Tips for a Better Lebanese Ka’ik Recipe

Tips for baking better Lebanese Ka’ik, a traditional yeasted Easter bread/cookie that is soft, flavorful, and sweet. For the beautiful molds made of solid walnut, and the Mymoune Rose Water, visit MaureenAboodMarket.com.

Lebanese Easter Ka'ik with glaze on a rack

I’ve shared with you before some of the confounding aspects of our beloved Lebanese ka’ik.

I have asked (and continue to ask): is ka’ik a bread/yeasted donut? Or a cookie?

Ka’ik is both; ka’ik is all. Crunchy biscuit. Soft, buttery sweet bread. And a pocket bread with hole for hanging on a hook, a version I saw in Lebanon filled with knafeh-to-go (my Lord, the Lebanese are a brilliant people), which we are tabling for a later time.

Today our attention is on the soft, buttery sweet bread. The recipe that I rely on, as do many throughout the land if I dare say it, is handed down from my Danny’s mom and matriarch, Louise (a.k.a. “Aunt Louise”).

Molded yeast cookies with circles and flower designs

Glazed yeasted Lebanese Easter Cookies

Here is a tried and true recipe, a ka’ik recipe that has made Aunt Louise famous (yes, I still call my mother-in-law “Aunt.”) for baking the finest, buttery sweet bread ka’ik known to humankind.

And here, I humbly submit, I have been working in the lab that is my kitchen to enhance her already-perfect recipe.

Before the heavy hand of the Lord comes down upon me for my sacrilege, let me just say that I believe even this beautiful second mother of mine (who gets to have TWO beautiful mothers in their lives? My blessing is beyond!) would say that her ka’ik dough can be so darn finicky. I remember days when we’d stop over and Aunt Louise would be shaking her head over a batch of ka’ik, muttering “it didn’t rise . . . it didn’t rise.” Which was a total affront, given the warm blankets she laid out on the counter both under and over her dough.

Dough balls in a blanketed sheet pan

Risen dough balls on a sheet pan with towels

To further support my journey into new, improved ka’ik, I cite a recent visit to my cousin Celine. I casually mentioned, in our waterfall of hello-and-all-that-is-new conversation, that I’ve been working on the ka’ik recipe. Her big Lebanese eyes got bigger. She asked, would I be sharing those new tips with everyone? Cousin?

Why, yes, I’ll share.

It’s just that my dough doesn’t want to rise! She said.

And we want it SWEETER! I said. It might be in the glaze, I’m playing with the glaze.

I need more POP! of flavor! she said.

Anise! Mahleb! Rose Glaze!, I said.

Celine went on a riff about how there were so few sweets around when she was a kid, that she must have learned to love the semi-sweet ka’ik back then. Anything even sorta sweet, and that kid was gonna take what she could get and run. Add some dates as a filling? You never saw a kid love dates like she did come Easter, for lack of a Reese’s peanut butter egg anywhere to be found.

Dough released from wood cookie mold

Molded cookies with wooden mold

I’ve made batch upon batch to confirm findings, to which Dan and Steven will attest: Bingo! Steven has said in hushed tones over the years, I’ve got to say, I don’t go crazy for the Easter cookies. The new and improved ka’ik, he took a little baggie of them home with him for second supper (more on that another time). Richard, the most discerning eater I know, dubbed the new ka’ik “soft and sweet like a donut.” Enough said.

Here’s where I’ve landed for enhancements to the (already-wonderful) Ka’ik Recipe:

The dough. Ka’ik dough is a yeasted dough enriched with butter and milk and sugar. All of these ingredients actually inhibit the yeast’s ability to rise (the yeast in effect crashes drunk and tired on all of that fat and sugar, same way we can). Answer: Rapid Rise yeast and more of it, longer rise-time, indispensable warm rising environment. Alternatively, the dough rises beautifully overnight in the refrigerator, in which case, cut back in ½ tablespoon of the new yeast quantity. I love the overnight rise because it allows for freshly baked ka’ik in the morning, and there is nothing like ka’ik fresh, and now even softer with my enhancements. For the second rise, uncover the dough for the last 15 minutes or so of the rise. The slightly dry dough makes a better imprint in the mold. This enhanced dough overall is softer, so a bit of flour on the molds and dough helps release the dough from the mold.

Risen dough in a bowl with blue towel

The flavors. I have doubled, even tripled the anise here and Dan still says, “did you add more anise?” I’ll thank my own mom, whose devotion to licorice flavor is stellar, for the little bottle of Pure Anise Extract I found in her spice drawer recently. Add this to the mix along with freshly ground anise, and the ka’ik flavor boost is perfect. Now, Mom’s is one oooooold bottle of anise extract, from a time when you could find anise extract in the grocery aisle. Not so today. So if you don’t want to wait to order your anise extract online, grab a bottle of Arak or Ouzo, which work equally as well for added anise flavor.

The mahleb, the ground kernel of the St. Lucy cherry pit, is our little kernel of sweet, aromatic almond-like flavor. This flavor is double-worthy. Note that the mahleb must be fresh; mahleb goes rancid in about a nano-second, so check the date on yours. I know mahleb can be difficult to find, so I’m looking at offering it at MaureenAboodMarket.com. If needed, replace the mahleb for 1/8 teaspoon almond extract.

Arak, molds, spices on the counter for ka'ik Easter cookies

The glaze. My initial glaze experiments were primarily about simply adding sweetness to the ka’ik, until Celine mentioned wanting a glaze that hardens a bit, for the ability to stack the ka’ik.

I’ve tested everything from simple syrup glazes to royal icing, and I’ve landed on a confectioners’ sugar glaze, full of rose water aroma (but not overpowering in any way), that shines and hardens to a perfect Easter-joy level. The key here is adding a touch of corn syrup, which rest assured, in home cooking is not the bad-boy high-fructose corn syrup. Still, even with the harder glaze, take care when stacking the cookies; the top is still delicate and requires a layer of wax paper between.

Shiny powdered sugar glaze

Glazed yeasted Lebanese Easter Cookies

 

Enhanced Ka'ik Recipe

Maureen Abood
The long rise, both for the first and second proofs, is essential. To do the first rise overnight in the refrigerator, pull back to 1 ½ tablespoons yeast, cover the dough as usual, and chill in the refrigerator for about 8 hours. Proceed with making the balls, and let them rise in a warm spot until doubled, about an hour. To fill the ka'ik with date paste, see the method here. Note the molded imprint is not quite as defined when the cookie is filled.
Servings 18 cookies

Ingredients
  

For the dough:

  • 2 tablespoons rapid rise dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup clarified butter
  • 1 1/3 cups whole milk
  • 5 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting molds
  • 2 tablespoons ground mahleb
  • 1/4 cup ground anise seed
  • 2 tablespoons anise extract, Arak, or Ouzo
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil, to grease the bowl

For the glaze:

  • 3 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 2 teaspoons rose water
  • 4-5 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons corn syrup

Instructions
 

  • Proof the yeast by dissolving it in 1/4 cup of warm water with a tablespoon of the sugar. After about 10 minutes, the yeast will activate, becoming creamy and foamy.
  • Warm the clarified butter and milk in a small saucepan over low heat or in the microwave just until the butter is melted.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the hook attachment, or by hand in a large bowl, combine the yeast mixture with the remaining cup of sugar, flour, mahleb, anise, arak, nutmeg, sesame seeds, and salt. Slowly add the butter and milk and mix on low speed or by hand until dough forms. Increase the speed on the mixer to knead the dough for eight minutes, or by hand on the counter for 10 minutes.
  • Lightly oil a large bowl with the olive oil. Coat the dough in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap, then a clean kitchen towel. Set the dough in a warm spot to rise until at least doubled in size, which can take 2 to 3 hours.
  • To create a warm setting for the balls to rise again, place a kitchen or bread towel on the counter or on sheet pans and cover with plastic wrap. Divide the dough into 18 pieces by cutting or squeezing off balls about 2 ½ inches wide (the size can be larger or smaller, to your liking). Place the balls on this about 2 inches apart, cover with more plastic wrap and another towel. Let the balls rise for 30 minutes, uncovering the dough for the last 15 minutes.
  • Heat the oven to 325 degrees, with a rack in the center of the oven. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper and if you have more sheet pans, double the pans to prevent overbaking the bottom of the ka'ik. Dust the counter and molds lightly with flour.
  • Take a dough ball and lightly coat it with flour, flattening the dough into a flat circle. Press the dough into the mold with some force numerous times without lifting the dough from the mold, and pushing the dough up that falls over the edges as you go.
  • To unmold the dough, use gravity as your friend and turn the mold over. Gently peel the dough away from the edges and it will fall out into your hand.
  • Repeat this process with the remaining dough, baking six at a time per pan, then re-using the pans and parchment once they are finished. If using your hands to shape the dough, flatten each ball with the palm of your hand. Pinch the edges five or six times around the circle and poke with the tines of a fork over the top. Place on the prepared sheet pans.
  • Bake the ka'ik for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown. Transfer the ka'ik to cooling racks until cool. Place parchment paper under the cooling racks to catch the glaze drips.
  • Make the glaze while ka’ik bakes. Combine the confectioners' sugar with rose water, water, and corn syrup, stirring until the glaze falls in a ribbon off of the spoon. Add drops of water if needed to get the correct consistency. Cover with plastic wrap until you're ready to use the glaze, stirring again to smooth it out.
  • Dip the tops of the ka'ik in the glaze, letting the excess glaze run off of the ka'ik back into the bowl. Place the ka'ik back on the racks and let the glaze harden for at least one hour.
  • Serve immediately, or store in airtight containers for up to 5 days. The cookies will not be as soft over time, which is perfect for dipping them in coffee. To soften them, warm them in the microwave for 15-20 seconds right before serving.
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34 Comments

  1. Holly Kohli on March 30, 2019 at 10:16 AM

    I’m excited to try this. If you do the overnight method do you put the dough in the refrigerator immediately after it’s mixed or does it need to sit on the counter first? Thanks!

    • Maureen Abood on March 30, 2019 at 10:48 AM

      Oh good Holly! For overnight, go direct to the refrigerator after you make the dough and be sure to cut back on the yeast. Love to hear how it goes!

  2. Texan In Exile on March 30, 2019 at 11:57 AM

    Just when I had resolved that we were going to eat all the cookies and desserts already in the freezer before I did any more baking.

    • Maureen Abood on March 30, 2019 at 7:05 PM

      Fresh is best!!!!

  3. Marcia O'Dea on March 30, 2019 at 2:50 PM

    Dear Maureen,I have been researching kaik recipes. With my sister for so long! My Dad’s aunt made a moist, spongy one that I long to duplicate but have had no success ! She died many years ago and. no one knew her recipe! She was fro Aita Lebanon! I am feeling better and eager to try your recipe! Blessings! Love to read your recipes!

    • Maureen Abood on March 30, 2019 at 7:05 PM

      Oh wonderful Marcia! I hope this recipe reminds you of your aunt’s. Keep me posted!

  4. Carol Abodeely on March 30, 2019 at 3:58 PM

    Hi Maureen!
    Does this new recipe still produce a sweet bread vs a cookie? Timely posting – thanks!
    Carol

    • Maureen Abood on March 30, 2019 at 7:02 PM

      Carol, these are soft little yeasted breads; they are more of a yeasted donut-style than a cookie.

  5. Margy on March 30, 2019 at 5:00 PM

    Such beautiful pictures for this recipe and so many memories they evoke! You do have two beautiful mothers and what a blessing to be able to bake with them! I’m going to buy the molds from your marketplace and try this recipe for the first time. Thanks for the inspiration! ❤️

    • Maureen Abood on March 30, 2019 at 7:02 PM

      This makes me very happy cousin! Thank you and love to hear how your baking goes!

  6. Ellis ODonnell on March 31, 2019 at 9:14 AM

    Would love it if you would provide the original recipe…

    • Maureen Abood on April 2, 2019 at 3:01 PM

      Hi Ellis, absolutely–the recipe in my cookbook and here online is here.

  7. Celine on April 18, 2019 at 6:05 PM

    Bless you Cuzzy! Your enhanced recipe is a HIT! I just finished baking and glazing my first batch and I can wholeheartedly attest that you nailed the POP of anise flavor we were looking for with the same yummy texture as the original. Good news- I found McCormick Pure Anise Extract at our Meijer store. The best part is the glaze, which is exactly what I’ve craved all these years. This cookie went from good to GREAT with every enhancement you made. Paul’s reaction after one bite was a resounding “Mmmmmmm, those are the best!” I couldn’t agree more.
    Thank you! xo

    • Maureen Abood on April 19, 2019 at 8:56 AM

      I love this!!!! Thank you and how great that the Anise extract was available at the grocery store!!

  8. Betty on March 30, 2020 at 6:52 PM

    Hello Maureen! I have been wanting to try this recipe, but am not a fan of anise. Can I substitute something else or cute out the anise and arak?

    • Maureen Abood on April 7, 2020 at 11:28 AM

      Betty, absolutely you can just leave the anise and arak out. Add a little vanilla instead of the arak, or orange blossom water. You could add some other spices like cinnamon, ginger, clove to give a rounded spice cookie flavor!

  9. Mai on April 5, 2020 at 5:05 PM

    Where can I buy the mold from

  10. Marlene Kaim on April 18, 2020 at 9:25 PM

    I had so much fun using your mold for the Ka’ik, Maureen! And they came out beautifully using your recipe! Here alone with my husband love as we await our Orthodox Pascha Liturgy tonight! So very strange this year without all the kids and grandkids coming and going in my kitchen. I have used my mother’s recipe in past years. So similar to yours, but she would make using 10 cups and sometimes for the Church festivals a 5 lb bag of flour. She also added 2 eggs to her recipe. She would make ropes of the Dough and twist them to look like a braid then join the ends to make a wreath about the size of silver dollar— a lot of work! My daughter is anxious to taste these- she watched me making them as we FaceTimed! Christ is risen!

    • Maureen Abood on April 22, 2020 at 9:33 AM

      I imagine those wreaths were just beautiful! I love that you baked with your daughter, even from afar. Thank you Marlene, and may Easter joy be with you and your family always.

  11. John Rasak on April 21, 2020 at 11:42 PM

    Hi Maureen, I made my sitto’s ka’ik recipe. I kneaded it by hand for 20 minutes and then let it rise for 4 hours. I used my mold and they looked great going in the oven, coming out of the oven they lost their design and shape, rose almost 2-3 inches and looked like scones. They tasted amazing but looked ugly. Any thoughts on my mistake? Thanks In advance.

    • Maureen Abood on April 22, 2020 at 9:35 AM

      Hi John–the loss of the imprint on the dough is one of the reasons I revised my recipe, and one of the reasons I developed a shortbread version (see that one here). With the yeasted dough, you really have to push hard to get the shape, and even then you’ll find you lose at least some of it in the baking. Did you use a second rise of the dough? Try my recipe and method here and see if it comes out differently than your Sitto’s, with better shape.

  12. John Rasak on April 22, 2020 at 1:01 PM

    Thank you Maureen, I did not second rise my dough. I will try your recipe next time and let you know how it turns out! Thanks again, John

  13. andrea barlow on July 1, 2020 at 6:38 AM

    Hi
    Well I cannot wait to get into my kitchen to try your version of this cookie. In Canada for the past 30 years with no one to pass the recipe to me I will be forever grateful!!!
    Easter will be different 2021 lol
    Andrea

    • Maureen Abood on July 2, 2020 at 7:58 AM

      That is so great Andrea! Let us know how you like these!

  14. shaun on October 22, 2020 at 11:07 AM

    Hello Maureen, the link for your moulds doesnt work … can u point me to one that does so i can buy some they look beautiful… thank you

  15. Carolyn on February 1, 2021 at 10:40 PM

    Hi Maureen! I’ve been dying to make these beautiful cookies and just wanted to verify the kosher salt measurement. It says 1/4 Tablespoon of kosher salt. So this would be 3/4 teaspoon? Just want to make sure I’m reading the recipe correctly! Thanks in advance for your response~~

    • Maureen Abood on February 2, 2021 at 8:54 AM

      Thank you so much Carolyn for catching this! Use 1/4 teaspoon, corrected.

  16. Terri on April 15, 2021 at 8:30 PM

    My Sittie always used Caraway Seed instead if nutmeg. I wonder if you could do both and would the flavors work together

    • Maureen Abood on April 16, 2021 at 3:06 PM

      Interesting! I think it would taste good!

  17. Terri on April 16, 2021 at 9:12 AM

    My Sittie never used Nutmeg she always used Caraway. What do you think about adding nutmeg with the caraway. Love your recipe!!

  18. Maureen on April 8, 2022 at 10:54 AM

    Hi, Maureen. So happy to “meet” another Lebanese named Maureen! I have a similar Ka’ik recipe from my Mom and Sittie but we roll ours out into a thin log and twist the ends together into a knot and then pierce with a fork to hold, almost like a holed donut. It is then dipped in a rosewater flavored syrup. They told us it was an Easter treat so always make it at Easter. They can be either harder or softer depending on how long you let them rise. do you have a similar recipe and what do you call it? Love you website!

    • Maureen Abood on April 8, 2022 at 4:55 PM

      Hi Maureen! Great to connect, thank you! This version you’re describing is new to me but it sounds more like our zalabia (see my recipe here and in my cookbook). Love to hear if this is what you’re after.

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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!

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