Old School Middle Eastern Recipes with Some Modern Day Twists

Kakat’ Mahlab

Kakat’ Mahlab

This is my favorite Middle Eastern cookie. It is buttery, doughy, and has just the right sweetness. It is like a cross between a shortbread and sweet bread. And of course, it goes great with tea! I used to love making these with Nana B. I felt so talented being able to twist these into their knot shape. Growing up, we would often go over to Nana’s and help her make cookies. I look back at these moment and realize how it was really her teaching us how to make these recipes. It was not so much us “helping”, and with how fast her hands moved compared to ours I think she would agree.

As we mentioned a few times before. There was no paper recipe Nana would follow, she knew it by heart . She would pull the flour, eggs, sugar and rest of the ingredients out and she would say about “this much flour, this much sugar” and so on. It was all visual and by feeling how the dough was coming together. One of my favorite memories of cooking with Nana was her saying these cookies are “good for you!” It has eggs, flour and “just a few fingers of butter.” Well, by finger she actually meant sticks of butter, and by a few she meant 10. Oh my! But to be fair the recipe below makes a LARGE batch of cookies. And I cannot agree with her more, these cookies are definitely good for the soul. The waistline?….it would not be a good cookie then if was good for that.

One last and nostalgic memory of these cookies is that whenever we would go on family trips, no matter the distance, Nana made it a point to make a fresh batch of these cookies. During the flight and in in her hotel room in the morning, Nana and these cookies would great us. It was the best! A sense of home while being away.

This recipe was made possible through verification from my Aunt Fairooz and Mama T. Below is the recipe for Kakat’ Mahlab! As they say, “see one, do one, teach one.”

Kakat’ Mahlab

A buttery, doughy cookie that pears perfectly with tea
Course: Dessert
Servings: 50 cookies

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs flour*
  • 7 eggs 2 eggs will be used only for the yolks as an egg wash
  • 1 tbsp mahlab powder**
  • 1 tbsp black seeds (Nigella seeds)
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 10 sticks unsalted butter (5 cups)
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 ounce dry active yeast (4 packets)
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1/4 tbsp salt

Instructions

Dough

  • Activate 3 yeast packets (0.75oz) by mixing yeast with warm water and 1 tsp sugar in a bowl or large cup.  Stir gently. Allow to activate for at least 5-10 minutes. When it is fully activated the volume will have at least doubled and you will notice a foam on the top.
  • Melt butter. Allow to cool a little.
  • Beat 5 eggs together. Set aside. 
  • Combine flour, mahlab, black seeds, sugar, salt and one packet of dry yeast (0.25oz) to bowl.
  • Add butter and activated yeast from earlier to the the flower mixture. Mix until just combined.  Now add beaten eggs and mix until just combined. 
  • Remove dough onto a floured surface to knead. Work dough with your hands for about 5-7 minutes. The dough should feel smooth when the kneading is complete. 
  • Lightly grease a large bowl. Place dough in bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and a towel. Allow dough to rise in a warm space for 2-3 hours***

Assembly

  • Remove about a soft ball size of dough. 
  • Roll out to a rectangle, with the length being about ~12 inches. Cut into 1 inch strips. 
  • Roll each strip with your hands to make a rope like shape. 
  • Preheat oven to 370F
  • To make the knot, allow the rope to hang midline on your index finger. From your index finger, moving down, twist rope edges around each other. ****
  • Bring twisted dough to a flat surface. There is now the 2 free ends and the one twisted end. 
  • Swirl the top of the twisted end towards the free ends in clockwise/counterclockwise pattern. Once you have reached the two free ends, bring the ends into middle the middle of the knot and push down to secure. You have now made the knot shape!
  • Prepare egg wash by whisking two yolks with milk. 
  • Place each cookie about 1 inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet(s) . Brush each with yolk egg wash. 
  • Bake for about 20-25 minutes. The color at the top should be slightly golden. 
  • Remove from oven and allow to cool before removing from tray.

Notes

Three Teas Tips:
* This recipe makes a large batch of cookies. Feel free to cut the recipe in half or freeze some of baked cookies for future use.
** Mahlab is spice that is actually from the cherry pit. It has notes of almond, cherry, and rose and is used in often in Mediterranean desserts. It can be found mainly at Arabic or Greek grocery stores. This is a great read for more information on this neat spice https://www.seriouseats.com/2010/09/spice-hunting-mahlab-mahleb-mahlepi.html
***Most doughs rise faster in a warm and humid environment. I like to turn on my oven for 1 minute, then turn off, to create this type of environment for the dough to rise in.
****For a video demonstration on how to make the knot shape see our stories on Instagram @threeteaskitchen



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