No Egyptian feast is complete without kahk, the lightly spiced crumbly cookie stuffed with sweet surprises and buried under copious amounts of powdered sugar. Other than the return of my beloved cup of morning coffee, there’s nothing I associate with Eid more than the arrival of these cookies at my house. Families and friends have been gifting each other with homemade and store-bought kahk since forever. So as you could imagine, the calories consumed during the three days of Eid make up for all those lost during the month’s fast.
The sweet is believed to date back to the 10th century in Egypt, when palace kitchens made special cookies stuffed with gold coins and distributed them to the poor. Today, they are stuffed with nuts and gooey honey filling instead of gold coins, but as much as they are delicious, the cookies are more about the essence of the celebration than about anything else. It is often an event; an informal ritual that Egyptian families look forward to. The process of making them is rarely a one-man show, but a chance for families to gather around baking trays and share stories and laughs over the hours of preparation.
Kids take part in putting their artistic touches by stamping their designs and filling the cookies (which they’ll only ever eat plain and drenched in sugar), while grownups take over the baking part. Of course, every household has its own unique recipe that they treasure, but the basics remain the same. Kahk is a type of buttery sugar cookie with a sandy texture and mildly aromatic flavor. The cookies themselves are barely sweet, making way for more sweetness in the form of fillings and powdered sugar coating.
Photo by Tasbih Sallam
The signature prints on top are fun to make, help the powdered sugar adhere to the surface and also act as a label to the different types of fillings. The most popular filling by far is the agameya (my favorite!), a cooked mixture of ghee, honey, sesame seeds and optional nuts; most often walnuts. It’s sweet and gooey and irresistible. Kahk can also be stuffed with Turkish delight (malban), sticky sweet date paste (agwa) or plain nuts like walnuts and pistachios.
My own recipe is what I like to call a modern twist on an old fashioned favorite. Unlike traditional recipes, my cookies don’t have yeast, so they don’t taste “bread-y.” The addition of baking powder and a little bit of powdered sugar in the dough makes them much more delicate and finer in texture than classic recipes which produce coarser results. The lightly aromatic flavor comes in part from kahk essence (reehet el-kahk), a special blend of spices, specifically made for kahk, which gives it its distinctive flavor.
Photo by Tasbih Sallam
-An ingredient that either makes or breaks the flavor of these cookies is ghee. Since A LOT goes into the dough, the flavor really comes through, so be sure to use the best quality you could find.
-To perfectly portion your dough balls, use a mini ice cream scoop.
-Before baking, don’t stamp the agameya filled ones. If the dough gets pierced the agameya could ooze out.
-Bake agameya-filled cookies at super high heat (260C/ 500F for about 8 minutes). This bakes the cookies so fast before the agameya has a chance to put its pants on. Bake all other kinds at 180C/350F for 22 to 25 minutes until firm to the touch and golden all over in color.
This recipe makes 135 (1 tbsp-sized) cookies that you can leave plain or stuff with your filling of choice.
Ingredients: For the Kahk
1 kg (8 cups) all purpose flour
100 g (1 cup minus 1 tablespoon) powdered sugar, plus extra for coating
1½ tsp (6 g) baking powder
⅛ tsp salt
1 tbsp (10g) kahk essence (reehet el-kahk)
1 packet vanilla sugar (or ½ teaspoon vanilla extract)
600 g (2½ cups plus 2 tablespoons) ghee or clarified butter, at room temperature
160 g (2/3 cup) milk, at room temperature
For the Agameya
3 tbsp (42.5 g) ghee or clarified butter
1 tbsp (15 g) all-purpose flour
1 cup (340 g) honey
1 tbsp (10 g) toasted sesame seeds
1 cup (113 g) coarsely chopped walnuts or favorite nut (optional)
Photo by Tasbih Sallam
To make the Kahk dough:
1. Prepare your fillings by rolling the agameya (with or without nuts) and date paste into macadamia nuts-sized balls. Keep the agameya in the fridge until ready to use. Cut the Turkish delight (with or without nuts) into small squares and keep the plain nuts nearby.
2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat the oven to 180C/ 350F, for agameya-filled kahk, 260C/ 500F.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, whisk together the flour, powdered sugar, baking powder, salt, kahk essence and vanilla until well combined.
4. Add the ghee (or clarified butter) and mix on medium-low speed until well blended and the dry ingredients are evenly coated.
5. With the mixer running on low speed, gradually pour in the milk. Continue mixing until a cohesive dough comes together.
6. Using a tablespoon or a tablespoon-sized ice cream scoop with a release mechanism, scoop out tablespoons of dough and place on a baking sheet. You should have approximately 135 dough scoops.
7. Roll each dough into a ball, then (if filling) press the center with your thumb to make an indentation for the filling to sit in. Add the filling of your choice, then gather the dough up over the filling to completely cover it. Make sure that no filling is peaking out. Roll the filled dough into a smooth ball.
8. Arrange the dough balls onto a silicon mat or parchment-paper-lined baking sheet, leaving an inch of space between each one.
9. To be able to distinguish between the different kahk fillings, give them some designs. Press lightly on the dough with a kahk stamper (khattama) or decorate with kahk shaping tweezers (mona’ash), if available. If not, make a cross hatch design using the twines of a fork, or simply press down with your hand and leave plain.
10. Bake until firm to the touch and golden all over in color.
11. Cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool before dusting with powdered sugar, otherwise the sugar will melt on the kahk, creating a wet surface.
12. Using a small sieve, dust the kahk with a generous amount of powdered sugar or roll into a bowl full of sugar.
13. Serve or store in a container. Kahk will keep well at room temperature for weeks and weeks.
Photo by Tasbih Sallam
To make the agameya (honey filling):
In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the ghee (or clarified butter). Add flour and cook, stirring constantly with a small whisk, until the mixture turns golden blonde in color.
2. Add the honey and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Once boiled, cook a little longer until just thickened; 1 minute to 1½ minutes. I actually set the timer to 1 minute and 15 seconds but timing may vary. Test the consistency, by dropping a little bit of the mixture in cold water. It should hold its shape but remain soft and malleable; it should not stick to the teeth. (Do not overcook, or it will harden).
3. Remove saucepan from the heat and stir in the sesame seeds and nuts, if using.
4. Transfer agameya to a small bowl and allow to cool to room temperature.
5. Shape into small macadamia nut-sized balls. Keep in the fridge until ready to use.
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