Over the course of a recent week, I researched, executed, and adapted recipes from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. I know that I didn’t change the world or relieve anyone’s suffering by baking in my kitchen, but it was important to me to get better acquainted (albeit minimally) with the cultures of these countries, partially through their cuisines. Many of the recipes I referred to I found on blogs written by people who had grown up in one of these countries and emigrated elsewhere. They wrote of their love for their respective native countries and their cuisines, and of their disappointment with the turmoil that grips many of them.
A few of the recipes I tried out adapted easily to my Fruitcake techniques. I’m posting my favorites, starting with Kleicha.
Kleicha (Iraqi Date Pastries) (Adapted from The Iraqi Family Cookbook Blog, Make Cupcakes, Not War, & Maryam’s Culinary Wonders)
These delicious pastries (most blogs refer to them as “cookies,” but I think it’s more apt to call them pastries) resemble a cross between a cinnamon roll and a rugelach. And amazingly the original recipe doesn’t call for sugar in the first place–only dates–so it was very easy to adapt!
For the dough:
460 g (3-1/3 cups) All-Purpose Flour
244 ml (1 cup) Whole Milk
8 g (2 teaspoons) Active Dry Yeast
80 ml (1/3 cup) Flavorless vegetable oil such as grapeseed
150 g (11 tablespoons) Unsalted Butter, melted
1 tspn Ground Cardamom
1/2 tspn Salt
1/4 tspn Mahlab or a couple drops of Almond Extract
1 tspn Nigella Seeds or Black Sesame Seeds
For the filling:
250 g (1-1/2 cups) Medjool Dates, pitted
14 g (1 tablespoon) Unsalted Butter
1 teaspoon Ground Cardamom
1 teaspoon Sesame Seeds
Optional: 3/4 teaspoon Fennel Seeds
For egg wash: 1 Egg Yolk
Make the dough:
Heat the milk to 105°F-110°F–just warm when you test it with your finger. Do not overheat or the yeast will not survive! Put the milk in a glass measuring cup and add the yeast and a pinch of date sugar (if you have it). Let sit 5-10 minutes until you see some bubbles on top–evidence that the yeast are alive and active (Here is some more info about how yeast works, if you’re interested).
While you wait for the yeast to wake up, use a small saucepan to melt the butter with the vegetable oil. Once it’s hot, add the cardamom and nigella or black sesame seeds and cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant (See here for more info on blooming spices). Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Measure the flour in the bowl of your stand mixer (have the dough hook attachment ready), and add the yeast/milk mixture and the butter/oil/spice mixture.
Knead with the dough hook (or by hand) for 3-5 minutes. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth or loose plastic wrap and let rest for one hour.
Make the filling:
While the dough rests, make the filling. Again, melt the butter in a small saucepan and once hot, add the spices and heat a moment until fragrant. Remove from heat. Put the pitted dates in your food processor. Add the butter and spices and puree until smooth.
Roll the dough & filling:
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare egg wash: in a small bowl or glass, mix an egg yolk with an equal amount of water. Get a pastry brush out.
Divide the dough into two equal pieces and use a rolling pin to roll the two halves into two rectangles of about 6 in. by 18″ (The dough should be about 1/8 in. thick). Next, remove the filling from the food processor and divide it into two equal portions. Place the first half between two large pieces of plastic wrap and use the rolling pin to roll the filling out into a rectangle the same size as the dough rectangles. Carefully flip the filling onto one of the pieces of dough. Repeat for the second half of the filling.
Roll each rectangle, long edge to long ege. Then cut the rolls into 1/2-in. to 1-in. pieces. Arrange them, spirals facing up, on sheet pans lined with parchment paper. Allow at least an inch of space between each kleicha. Brush the top of each pastry with egg wash. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until lightly golden in color. By then, your kitchen is going to be smelling amazing. Let the kleicha cool, and then enjoy with some tea or coffee!