Soft Kaak / Syrian Bagel
The influence of the Ottoman occupation in the Middle East is apparent throughout the region in customs, linguistics, architecture and cuisines, especially in the Levants. The Turkish and Levantine cuisine share a lot of dishes that are similar with a slight variation in preparation, such as sweets, kababs, stews, soups, breads and pastries. Kaak, or as the Turks call it simit, is a bagel-like bread that is eaten soft or hard, sweet or savoury, in the shape of a bagel, a thick bar or a stick.
I asked my dad once, “if I say ‘Kaak’, what early memories would that bring to mind in Damascus?”. He closed his eyes and with a beautiful nostalgic smile on his face said, “When I was 2 ½ years old I used to run every single morning scurrying my tiny legs along the cobbled narrow side roads to my father’s shop in the old quarters of Damascus knowing what awaits me when I arrived. The run would take me about 10 minutes but at that age time was nothing. I remember my father waiting for me in his wooden wicker stool and receiving me with open arms. He would carry me and put me in his lap, then give me the freshly baked kaak that he bought from the bakery up the road. He would sit me down and pour me a glass of fresh milk or tea to dunk my kaak in. After a full belly, I would be sleepy, and he would lay me on a small mattress in the corner of his shop and close the curtain for me to have my morning nap. Not long after, at the age of 3, my father passed away. I was too young to understand what it meant, so I would still run every morning to his shop and sit on the steps waiting for him to open his shop. The shop next door was owned by Abou Basheer (meaning the father of Basheer), who would look at me with his kind eyes, give me half a Franc (a penny) and tell me to go home and come back the next day. I would scurry back home with my tiny legs and tell my mother that dad did not open the shop today. This went on for a while and I don’t remember when I stopped going, but what I knew then was that there was something different as I never saw my father again. Though my father left when I was a toddler, he did leave me with a a handful beautiful memories.”
This soft kaak recipe is to honour my father and his memory of his. This soft kaak recipes is not to be mixed with the crunchy hard kaak, as the preparation and ingredients of each are totally different. Nowadays some add milk and butter or oil to the bread mix which gives it a softer texture. I personally prefer to stick to the traditional method of baking these. This does not mean that you are not free to experiment; as I say, “cooking has no rules, only techniques.”
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Proofing: 1 hour
Baking: 25 minutes
Start to finish: 1 hour 45 minutes
500 grams all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 tablespoon instant yeast
1 cup of warm water
1/4 cup warm milk
2 tablespoons sugar
500 millilitres warm water
100 grams toasted sesame seeds
* Preheat oven to 200 C.
* Kneading the dough.
There are 2 methods to making the dough:
* Method 1: Place all ingredients in the electric mixer using the hook attachment and beat for 4 to 5 minutes until soft, elastic and pliable.
* Method 2: Place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix by hand until it forms a ball. Tip it on a floured surface, press forwards on the ball with the palm of the hand, then fold in the slightly the extended piece. Repeat the process turning it slightly each time until the dough is soft and pliable. This might take up to 10 minutes.
* Oil a glass bowl and place the dough in it. Cover with a clean towel and leave it in a warm place until it doubles in size. Depending on the temperature of the room, this could take anywhere between 30 to 90 minutes. Make sure it is not left too long to proof as it will affect the final result.
* In a separate bowl, dissolve the sugar in the warm water.
* Place the sesame seeds in a shallow bowl or plate.
* Transfer the dough onto the worktop. Divide into 10 balls.
* Work each ball until it has a smooth surface, then with the palm of your hands roll it into a sausage 20 to 25 cm in length. Bring the two ends together to form a circle and pinch them.
* Dip the ring quickly in the warm sugar water then directly in the sesame seed.
* Place it on an oven proof tray lined with baking paper and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden.
* Brush with some melted butter while hot if desired.
* You can braid them by splitting the dough to 20 balls and repeating the steps but twisting two and pinching the ends, or by rolling one ball to a 40 or 50 cm sausage like then bending it in half and twisting.
* For a successful dough make sure it only doubles in size and is not left to proof for an extended period.
* For the ultimate eating experience, consume while warm as they harden as they become cold. When cold just warm for a few seconds in the microwave.
* Feel free to add any topping you fancy and even healthy seeds in the dough.
* Eat with warm milk or treat it as a bagel.
* If you desire a sweeter kaak just add more sugar.
* Some recipes call for the addition of butter and dried milk in the dough; this will make it softer.
Per Serving: 265 Calories; 6g Fat (19.3% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 46g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 1mg Cholesterol; 221mg Sodium.