The Independence Day of Yemen, which will be celebrated on November 30th, gives us another opportunity to travel to the heart of Arabia Felix.
A Yemeni proverb says: “You must see Sana’a, however long the journey”. We are therefore back to Yemen for a second time to discover a simple and authentic cuisine.
Last week, Mike prepared saltah, a ubiquitous Yemeni dish that is finally helping him fall in love with soups! Shows you how good it must be! As for me, I could not have stopped in Yemen without trying to make malawach, the famous fried and unleavened flatbread that I discovered several years ago in the heart of the old city of Jerusalem.
I have hesitated for a while before choosing my second recipe…
I first thought of preparing a Queen of Sheba. With a name like that, I inevitably feel the need to tell a story from Arabian Nights through a recipe that we imagine of Yemeni origin or straight from the incense route! We want to tell the love story between the sublime Queen of Sheba, queen of an extremely rich kingdom at that time, which stretched from Yemen to Ethiopia and Eritrea, and the wise King Solomon, king of Jerusalem. Well this dessert is not from there at all ! This delicious chocolate cake and almond only has a name reminiscent of Yemen as it is a 100% French pastry with just a pretty name to honor the Queen of Sheba who had a dark skin.
A popular spice known by its Arabic name as habasoda (habbat that sowda) and is no other than nigella seeds also called black cumin almost turned me away from today’s recipe. But after watching a few tutorials on how to shape ka’ak, I had to try this recipe!
Yes! I chose another dough recipe this week! I am a harmless psychopath who is addicted to working the dough in any shape or form!
Ka’ak, kaak, kaâk, kahqa (Arabic: كعك) means cake in Arabic, and can refer to several types of baked goods or pastries produced in the Arab world and the Middle East.
Halfway between a biscuit and a brioche, Yemeni ka’ak, prepared with yeast, is airy on the inside and slightly crispy on the outside. Its handcrafted flower shape immediately caught my attention.
Every Friday, I take great pleasure in preparing my Shabbath bread. And I am always keen on discovering new ways to braid my challah bread to surprise my guests.
I must admit that some shapes are long and difficult to achieve but the traditional form of Yemeni ka’ak is not complicated and offers a very aesthetic result that I will probably try to reproduce for various kinds of bread.
There are numerous versions of ka’aks around the world:
In Morocco, kaak is prepared with flour and oil, and delicately flavored with anise, ground fennel, sesame seeds, sometimes almonds, cardamom, and cinnamon. It is slightly sweet, dry, crisp, and typically comes in the shape of a sun. Each kaak bears the name of the city it comes from as in kaak of Fès… this is just an example … which happens to be my hometown!
In Tunisia, there is a version of kaak known as el warka or Tunisian anbar kaak which remains white after cooking.
In Lebanon, kaak bi semsim, a ring-shaped Arabic loaf also known as Arabic Bread Ring, looks a bit like a brioche. There is also kaak al Abbass, a kind of crunchy biscuit. Another version of kaak known as kaak bee haleeb, which means kaak with milk, is also available. They are all made in maamoul molds, like the ones I used for my recipe last year.
In Jordan, there is a version of kaak served as bread or brioche.
In Egypt, a variety made with almonds, is known as loz bi kahk.
In some Middle Eastern countries, there is a version of kaak, that resembles dry sticks reminiscent of Italian breadsticks called grissini. But there is a really large number of variants. A thirteenth century cookbook, Kitab al Wusla il al Habib, already included three recipes of ka’ak.
In Iraq, kaak is covered with sesame seeds and is called ka’ak ab sumsum.
Somalia, kaak is spicy, cut in small squares or rectangles, with the same texture as ka’ak from Yemen.
We tasted these Yemeni ka’ak straight out the oven with a glass of Yemeni red tea at home with friends and we all loved them!
How to shape Yemeni ka’ak
- 5 cups flour
- 1 cup butter (soft)
- 2 eggs
- 2 egg whites
- ½ cup milk (warm)
- 2 tablespoons active dry yeast
- 2 tablespoons icing sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 teaspoons milk
- Black sesame seeds
Mix yeast, icing sugar and half the milk.
Mix flour, butter, whole eggs, egg whites, sugar, salt, yeast mixture and knead for 10 minutes by incorporating the remaining milk gradually.
Cover the dough and let it rise for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 F and shape ka'ak as shown in the video, or simply shaped ka'ak as round balls. Cover and let rise for another 30 minutes.
Prepare the egg wash by mixing milk and two egg yolks. Brush ka'ak and sprinkle black sesame seeds.
Cook for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.