Sunday, July 10, 2016

Date or walnut-filled Iraqi cookie (kleicha)

I always say that I need to learn my families Assyrian/Middle Eastern dishes, yet I don't do enough to recreate and capture those recipes.

So for the Assyrian New Year this year (April 1) I wanted to make a traditional Iraqi cookie I've eaten since my childhood: the kleicha (pronounced "kill-EH-cheh" in Assyrian).

The idea of the cookie is generally identical no matter who makes it: kleicha are either a rolled date-filled cookie or a walnut-filled one. But the execution can vary wildly. Some people skimp on the dates (boooo) while others make cookies with a dry, crumbly texture (double boooo). I like my kleicha tender and soft, with just enough dates to make it sweet.

Although this was my first time making kleicha, I can honestly say it was better than most I've had. It may not be the absolute bestI've been lucky to experience kleicha nirvana a few times in my life but unfortunately don't have those recipesbut mine were pretty damn awesome (tootin' horn).

The recipe itself is very easy, but the individually-wrapped walnut ones can take time to form.

The date ones are much faster to make, since you prepare them much like cinnamon rolls (spread out the dough, top with the filling, roll it up, and slice them).

There is usually more of a swirl with these cookies; see my notes in the recipe section below on this.
And while a wooden mold is definitely not required, it helps create more uniform cookies (for the walnut-filled ones). This mold here was my grandmothers, and one of my most cherished possessions. So glad to finally be able to actually use it instead of just stare at it. :) If you want one of your own just google "maamoul mold" (maamoul is another Middle-Eastern sugar cookie filled with dates).

Below I'll post the recipe I used and a lot more detailed photos to guide you through the process. I hope you enjoy these cookies as much as I do!

Buen Provecho,

Kleicha (Iraqi cookie) adapted from International Cuisine and Make Cupcakes Not War  (who also has great step-by-step photos)

Note: I love me some date-filled kleicha, but it may have been even too much dates for me (honestly didn't realize that was even possible)! I think I'm just not used to these cookies being that sweet, but other people really loved them. It could also get a bit pricey to use that many dates if you're making a giant batch of these cookies (as most Assyrians do). So feel free to cut down the dates by 1/4; but don't cut down too much, I think cutting it in half would be a bit skimpy. 

One batch of dough (below) will be enough for the date and walnut filling recipes below (half for each type of cookie). 


3 cups flour (380 g)
2 tsp ground cardamom (freshly ground, if you can; or 1 tsp mahlab and 1 tsp cardamom)
1 tsp sugar
scant 1/2 tsp salt
1/3 to 1/2 cup milk (you can use half coconut milk:half water if you want to veganize these cookies)
2 tsp yeast
1 cup butter (2 sticks), melted

1 egg, beaten (for egg wash)

Date filling
8 oz chopped dates (~1 cup; medjool dates if you can)
2 tsp butter/oil
1/2 ts ground cardamom

Walnut filling*
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar (to taste)
1 tsp ground cardamom (or rose water, which I don't use)

*I remember having some filling left over, but I used it on top of my oatmeal and it was perfect! 


To make the dough
  1. Combine the flour, cardamom, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. In a measuring cup microwave 1/3 cup milk until warm. Add yeast to the warmed milk. Let sit for a few minutes.
  2. Pour the milk on top of the flour mixture and mix with your hands--it will be crumbly.
  3. Add butter to the flour mixture and knead with your hands until it is dough like (~5 minutes). If you need more liquid add a bit of milk. The dough will be very greasy and shaggy. 
  4. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and allow to sit and rise for 1-2 hours (Note: it won't rise a lot like a typical bread dough. It'll just look nice and puffy).

 To make the fillings
  1. While the dough is rising make your fillings.
  2. Date filling: place the dates in a small saucepan over medium/medium low heat. Add butter and mix until soft and paste-like. Turn off the heat and add cardamom. Mix to combine and set aside to cool.
  3. Walnut filling: In a bowl mix the walnuts, sugar, and cardamom. Set aside until ready to use.
To make the date-filled cookies
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. After the dough has rested, divide the dough into half (1/2 will be for the date cookies and 1/2 for the walnut cookies) 
  3. Roll dough to 1/4" thickness; mine was about 6" x 14". Set aside. Note for next time: I'll probably add at least another 1" to the width next time (~7+") and roll the dough a touch thinner so that there is more of a swirl in my cookie. I like the layers of my dough and my dates to both be pretty thin, and in the cookies I made they were a bit on the thicker side.
  4. Place the date paste between 2 large parchment sheets or clean plastic sheets and roll out to approximately the same dimensions as your dough. Remove the top sheet from the rolled date paste, then invert over the dough. Peel off the other sheet (see picture below, though I'd recommend having less of a dough edge than I did).
  5. Grab the edge of the longer side, and start rolling the dough into a long tube. If the dough is getting too soft at this point you can refrigerate the log for at least 15 minutes to firm it up a bit (see picture below).
  6. Cut the dough into 3/4" pieces, and place each cookie on your baking sheet seam side down. Brush with egg wash and bake for ~20 minutes, or until golden brown on top (see picture below).
Creating the date paste layer
Rolling your date separately makes it really easy to spread it across your very soft dough.
Next time I'd leave even less of an edge so the date paste was almost the exact same dimensions as my dough.
Cutting the cookies
I cut the cookies 3/4" thick--if your dough is holding up you could cut them thinner if you'd prefer.
Pretty swirl!
Next time I'd roll my dough and date paste a bit thinner so that I'll have even more swirls!
Baked cookies
I found my dough was a bit soft, so some of them "leaned over" a bit. Might help to refrigerate your dough and flatten out the log a bit if its getting too soft and rounded.

To make the walnut-filled cookies
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 
  2. After the dough has rested, divide the dough into half (1/2 will be for the date cookies and 1/2 for the walnut cookies)  
  3. See picture below for how to form the cookies:
    1. Take pieces of dough and roll/flatten into a circle the size of your palm (I used 20-23 grams of dough per cookie, and spread it ~2.5" in diameter)
    2. Fill with 2 tsp of walnut filling
    3. Pinch the dough in...
    4. ...and seal the edges
  4. At this point if you're not using a wooden mold, use your hand to form them into circles or oblong shaped, and continue with step #6. If you're using the mold, put them in the mold seam side up (see picture below). 
  5. Lightly press onto the dough to fill the mold, then whack the cookie out (see picture below, and my Instagram for a short video)
  6. Place cookies seam side down onto baking sheet, brush with egg wash, and bake for ~20 minutes until golden brown (see picture below).
First you gotta stuff the cookie with walnuts...

...then you stuff it into the cookie mold...
...then you whack it out of the mold (against the table is best).
The ridges on the cookie won't be as defined as your wooden mold, but egg wash
makes them GOLDEN and crinkly when they cook.

Of course as I was literally in the middle of making the cookies my aunt Shamiran (Shamo) shared with me her dough recipe. I haven't tried it yet, but I definitely will next time. Her full recipe is below, which is enough to feed an army (aka: an Assyrian party), so I've also divided the recipe by 4 for more of a normal amount of cookies.

Shamo's kleicha recipe (1/4 the recipe in parenthesis)

Shamo's recipe is generally similar to the one I used with a few differences: she has egg and yogurt in hers in place of some of the butter and milk. Just use the directions provided above (adding in the egg, yogurt, and milk to the flour at the same time), and add in some extra cardamom! (Using my flour amount above as guidance, perhaps 12 tsp for the full recipe and 3 tsp for the quarter)

Full ingredients (1/4 size)
1 cup milk (1/4 cup)
6 eggs (1.5 eggs)
1/2 cup sugar (1/8 cup)
1 cup yogurt (1/4 cup yogurt)
5 lb flour (1.25 lb, or ~567 grams)
6 sticks butter (1.5 sticks)
1 tsp baking soda (1/4 tsp)
1 tsp salt (1/4 tsp)
2 packets yeast (1/2 packet)


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