Learn how to make the well-known Sephardic cookie.
Kahk – also known as ka’ak, biscocho, biscotto, rosca and roskita – is an ancient form of hard, round biscuit found in all Jewish communities in the Middle East.
There are many forms of this popular cookie. For years, kahk was a tasty treat, often flavored with sesame seeds; with the popularization of sugar in the Middle East during the Middle Ages, many cooks also began to cook kahk sweet pastries. Kahk is often baked with a yeast-based batter, although some modern cooks prepare kahk with a batter leavened with baking powder. Syrian Jews prepare a delicious Passover kosher version of kahk that uses ground almonds instead of wheat flour, called kahk bi loz.
In Spain, Jews twice baked small, round pastries — like Italian biscotti — and called those hard pastries variously roscas or biscochos. Jewish bakers made their donut cookies differently than their non-Jewish neighbors: Jewish cooks typically used oil in their baking (as opposed to butter or lard); another Jewish innovation was to add eggs to the dough. Spanish Jews also developed a sweeter version of roscas, which was only baked once and more cake-like, which became a beloved Shabbat treat. When Spain expelled its Jews in 1492, Sephardic (Spanish) Jews took their love of biscocho/roscas with them to new homes.
“Biscocho” soon came to mean any cookie in Ladino, the language of Sephardic Jews. The ring-shaped hard biscuits have become the hallmark of Sephardic Jewish cooks around the world. Like kahk, there are many versions of biscocho/roscas/roskitas. They can be savory or sweet. In some communities they have lost their traditional round shape. For instance, “roscas alhashuare popular Purim cookies among Balkan Jews: they are crescent-shaped cookies stuffed with nuts.
Here is a traditional Biscochos recipe:
- 385 to 420 grams (3 ¼ cups) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
- 2 teaspoons of yeast
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 eggs, divided
- 120 ml (2 cups) vegetable oil
- 200g (1 cup) sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
- Sesame seeds, for sprinkling
- Preheat the oven to 350℉/180°C. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together 385g (about 3 cups) flour, baking powder and salt.
- In a stand mixer (or using a hand-held electric mixer and large bowl), beat 2 eggs, oil, sugar, vanilla and orange zest on medium-high speed until smooth. until pale and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add the flour mixture in two batches, beating to incorporate and scraping down the sides of the bowl if necessary, until a stiff but pliable dough forms. If dough is too wet or sticky to handle, add up to 35g (¼ cup) additional flour, 1 tbsp at a time as needed, until desired consistency is reached. (You may not need all the extra flour.)
- On a lightly floured surface, pinch a walnut-sized piece of dough and roll it into a rope 15 cm (6 inches) long and about 1.25 cm (½ inch) thick. Repeat with several more pieces of dough. Using a sharp knife, make small notches about 16 mm (¾ inch) apart along the length of each string.
- With the notched edge facing out, form each string into a ring, gently pressing the ends together to seal.
- Place on prepared baking sheets. Repeat the rolling, scoring and shaping process until all the dough is used.
- In a small bowl, beat the remaining egg. Brush the rings with a little egg (you can’t use all of them) and sprinkle generously with sesame seeds. Bake, rotating pans back and forth halfway through baking, until cookies are lightly puffed and golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool. They will continue to firm up as they cool.