market. These freshly baked bread rings sprinkled with sesame seeds (the cat’s namesake) bring back cherished memories of my childhood summers in Jordan.
Every time we read this book, I try to explain to my boys what ka’ak is (a crunchy donut?), and this weekend, we finally had a chance to make one type of ka’ak that is specifically served during Eid. Having their grandmother around to guide the experience was even more special.
As we rolled the dough, made date balls, and then combined the two to make the crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside ka’ak, the boys took the experience into their own hands.
They went to town making ka’ak shaped like snakes (don’t ask!) to Arabic alphabet ka’ak. We named the ingredients in Arabic, and talked about the process as their little hands went to work.
When the cookies came out of the oven, the boys couldn’t be more proud of their hard work! The ka’ak will be shared with our family, friends, neighbors and coworkers, as well as the boys’ camp classmates.
Below you’ll find our family ka’ak recipe for you to try out this Eid, or any other time of the year (who needs an excuse for dessert!). Comment below and tell us, what’s your favorite Eid treat and which part of the world does it come from?
Eid Ka'ak Recipe
- 7 cups all purpose flour
- 1 cup fine semolina
- 1 cup melted ghee or butter
- 1 cup oil
- 1 cup milk
- 1 tsp baking powder
- dash of salt
- 1 tbsp kaak spices (ground fennel, mahlab) (optional)
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 2-3 cups date paste (pitted softened dates can sometimes be found in ethnic stores. If not, pit the dates, and process them until smooth.)
- powdered sugar (optional)
- Mix the first 9 ingredients together by hand. Let the dough rest for 15 minutes.
- While you wait for the dough to rest, shape date mix into small balls.
- Roll dough into approximately 6" logs, then flatten gently.
- Roll the date balls into thinner logs then place on top of the flattened dough logs.
- Seal the dough over the dates. Bring the ends of the logs together into a circle and press to seal.
- Bake in a preheated 400F oven for 7 minutes or until bottom is golden. Then broil for a 1-2 minutes until the top gets the desired color. Monitor baking process carefully as ka'ak can burn quickly.
- Top with powdered sugar (optional).
(Note: This makes about 100 cookies, but this varies depending on the size of each one.)