If there were one universal ingredient used in the Middle East, it would have to be dates. The region is full of an amazing variety of dates and it is no wonder they are used in so many dishes, both sweet and savoury.
We all have our family holiday traditions, and most families in the Middle East get together to make some form of date cookie for holidays and special occasions. In the Levant, you know Eid and other holidays are in the air when cookies called ka'ak bi ajwa, meaning "date cake" in Arabic, start to appear. My family, like many others, spend hours upon hours making delicate little date cookies by hand, which is by far one of my favourite holiday traditions.
Ka'ak is usually made with semolina, flour, or a combination of both, soaked with butter and stuffed with spiced dates. Everyone likes to spice their dates differently, but the most popular spices used include fennel, aniseed and cinnamon.
Part of making ka'ak is the social aspect, so if you don't have that, the process may feel tedious and boring. However, this recipe is quick and easy and tastes amazing. It is so easy in fact that you'll want to whip these up on any day of the year and have a taste of the holidays!
- 225g dates
- 4 tbsp water
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 175g semolina
- 175g self-raising flour
- 2 tbsp sesame seeds
- 175g butter
- 75g Demerara sugar
1. Put the pitted chopped dates, water, lemon juice and cinnamon in a small saucepan and put on a low heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture becomes a spreadable paste. This will take about 15-20 minutes, depending on the type of dates you are using. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
2. Meanwhile, you can start on the dough. Mix the flour, semolina and sesame seeds together in a bowl and put aside. In another saucepan, heat the butter and sugar together until the butter is completely melted. Stir this mixture into the flour and semolina and stir until it resembles wet sand.
3. In a greased 10×10 square pan, or any similar sized pan of your choosing, press half the mixture into the pan, making sure it is evenly spread.
4. Next, spread the date mixture as evenly as possible. I find the best way to do this is to spread spoonfuls of the date mixture across the pan and then gently press together with a spoon.
5. Crumble the rest of the dough on top of the date mixture and press to form another layer of dough.
6. Bake on the middle rack at 175C for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown.
7. Once out of the oven, let it cool and then cut into squares or diamonds and serve with tea or coffee. Enjoy!