I’m six and I’m sitting with my back to the window of my grandparent’s tiny kitchen in Forest Hills, the yellow gingham café curtains flutter against my back and my grandparents are standing side by side, Savta is busy rolling out the dough for Savta’s famous date cookies. But I had seen Savta make these often. Far more fascinating was Saba. He was systematically rolling out thin ropes of yeasted dough and quickly forming them into miniature wreaths, his movements so fluid and fast it looked like a dance to me. With each tray he finished Savta would quickly brush the cookie wreaths with egg and sprinkle sesame seeds on top as they made their way into the oven. Savta making her own cookie and simultaneously helping Saba make savory Syrian biscuits called Ka’ak.
They had been working companionably for almost 40 years, so it was no surprise that they would bake companionably and almost entirely silently. This wasn’t a baking lesson thinking back, it was a lesson about love and companionship. That is the last memory I have of my Saba, he passed away later that week, at the age of 59.
These cookies are moreish and crisp and delicious, and yet I find myself shedding a tear as I munch away.
**** Cook note, if your oven runs hot lower the temperature by 20 degrees and allow to cook a bit longer, so you have a golden shell and the biscuits are totally cooked through in the centre.
- 500g (4 cups) plain flour
- 100ml (7 1/2 tablespoons) vegetable oil
- 100g (7 1/2 tablespoons) butter or vegan alternative, softened
- 1 teaspoon fast action yeast
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- 100ml (7 1/2 tablespoons) water
- 1 egg, whisked
- 2 tablespoons nigella seeds
- Line a baking sheet with baking parchment and set aside.
- Place the sifted flour in a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour the oil into the well, add the margarine or butter, yeast, baking powder, sugar, salt and stir together well until a dough is formed. Add the water gradually while stirring, until the dough is smooth. Knead for a couple of minutes.
- To shape cookies: pinch pieces of the dough into small balls. On a clean surface, roll the balls into long snakes, around 1cm (1/3 inch) thick and 12-13cm (4-5 inches) long (approximately the size of a thick pencil). Form each snake into a closed ring and arrange on the baking sheet spaced about 2cm (3/4 inch) apart.
- Brush each ring with the whisked egg and sprinkle lightly with nigella seeds.
- Heat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Leave to prove for 30 minutes.
- Bake the cookies in the oven for 30 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool down before storing them in a clean jar or an airtight container. The cookies will keep for a week.