It’s Easter. As Middle Easterns we don’t have those fancy cakes and pastel colored decorations. We do however have recipes we only make at this time of the year like Maamoul, Kaak Asfar and colored eggs.
Although everyone makes Maamoul (or buys them) and colored eggs, not everyone knows about Kaak Asfar. Being the 2nd generation of a family that came from Palestine back in 1948, got the Lebanese nationality and lived and worked among Lebanese, some habits, traditions and rituals survived with time. The accent? Not so much. I was mocked by “fellow Palestinians” who were born and raised in Lebanon for not having the Lebanese accent as a kid, being born and raised in UAE and got back to Lebanon at the ago of 10. Go figure.
Kaak Asfar and Maamoul decorating are among the surviving traditions that the modern world is starting to forget about. We’re getting lazier with each generation and starting to ditch and devalue these homemade specialities. Kaak Asfar is not only a delicacy to fill our tummies; it comes with a load of biblical symbols.
My grandma used to say the shape resembles the boulder that covered the tomb where Jesus was buried.
Mom says it’s flat bread related to passover when God asked his people to make bread for their journey but they had to leave before the dough rose. That made hard flat bread. Mom says this might be why we make this bread. Whichever the story is, it is still a delicious baked good to try.
Our yearly tradition is to go to Easter mass at 5 am, the “Hajmeh”, and then come back home to have the holy trinity for breakfast. The holy trinity on this day is Kaak Asfar, boiled colored eggs and Labneh. It can’t get any better.
We used to finish mass and walk to my grandmother’s house and have breakfast before going on with the day. Not for the past 3 years though. May her soul rest in peace.
During the Easter week, the whole neighborhood smells of anise, mahlab, turmeric, rose and orange blossom water making up the sweet aromas of fresh baking of maamoul and Kaak Asfar.
Mom doesn’t bake this at home. Many women in the neighborhood don’t. Because it needs high temperatures to be baked properly, they tend to take appointments at the nearby bakers to use their large ovens. Mom prepares the dough and balls it before taking it to the baker. There, she rolls them, covers them in olive oil and uses a mould to imprint one side of the bread. These moulds have beautiful, mostly geometric, patterns. The dough is baked and then brushed with more olive oil to keep them soft.
Then it goes into our hungry tummies. Pieces of this bread are dipped in creamy labneh or used to hold the diced boiled eggs sprinkled with salt and allspice and eaten with lots of bitter green olives.
Mom makes this every year, and none of my friends who visit us leave empty handed, leaving us with a few only to start craving for next year’s batch.
Kaak Asfar (Palestinian Yellow Easter Bread)
Makes 10-12 (18 cm round) pieces
- 1 kg flour
- 1 tablespoon mahlab powder
- 1 tbsp turmeric
- 2 tbsp ground anise seeds
- 1/8 tsp nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp ground cloves
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 1 tbsp black seeds
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon yeast
- Water, use as necessary for the dough’s consistency
- Mix all the dry ingredients
- Add water and vegetable oil and kneed until you reach a firm dough
- Coat the dough with olive oil and cover in plastic wrap and leave to rises and double. (45-60 min)
- Take a handful of dough and form into small ball, wipe with olive oil and set aside
- Repeat with the whole batch.
- Roll the balls into around 18 cm disks or directly spread them over a special mold for this kind of bread (in case you couldn’t get a mold, use the bottom of a clean colander to give the bread a pattern and keep it flat)
- Place in a baking sheet and bake in a hot oven until the top and bottom are lightly browned
- Remove and brush generously with olive oil
- Serve warm with labneh and boiled eggs.
- Kaak Asfar can be stored in the freezer for six months. Thaw and heat well before serving