In less than ten days I made two batches of melomakarona –my favorite spiced olive oil and orange cookies that are soaked in honey syrup– and also kourambiedes, the buttery, toasted almond cookies that are dredged in confectioner’s sugar. But first I baked two different variations of savory grissini and ring-shaped cookies with aniseed, coriander, mahleb and cumin; and this for me is definitely a ‘baking frenzy!’
My desire to bake wasn’t inspired by the approaching Christmas, but started when I read Penny Averill’s poetic post about funeral customs and foods in her elegant new web magazine Modern Salt. The piece concluded with a recipe for Ka’ak: Aleppo Jewish cookies that as she writes were part of Seudat Havra’ah, the ‘meal of comfort’ eaten by mourners following the burial of loved ones. Averill posted a recipe for ka’ak adapted from Poopa Dweck. I was immediately drawn to this heavily spiced but simple yeasted dough; I was sure I was going to love the cookies. I googled ‘ka’ak’ and found various Middle Eastern and North African recipes for similar cookies, but clearly the most interesting and inspiring was Poopa Dweck’s. “Ka’ak has the texture and crunch of a breadstick,” she writes in the extended note that precedes her recipe. She doesn’t speak about funeral traditions, but writes that these anise-flavored cookies were served to guests all-year-round, with coffee or tea, and although bakeries in Aleppo used to sell them, people of course preferred the home-made ones.
Ring-shaped cookies, sweeter than ka’ak, often scented with cinnamon or with orange, are offered with coffee here in Greece too. But although they probably were made with yeasted dough in the old days, now both home cooks and bakeries use baking powder that gives the cookies a completely different, heavier texture.
Since I make my dough with seven cups flour in the KitchenAid, I increased the original recipe’s flour, adding whole wheat, not just all purpose; I also used olive oil instead of the ‘vegetable shortening.’ And because I had no sesame I substituted sunflower seeds the first time I made ka’ak. Both my husband and friends who tried them couldn’t stop eating them, so they disappeared fast. For the second batch I used both sesame, as well as poppy seeds and ground walnuts, but also sunflower seeds which seemed to complement beautifully the cookie’s flavor and crunch. As I was alone and didn’t have the patience to shape all the cookies into rings, I just rolled breadsticks. Dipping the cookies in plenty of egg wash and then rolling them in the seeds was a great suggestion! For the first time most sesame, poppies and sunflower seeds stayed on the cookies! Simply brushing the bread or cookies once has never done the trick, and I have stopped sprinkling my breads with seeds since they usually end up on the cutting board or on the floor… Next time I try brushing my breads twice, with plenty of egg wash, and hope for the best.