Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My Mom's Ka′ak…Lebanese Sweet Anise Bread

My mother was an unbelievable baker. Everything she baked was always perfect. Pies..incredible! Breads…beautiful! And when she baked breads, she would always get more than the recipe specified she would get! My sister would joke that it was the loaves and fishes!  She never owned a set of measuring cups or spoons. She would measure liquids and dry ingredients in the same kitchen cup. Usually that cup was 10 or 12 ounces. She measured her teaspoons and tablespoons with her kitchen silverware. I would always say to her "How do you get those results, when your measurements are so off?" Her reasoning was that she used the same cup, so that her proportions were correct. She never really followed a recipe. She always knew how the dough was supposed to feel, whether it was a pie crust or yeast bread. Her pies had the flakiest crusts and her breads always had a beautiful appearance and lovely crumb! A true gift! She would always say, "learn to feel the dough".  When I first married, I wouldn't even make my own pie crust because of frequent failures!  In those days, it was Pillsbury for me all the way.  My first attempt at yeast bread…came out like a brick!!  Clearly, I did not inherit my mothers gift.  But something happened through the years and I finally got it! The feel! I don't know when..I guess practice makes perfect!  One of her specialties was this recipe for "Ka′ak". Traditionally, Ka′ak is formed into rings. In our family, my grandmother and mom always made them in figure eights. These have a wonderful flavor because of the anise seed and mahleb. Mahleb is made from the kernel of the black cherry pit. It is used in middle eastern cooking. It imparts a really subtle flavor and the scent is lovely. The taste is between bitter almond and cherry. I get mine in a middle eastern grocery but, you can also get it from My family serves these with powdered sugar on top ( The americanization of the pastry ). I understand that in Lebanon they serve these with a syrup.



8 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon anise seed
1/2 teaspoon crushed mahleb (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks of unsalted butter
 1 1/2 cups milk
1 pkg. yeast
2 eggs

  1. Mix flour, sugar, anise seed, mahleb, and salt.
  2. Heat butter and milk to lukewarm. Dissolve yeast in milk and add to flour mixture.
  3. Add eggs and knead well. Cover and let rest for about 2 hours or until doubled in size.
  4. Punch down and cut into pieces and roll to shape into rings or figure eights, placing on baking sheet as you work. When baking sheet is full, cover with cloth and let rise again for about 30 minutes.
  5. Bake in a 350 oven for 15 minutes and browned on the bottom, then place under broiler until tops are light brown.                                                                                                                                                                                               
My mothers rule…Never use all your flour when you start to mix. Add as needed. When I make these I start with 7 cups and add as I knead the dough. I rarely use the whole 8 cups. 

Dry ingredients

Milk and butter heating

When milk-butter mixture is lukewarm add yeast.

Then mix into the dry ingredients, along with the eggs, until a dough forms.

Knead until smooth and place into bowl to rise.

After dough is risen, punch down and cut off small pieces.

Roll into long rope.

Form into a figure eight. Place onto baking sheet.
Ready for the oven.

Breakfast! Perfect with my cup of tea.


  1. Cute! I like how the dough is shaped like infinity symbols.

  2. Hmm...I posted a comment earlier, but I must not have put the word verification in...Your mother baked liked my grandmother - without baking tools and her results were the same - always perfect! I always marveled at how she did it. Anise is a spice that I am not sure about because it is a little strong for me and I have only been using it since FFwD, but this bread looks so beautiful that I want to try making it.

  3. I've had your Mom's and they were wonderful...I miss her! Once again you directions and pictures are fabulous! Makes me think I could do it LOL

  4. I recognize this ka'ak as the ka'ak bel haleeb (milk ka'ak) that people make around Easter; except egg is a new version, usually there is no egg in pastries in Lebanon. Yours came out beautifully~Bravo.

  5. This is lovely, thank you for the recipe and beautiful pictures. My Lebanese mother-in-law has been asking me for a recipe for a mahleb cookie, made with milk and yeast. I'm going to try these and she if it's what she's been craving.

  6. Hi, my ka ak recipe, from grandma who immigrated from Beirut has no yeast, but is the same otherwise.....ever seen it made this way, or are we missing an ingredient?

    1. I have only ever made ka'ak this way. Which is the way my grandmother and mother made it. My grandmother also came from Lebanon. The blog Taste of Beirut....above has several recipes for ka'ak. You should check it out.
      What does your recipe use for leavening? Baking powder?

  7. Thank you Kathy for sharing your family heirloom recipe on my site. I love that my readers now got the sweet version to my savory. Just beautiful. I like that it is from a different country in the region.

  8. My Sito used to make this every year. Since she passed, my Auntie has taken over. I'm actually eating a piece of hers as I type this! I'm going to give this recipe a try next weekend, and see if I can master it myself!! Thank you!