Hey there! If you're reading this, chances are you're either trying to figure out what to do with that leftover date paste or snag the recipe for those incredible ring-shaped Eid cookies your Arab friends gifted you. Either way, you won't be disappointed because I am sharing the traditional Ka'ak el Eid recipe that Palestinians all over the world bake.
Ka'ak el Eid encompasses a range of Middle Eastern Eid cookies that bear different names depending on their shape or ingredients. For instance, these date paste cookies are known as Kaak bi ajwa (dates) or Kaak asawer (bracelet-shaped), and they enjoy popularity throughout the Levant countries.
My favorite Palestinian food bloggers (linked below) introduced me to these cookies, and I have been baking them every Eid since 2021. Families gather during the last days of Ramadan to prepare large quantities of these Middle Eastern date cookies. The baked cookies are then shared with near and dear ones during the Eid festivities.
No two Kaak cookies recipe are the same because the spices used, the shape, and the filling vary from region to region and even between families. The highlight of date paste cookies lies in the spices used, which you can adjust according to your taste. The yeasted dough is made with the addition of fragrant seeds like anise, fennel, and nigella. Also, this Kaak cookies recipe is eggless and can be made with or without milk.
- flour: I have used a mix of all-purpose flour and brown flour. Instead of brown flour, you can use whole wheat or fine semolina. If using semolina, you may need more water.
- sesame seeds
- anise seeds aka aniseed
- nigella seeds (black seeds or kalonji)
- fennel seeds powder
- cardamom powder
- nutmeg powder (optional)
- instant yeast
- baking powder
- mastic beads (optional)
- olive oil
- milk or water
- date paste
Flavour: Traditionally, Kaak cookies have a hint of Mahleb, a spice derived from the ground kernels of cherry pits. I couldn't source it when I wanted them. A bit pricey but if you have it already, then do add ¼ teaspoon of mehleb.
See recipe card for quantities.
Making these Palestinian date-paste cookies requires some effort, but the whole process was therapeutic to me. Yes, I don't have help but I enjoyed shaping these Kaak cookies with dates single-handedly. So, if I can do it, you can too! Cliche not.
You don't need any special equipment to make the dough or to shape it. You can make these cookies using your hands! Assuming you will use store-dought date paste, first, you prepare the yeasted dough and then the date paste filling. If you have to make your date paste, then I would suggest you make it a day ahead. Once ready, start shaping!
Traditionally, Kaak bi ajwa cookies are stuffed with spiced date paste and shaped like bracelets and baked until golden. But feel free to make them in any shape you like as long as the dough seals the date paste in.
Prepare the dough:
Measure out warm milk or water and stir in the anise seeds. Please do not mix up carom seeds for anise seeds. They look alike but smell different. I caught myself adding carom seeds to milk in this picture. The smell gave away and I immediately changed it.
Add all the dough dry ingredients into a large bowl. Give it a thorough mix so the seeds and ground spices are dispersed evenly.
Add the ghee and olive oil. Use your hands to rub the flour and oil until all the flour is wet.
Gradually add the prepared anise milk or water a little at a time to bring the dough together. You may not need all of the water or may need a bit more. It will depend on the type of flour used.
Avoid excessive kneading of the dough to prevent gluten development. The goal is to simply combine the ingredients until the dough is uniform in texture. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes to an hour. Remember, we don't want gluten development.
While the dough is resting, you can start with the date paste mixture. Add the ground spices and olive oil to the date paste and knead with greased hand until combined.
It will be sticky, so make sure to grease your hands and use olive oil to mix. You can taste and add more seasoning as you like.
Divide the date paste mixture into 15 to 20 smaller portions. This is to just help you work better and faster while shaping the kaak cookies. I learnt this trick from my previous attempts.
Shape the date paste balls into palm size logs by rolling them on a flat surface. Keep these aside and start working on shaping cookies. Take a small portion of dough (a lemon or egg size) and flatten it to a long oval shape. Place a date paste log in the middle making sure it is at least 1cm shorter than the dough.
Gently roll the dough over the date paste log to enclose it tightly. Press and seal lengthwise. We don't want the date paste to be loose or separated from the dough. Cut off the excess dough and add it back to the bowl.
Pinch the ends to seal tight. Before moving to the next step, make sure the sealing is tight. This will prevent the cookie from cracking open while baking.
Now, I like to roll this log using both hands to smoothen and lengthen it a bit. This step will help you to make all the cookies similar in size. You can cut it into equal-sized pieces to make smaller loops. If you do cut, then just pinch and close the open end.
Overlap the ends to form a ring shape as shown in the image. Use the back of a chopstick to make a dent in the centre of the joint. This seals and completes the shaping of kaak bi ajwa.
Continue to shape the same way until you have enough to bake. You will get a hang of it by your 10th cookie. Don't worry about the size. Once you have enough kaak shaped to fit your baking sheet, preheat the oven to 200C (400F).
I lined my baking sheet with parchment paper aka baking paper and placed the cookies like so. While this was baking, I continued shaping for the next batch of cookies. You may shape all and bake in two levels and switch up the tray to brown evenly.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until light golden brown. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before moving them to a cooling rack. Once cooled completely, transfer them to an airtight container. Ka'ak el Eid will keep 2 to 3 weeks in an airtight container at room temperature.
Hint: You can find date paste at any Middle Eastern grocery store. You could also make your own date paste by soaking pitted dates in warm water and kneading them with olive oil to a thick paste. You may use a food processor if you are okay to clean it.
- flour: I have used a mix of all-purpose flour and brown flour. Instead of brown flour, you can use whole wheat or fine semolina. If using semolina, you may need more water. Also, you can skip second flour and use only all-purpose flour.
- anise seeds: You may find some packs labeled as aniseed. Do not sub this with carom seeds just because they look alike. If you cannot source anise seeds, then try replacing them with ground star anise or use fennel seeds.
- fennel seeds powder: You can use the seeds and just crush them using a mortar and pestle. Do not skip this item.
- nutmeg powder: Though optional, you may use ground cloves instead.
- mastic beads (optional): I had some in hand so used them. You can skip this or use a pinch of Mahlep if you have that.
- ghee: Some recipes do use softened butter instead.
As mentioned earlier, Ka'ak el Eid encompasses a variety of cookies that are referred to differently based on factors such as shape, filling used, region, and more. Ka'ak refers to both sweet and savoury bread but for today let me share the different types of sweet Ka'ak cookies that are popular across the Middle East.
- Egyptian Kahk recipes are cookies traditionally made during festive occasions like Eid. They are small round buttery cookies filled with a variety of options like nuts, date paste, etc. and dusted with powdered sugar.
- Lebanese Ka'ak el Eid are larger in size and are round in shape. It is plain or filled with a variety of ingredients such as dates, nuts, or even a combination of both.
- Tunisian Ka'ak Warka: They are filled with a sweet almond or pistachio paste and often flavoured with rose or orange blossom water.
- Moroccan Ka'ak cookies are traditionally infused with the flavors of anise seeds and orange blossom water. These cookies have a delicate texture and are often crafted into intricate decorative designs. They can be enjoyed plain or filled with almond paste for added richness.
You can gather inspiration and personalize this Kaak bi ajwa recipe by adding additional flavors or shaping them differently according to your preference. Feel free to get creative!
Ka'ak el Eid cookies keep well for several weeks if stored in an airtight container. You can also freeze the cookies for several months, extending their shelf life.
Don't fret about the size or shape of the ka'ak cookies. Once you place the date paste log and seal the dough, you can pretty much shape the way you like to. Just be careful the date paste doesn't squeeze out. You can watch Maie, my favourite Palestinian food blogger on Instagram make Kaak bi ajwa with so much love.
Looking for other recipes using date paste? Try these:
Ka'ak el Eid | Date Paste Cookies
For Kaak dough
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 tablespoon sesame seeds
- 1½ teaspoon nigella seeds (black seeds or kalonji)
- 1½ teaspoon fennel seeds powder
- ¼ teaspoon cardamom powder
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon instant yeast
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon mastic beads (crushed to fine with ¼ teaspoon sugar)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup ghee
- ½ cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoon aniseed (anise seed)
- ¾ cup milk lukewarm
For date paste dough
- 400 grams date paste see notes
- ½ teaspoon cardamom powder
- ½ teaspoon fennel seeds powder
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
Prepare the Ka’ak dough
- Measure out the lukewarm milk or water and stir in the anise seeds and let it rest for a few minutes until you have the other ingredients ready. If using active dry yeast, then you can add it now.2 tablespoon aniseed, ¾ cup milk
- Take a large bowl and measure and add all the dry ingredients including instant yeast. Give it a thorough mix so the seeds and ground spices are dispersed evenly.2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1 teaspoon sugar, 2 tablespoon sesame seeds, 1½ teaspoon nigella seeds, 1½ teaspoon fennel seeds powder, ¼ teaspoon cardamom powder, ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1 teaspoon instant yeast, 1 teaspoon baking powder, ¼ teaspoon mastic beads, ¼ teaspoon salt
- Next, add the ghee and olive oil. Use your hands to rub the flour and oil until all the flour is wet like sand.½ cup ghee, ½ cup olive oil
- Gradually add the anise-infused milk or water a little at a time to bring the dough together. You may not need all the water or may need a bit more. It will depend on the type of flour used.
- Do not over-knead the dough as we do not want gluten development. The goal is to simply combine the ingredients until the dough is uniform in texture. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes. The dough does not have to double in size.
Prepare the date paste dough
- While the dough is resting, you can start with the date paste mixture. Add the ground spices and olive oil to the date paste and knead with greased hand until combined. You can taste and add more seasoning as you like.400 grams date paste, ½ teaspoon cardamom powder, ½ teaspoon fennel seeds powder, 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Divide the date paste mixture into 20 smaller portions. This step is to just help you work better and faster while shaping the kaak cookies. I learnt this trick from my previous attempts. Each date ball gave me two cookies.
Shape the Kaak cookies
- Shape the date paste balls into palm length logs by rolling them on a flat surface like a kitchen counter. Keep these aside and start working on shaping cookies.
- Take a small portion of the kaak dough (a lemon or egg size) and place it on the counter. Flatten it into a long oval shape without making it too thin or causing it to tear. Place a date paste log in the centre making sure it is at least 1cm shorter than the dough.
- Gently roll the dough over the date paste log to enclose it tightly. Press and seal lengthwise. We do not want the date paste to be loosely sitting or separated from the cookie dough. Cut off the excess dough using a knife and add it back to the bowl.
- Pinch the ends to seal tight. Before moving to the next step, make sure the sealing is tight. This will prevent the cookie from cracking open while baking.
- Now, roll the stuffed dough on a flat surface using both your hands to smoothen and lengthen it a bit. Optionally, you can cut it into equal-sized pieces to make smaller loops. If you do cut, then just pinch, and close the open end.
- Overlap the ends to form a ring shape as shown in the image.
- Use the back of a chopstick or skewer to make a dent in the centre of the joint. This seals and completes the shaping of kaak bi ajwa. Continue to shape the same way until you have enough to bake.
Bake the cookies
- Once you have enough kaak shaped to fit your baking sheet, preheat the oven to 200C (400F).
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (baking paper) and transfer the cookies to it. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until light golden brown. I baked the cookies in two batches but you may shape all the dough and bake in two sheets and switch up the tray to brown evenly.
- Allow to cool for 10 minutes before moving them to a cooling rack.
- Once cooled completely, transfer them to an airtight container. Ka'ak el Eid will keep 2 to 3 weeks in an airtight container at room temperature. Serve with tea or coffee.