Our friend Cynthia Aziz shared this Lebanese “street food” recipe, which originated from her great aunt. It has a wonderful undertone from the subtle addition of spices, including mahlab (mah-lab), which is actually ground cherry pits. Mahlab can be found in Mediterranean markets.
Learning about this bread 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 Ka’ak with flavorful fillings such as chopped dates or nut paste.
Doesn’t that sound wonderful?
|WHAT YOU NEED||WHAT TO DO||WHY|
|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.|
2 tablespoons milk or water
|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.
Bake until golden (15-18 minutes). Promptly transfer bread from pans to wire racks. Cool thoroughly before bagging.
|An egg wash makes the baked crust shiny and brown.|
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.