Kaak (Ka’ak)

Kaak Ka'ak

Kaak (Ka’ak) is so much fun to make. Our friend Cynthia Aziz shared this Lebanese “street food” recipe, which she received from her great aunt. It has a delicate undertone from the subtle addition of spices, including mahlab (mah-lab), which is ground cherry pits. Mahlab is available in Mediterranean markets.

Learning about Kaak has been a delight. In fact, when traveling from the airport to my hotel in Sydney, Australia I fell into conversation with my taxi driver, who told me that his mother filled their Kaak with flavorful fillings such as chopped dates or nut paste.

Doesn’t that sound wonderful?

  • KAAK (KA’AK)
  • Servings: 20-30
  • Time: 3hr 30mins
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • 1/2 cup warm water (100°F)
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon instant dry yeast
Proof yeast (for viability): Confirm water temperature with an instant-read thermometer. In a small bowl, whisk all together. Set aside until frothy (4-5 minutes). Warm sugar water helps activate yeast, but over 120°F risks killing it.
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup whole milk (not raw)
Melt butter in a 1-quart tri-ply saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in sugar; remove from heat. Whisk milk into mixture to cool; set aside. Cooling prevents killing the yeast. Raw (unpasteurized) milk inhibits yeast.
  • 20 ounces (4 cups) bread flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground anise
  • 1/8 teaspoon mahlab
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
In the bowl of a heavy-duty, free-standing mixer, weigh the flour; whisk all together. Add butter and yeast mixtures, attach dough hook to mixer; mix on lowest level for 4 minutes.

Note: If dough begins clinging to the sides of the bowl, pause mixing to scrape free and push to center so that hook is fully engaged.

Weighing flour yields consistent results. Bread flour’s high gluten improves rising structure. Salt tightens gluten.
  • 2 tablespoons bread flour
Evenly dust the workspace. With a flexible silicone spatula, scrape dough out over top; fold 8-10 times to shape into a ball.

First Proof: Place in a 2-quart glass measuring/batter bowl. Cover tightly with a lid or plastic wrap; proof at room temperature (70-75°F) until doubled in volume (about 2 hours).

Mixing develops gluten, increasing dough elasticity. Glass makes monitoring easy.
  • Parchment paper, or 2 tablespoons butter
Line two half sheet pans (or evenly butter); set aside. Position an oven rack just below center, or space two racks so as to divide oven into thirds (for plenty of heat circulation. Preheat to 350°F “Convection” (verify with an oven thermometer). Meanwhile, shape the dough. A low oven temperature is required because this is a rich dough. Ovens often run hot or cold, or preheat slowly.
  • Up to 1 tablespoon bread flour, only if absolutely needed
To shape: Snip off 1-inch diameter balls of dough. With finger tips, roll into 1/2-inch diameter ropes, 6-inches long, with tapered tips. Fold in half and twist. Pinch tips together; turn under. Alternatively, shape into a wreath, overlapping tips by 1 inch; gently pressing to seal. In either case, space 1 inch apart on sheet pans. Using excess flour at this stage can interfere with dough shaping. Rolling small pieces is easier than rolling large pieces because the dough is shaped before gluten has a chance to tighten from handling.
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons milk or water
  • Sesame seeds
Egg wash: In a small bowl, whisk egg and milk together until loose and frothy. Use a pastry brush to lightly, but thoroughly, coat each twist/wreath. Sprinkle sesame seeds evenly over top. An egg wash makes the baked crust shiny and brown.
  Bake until golden (15-18 minutes). Promptly transfer bread from pans to wire racks. Cool thoroughly before bagging.  

Additional Testing Notes: 1/3 cup room temperature mild olive oil may be substituted for the butter; the resulting dough will be a little sticky. For a heavier spiced version of the bread, use 1/2 teaspoon each anise and mahlab, and 1/4 teaspoon each nutmeg, and cardamom.



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