Ka’ik Biscuit Cookies
There are many different versions of Lebanese ka’ik. These biscotti-like crunchy Ka’ik Biscuit Cookies are flavored with anise, rose water and turmeric.
There’s a great divide here, as I’m sure there must be where you are, over the flavor of black licorice.
This is anise, a flavor that brings intense joy to the face and heart of my mother and all of her Abowd siblings. Black licorice was an integral part, it seems, of their childhood, and a flavor that takes them home again. I have to wonder if the black licorice flavor was so good to them back when they were little because there wasn’t much else in the way of sweets? I mean, seems like an orange or other piece of nice fruit was a big deal, fancy.
I suppose that’s a way of saying if there’s nothing else, you’d eat it. But that’s not how it is for them; they cherish their black licorice. I’m grateful that Mom passed the love on to me, because any hint of anise, and I’m deeply, profoundly happy.
Actually, I’d much rather have an anise-flavored thing rather than the black-licorice itself, like our ka’ik cookies, whose freshly-ground anise will waft through the house with an aromatherapy like none other.
I’ve been chasing after the recipe for the biscuit-like version of these Lebanese cookies since obsessing over the sesame-coated crunch ka’ik I used to buy at Al Khyam bakery in Chicago. Took a lot of tries to come up with something; they’re not exact, but similar: the Crunchy Sesame Cookies here and in my cookbook.
Since moving back to Michigan (wow, six years now!), I’ve been pouncing on an anise ring cookie, crunchy and semi-sweet, brought in from one or another Detroit bakery to our local Jerusalem bakery. This one reminds me of the ka’ik we had with our family in Lebanon, in flavor if not in looks (theirs were prettier than these…). I practically memorized the ingredient list to see if I could find a recipe somewhere that would resemble that cookie. There was oil, there was turmeric, there was anise. And there was crunch.
My numerous attempts produced epic fails: too much oil and turmeric in one batch (seems like I’m still scrubbing the turmeric from my hands), too much flour in another, or mistaken farina for semolina flour (a huge diff.—it’s the semolina flour we need here).
I started doing the big ask-around (thank you Ana!), intent on having the cookies this Easter season, and eventually tweaked a great recipe to get to that biscotti-like anise cookie ring otherwise known as ka’ik.
My poor brother Chris came over recently during my ka’ik/anise cookie pursuit with the understanding from Dan that there were fresh homemade cookies on offer in the kitchen. The minute he stepped through the door, his face fell.
That’s anise I smell, Chris said.
Yes, I said.
That’s not a cookie, he said. It tastes like black licorice. That’s just mean.
Not one bite of the incredibly good cookie was going in his mouth. It’s a flavor he cannot, he will not, tolerate.
Fine. More for Mom. And more for me. And you too, if you are on our side of the anise divide.
Crunchy Anise Biscuits
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk, divided
- 1 teaspoon rose water
- 1 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup semolina flour
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground anise seed
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 cup (4 oz.) unsalted butter, softened to cool room temperature
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- Line a sheet pan with parchment or a Silpat. In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of the milk and rosewater and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the all-purpose flour, semolina flour, salt, yeast, baking powder, anise seed, and turmeric. Set aside.
- Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or a hand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in two additions. Add the ¼ cup milk and combine until a soft, pliable dough forms. The dough should not be sticky.
- Shape the dough with your hands,using about 2 tablespoons of dough per cookie. Pull off a ball of dough and roll it into about a 5- by ¾ -inch log under the palm of your hand on your work surface. If you feel air pockets on the dough, knead it a bit and roll it again.
- Bring the two ends of the log together to form a ring, placing one end over the other and pressing down on the top piece to secure it. Gently move the cookie to the baking sheet.
- Repeat this with the remaining dough, making about 15 cookies spaced about an inch apart on the sheet.
- Brush the tops of each cookie with the milk-rose water mixture and allow the shaped unbaked cookie dough rest for four hours uncovered.
- Adjust the rack to the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Bake the cookies until they are golden brown, about 18 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool the cookies completely on a wire rack. Keep the cookies in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
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I'm so glad you're here! You'll find among these pages the fresh and classic Lebanese recipes we can't get enough of! My mission is to share my tried + true recipes -- and to help our Lebanese food-loving community keep these culinary traditions alive and on the table. What recipes are you looking for? Let me know!
Could fennel seeds be used in place of the anise? I have fennel seeds on hand but not anise. Glad to see your live in Michigan too!
Hi Anita–very similar flavor, and I think it would be worth a try to use ground fennel in place of the anise! Let us know how it goes if you do…
Pretty little cookies! I’m Sicilian on my mother’s side, and anise shows up in so many foods, both sweet and savory. I’m a big fan, especially of anise cookies – we’ve always shaped them into an S. Oddly enough, I can’t stand licorice jelly beans. No one in the family will eat them, except for the cats, and if I don’t remove them from the candy dish, I’ll find black jelly beans throughout the house, all with tiny fang marks.
Ha! That is great Louanne! I like them as “S” too!
Can I skip the rose water and still get good flavor? Is there a sub? Rose allergies in the family.
Oh sure, you can skip it and still get a great biscuit!
So much fun with this recipe. I used cardamon in some of the dough, then anise in another small batch and, Persian spice in more. Rose water a must. Thinking of adding almonds, too.
It really is a versatile cookie–love your ideas!
Dad used to make anise and poppy seed cookies. Some he shaped like little cigars, scored all around, dipped in a thin cornstarch slurry, and fried. We had these at Christmas. The other cookies were Easter cookies, round with marks of the cross, baked, and glazed with a powdered sugar slurry. The latter had the consistency of a dense biscuit. We loved them so much! We still make baklawee every year, but rarely do we make our anise and poppy seed cookies.
The fried cookies sound amazing!!! Wow. I’d love to try that, thank you Najla!
My paternal grandmother—who was born in Turkey—used to make cookies like this when I was growing up (minus the turmeric), but I didn’t have her exact recipe, so thank you for sharing yours and for bringing back lovely childhood memories! 🙂
Wonderful Susy, thank you!
I can’t thank you enough for this amazing recipe. My parents were Sicilian and we had something similar. I followed the recipe exactly last night and got 15 cookies, like you said. I have already eaten 6 of them, oh no……lol. I have some questions, please. Although my cookies puffed up when I was watching them bake, when I removed them they were flat, yet still delicious. None of my ingredients were outdated, however, the bag of Semolina I used said 100% Semolina, not Semolina Flour; could this make a difference. Also, a different Ka’ik recipe I tried, no where near as good as these, required that you “puff” the yeast when adding it with the flour, etc., is that necessary. Thank you again and I look forward to trying more of your recipes.
Maureen, do you have a recipe for Ka’ak, Zahle style? I believe they are called Ka”ak bi Haleeb.
Beautiful, informative and touching web site
Hi Georgia–I have not developed a recipe for the milk biscuits (ka’ak be haleeb as you’ve referenced). Do you know in what ways that biscuit is different from these Crunchy Anise Biscuits? I’ll be working on this one, you can be sure! Thank you for your generous words Georgia!
I am having a very difficult time waiting four hours to eat these beauties! Still 1.5 hours to go!
It will be worth the wait!!! I’m so glad you baked these!
Yummy cookies! Easy to work with dough,too! I did sprinkle some sparkly sugar on the rings just after brushing them with the milk/water combo because, well, sparkles. I made a double recipe. Two of the cookie sheets are dark, and they took just 13 minutes to get nice and brown on the bottom, but they still came out nice and crunchy. Another winner of a recipe…thanks!!
I’m so glad you made these Michele! And sparkle–great idea. Doing that!!
Thanks for the kaak recipes! Throne I.i referenced was more like a mooist cake! The relative who made them was from zahle! Thanks for answering so promptly !
I would adjust cooking times if making these again. Mine were burnt by the 15 minute mark.
Oh no! Ovens can be calibrated differently, so I’m sorry about that. Because of this, I like to set my timer a good five minutes before any recipe’s done-time, and hover near the oven. Thanks for your comment.
Reminds me when I was little in Chile this relative had these ka’ks hanging on strings (from ceiling) they were crunchy and dry and soo good! Yours brought back 75 yrs of great memories! Thanks a million!
Wow, from the ceiling! What fun!
Hi Maureen. Not sure if I’m completely blind but I cannot seem to see how much sugar goes into this recipe. Could you please let me know?
You’re not blind but I must be! I have fixed this missing ingredient before, and yet…. It’s 1/2 cup sugar. Thank you for your comment! Fixed it again!