Adapted from Poopa Dweck’s recipe.
“Ka’ak has the texture and crunch of a breadstick, but it is ring-shaped and has a crimped edge. A staple of the Aleppian pantry, ka’ak is usually offered to guests when Aleppian Jews serve coffee or tea,” writes Poopa Dweck. Because I make my dough with 7 cups flour in the KitchenAid, I increased the amount of flour adding whole wheat, not just all purpose; I also used olive oil instead of the ‘vegetable shortening’ the recipe suggests.
I had no sesame the first time I made ka’ak so I substituted sunflower seeds. Both my husband and our friends who tried them couldn’t stop eating them, and they disappeared fast. For the second batch I used both sesame, as well as poppy seeds and ground walnuts, but also sunflower seeds again, which seemed to complement ideally the cookie’s flavor and crunch.
For about 64 cookies
1/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons aniseeds
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 ½ teaspoon mahleb
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups whole-wheat flour
2 packages instant dry yeast
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground pepper
3 tablespoons semi-coarse sea salt or kosher salt
1 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup olive oil
About 2 ½ cups slightly warm water, or more as needed
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten with 2 tablespoons water
About 1 cup or more sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, nigella (black sesame), poppy seeds, ground walnuts, as needed.
In a clean coffee grinder or in the blender add the aniseeds, coriander, fennel seeds and mahleb. Note that the mahleb is quite hard and needs to be grinded in a coffee grinder, while the other spices can be coarsely ground in a blender.
In the bowl of a standing mixer toss the flours with the yeast, the cumin, the pepper, the salt and the sugar. Stir well with a spatula to sift the flours, then add the aniseeds and the other freshly ground spices and stir again to mix. Pour in the olive oil.
Attach the bowl to the mixer and fit it with the dough hook. With the motor running in slow speed, pour in the water slowly, in the side of the bowl, and increase slightly the motor speed. Work the dough for 5-6 minutes, adding a little more water if needed, to get a soft, wet, and slightly sticky dough.
Oil a large bowl and a piece of plastic film. With the spatula transfer the dough to the oiled bowl, cover with the film (oiled-side down) and either let rise for about 1 ½ hours or transfer to the refrigerator and let the dough rise slowly overnight. Take the dough out of the refrigerator and let stand for 1 hour before you proceed further.
Divide the dough into quarters. Roll one quarter into a 15-inch (38 cm) log then slice into 16 pieces. Roll each piece into about 4 inch (10 cm) snakes. Shape each snake into a circle, overlapping and sticking the ends. Alternatively, you can just form 4-inch-long breadsticks. Continue shaping the other 3 pieces of dough.
Dip the rings or breadsticks into the egg-wash and then into the sunflower seeds, sesame seeds or any other single or combination of nuts and seeds you choose. Transfer to baking sheets lined with parchment paper, and bake at 400 F (200 C) for about 20 minutes or until all the ka’ak are baked.
Lower the oven temperature to 250 F (120 C) and bake for another 15-20 minutes, until the ka’ak are completely dry and crisp.
Let cool completely, and store in airtight containers.