Today I’m sharing mahlab cookies, or sweet ka’ak.
I love these cookies. They’re buttery with the added complexity of mahlab and black seeds.
Mahlab is a spice which comes from the seeds of a species of cherry. It loves dairy, making it perfect for desserts with lots of butter. Syrians love to use it in these cookies and also the date-filled version (ma’moul).
Mahlab is what truly makes these cookies feel like home. My mother learned the recipe from her good friend’s mother. When their family moved to Allentown, PA from Safita, Syria in 1971, it felt like they were in a new world. Family was much further than a WhatsApp or Messenger call away, and it was very difficult to source the familiar flavors of Syria.
These cookies, to them, were the ultimate comfort food. Anytime the kids felt homesick, their mother would whip up a batch of these cookies for them to eat with tea. It was difficult to find mahlab in their new small town, but this ingredient was so important that it was sourced from the larger neighbor: New York City.
Now, it’s much easier to find mahlab (Middle Eastern specialty stores, Amazon, etc.). This recipe has been passed down for 2 generations within Sonya’s family, and her daughter makes it for her own young children. When you bite into these cookies, you feel the love of a mother’s tender heart. They evoke nostalgia, even if the memories aren’t your own.
Mahlab cookies are quite easy to throw together, but the bake is the tricky part. They should be baked one cookie sheet at a time so you have more control. If you find that the bottoms have turned golden-brown but the tops haven’t yet, put the cookies under the broiler for about a minute or two, checking every 15 seconds or so, until you reach the desired color.
If you try this recipe, I’d love to know how it turns out! Don’t forget to put it in the comments or tag @omayahatassi and #omayahcooks on Instagram.
Mahlab Butter Cookies (Sweet Ka'ak)
Buttery, sweet cookie rings with the addition of mahlab and black seeds.
Makes: About 25 cookies
Prep time: 20 minutes
Bake time: 10-15 minutes
1 lb butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
4 c all-purpose flour
1/2 c black seeds
2 tsp ground mahlab
- Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C)
- Cream the butter and sugar in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment unti light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs and mix until combined. Add remaining ingredients and mix until dough forms.
- To shape the dough, take a 1-inch ball and roll it until long and about 1/2 inch thick. Connect the ends, forming a slightly pointed circle. Arrange on a parchemnt-lined cookie sheet and let rest in the freezer for about 10 minutes.
- Pop the cookie sheet in the oven with the rack placed on the upper third of the oven.
- Bake until the bottoms are golden-brown, about 10-12 minutes, flipping the sheet halfway through. If the tops are also golden-brown, they're finished. If the tops need more color, place the sheet under the broiler for about a minute or two, checking ever 15 seconds.
- Cool completely (preferably on the cookie sheet) before handling. Store in an air-tight container up to 2 weeks.