Around the world in 80 bakes, no.58: Kleicha – date-filled cookies from Iraq

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.58: Kleicha – date-filled cookies from Iraq

It’s time for a trip back to the Middle East to refill the cookie jar with what, according to Wikipedia and others, is the “national cookie of Iraq”: Kleicha (or Kleisha; as usual with Arabic, transliterations vary). Recipes also vary, particularly as to shape and choice of spices, but the most common appear to be a spiral of dough interleaved with a cardamom-infused date paste.

Kleicha turn out to be trickier to make than I expected: most of the recipes I’ve seen produce an incredibly crumbly dough. On my first attempt, the dough was almost impossible to roll and the kleicha came out at an unpleasantly sandy texture. Fortunately, I persevered, because my second attempt was a real success: the flavour combination of date and cardamom being a winner. It only worked, however, by using hugely more water than in my base recipe, from 196flavors.com.

I couldn’t find ready-made date paste, so I made my own. Another pitfall from my first attempt was getting the texture wrong so I couldn’t spread the paste: second time round, it came out perfectly.

The quantities here were supposedly for 40 kleicha – I made 32.

The date paste

  • ½ tsp ground cardamom (or 20 or so cardamom pods)
  • 400g soft dates (choose Medjool or similar in preference to the harder Deglet Nour)
  • Milk as needed (a few tablespoons)
  1. If the dates aren’t already stoned, take out the stones and discard
  2. If you are starting from cardamom pods, pound them in a pestle and mortar to get the seeds out and get rid of the husks.
  3. Put the dates and cardamom into a food processor and blitz for a minute or two.
  4. Add a little milk and blitz some more: keep doing this until you get a puree the consistency of toothpaste.

The dough

  • 15g caster sugar
  • 10g dried yeast
  • 170ml lukewarm water (around 40℃)
  • 700g plain flour
  • 10g salt
  • 15g nigella seeds
  • 225g butter
  1. Melt the butter.
  2. Mix sugar, water and yeast and leave until frothy.
  3. In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine flour, salt and nigella seeds and mix evenly.
  4. Add the butter and mix for a few seconds.
  5. Then add the yeast/water mix and mix until you have a smooth dough. You may want to add more water than I’ve shown – the quantity shown here was barely OK.
  6. Leave dough to rest for around an hour.

Putting it all together

  • 1 egg and a bit of milk for a wash
  1. Preheat oven to 180℃ fan.
  2. Cut two sheets of baking paper, around 40cm long.
  3. Divide your dough into four parts.
  4. Form a ball of dough into a rectangle, place it between your two sheets of baking paper and roll it out as thinly as you can manage.
  5. Take a quarter of your date paste and spread it evenly over your rectangle of dough.
  6. Using the baking paper to help you, roll it up along the long end (Swiss roll style) as tightly as you can
  7. Cut your cylinder into 8 pieces (or 10 if you want smaller cookies) and place on a baking sheet
  8. Repeat for the remaining three parts of dough. You’ll end up with two baking sheets’ worth, which you can bake together or one after the other.
  9. Beat the egg with a little milk to make a wash; spread this over your cookies. (I’m labelling this stage as optional because I forgot to do it, resulting in kleicha which weren’t as pretty as they might have been but tasted fine).
  10. Bake until golden and thoroughly cooked – if you break off a bit of cookie and taste it, there should be no hint of raw flour. This took around 20-25 minutes in my oven – yours may differ.
  11. Cool on a rack.

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