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.
- ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk, divided
- 1 teaspoon rose water
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup semolina flour
- pinch kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons yeast
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground anise seed
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- ½ cup (4 oz.) unsalted butter, softened to cool room temperature
- ½ 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-rosewater mixture.
- Let 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.