Why It Works
- Incorporating milk and oil into the dough produces a lighter, airier crumb.
- Adding nigella sees, sesame seeds, and za'atar to dough as well as as a topping distributes their flavors and textures throughout the bread.
This recipe is an adaptation of a recipe for a variation of ka'ak, an ancient, ring-shaped bread commonly sold by street vendors in Jerusalem, found in the 13th-century Arabic cookbook Kitab al Wusla ila al Habeeb (which has been translated to Scents and Flavors). This variation is distinct from other types of ka'ak in that it calls for boiling then baking these rings of dough, a technique which may be the precursor to the technique used to produce the modern-day bagel. Despite this similarity, this ka'ak variation is quite different from a bagel; it's not as dense (thanks to the use of oil and milk in the dough) and the flavoring is incorporated into the dough, in addition to being scattered over its exterior.
Ka'ak can be eaten plain or, as with a bagel, with any number of accoutrements; it also is wonderful when used for sandwiches, as in this open-faced sandwich with griddled halloumi, avocado, and za'atar.
- For the Ka'ak:
- 4 cups (17 1/2 ounces; 500g) bread flour
- 2 tablespoons (2/3 ounce; 20g) roasted sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce; 15g) sugar
- 1 tablespoon (1/3 ounce; 10g) nigella seeds
- 1 tightly packed tablespoon (1/3 ounce; 10g) za’atar blend or dried oregano (see note)
- 1 teaspoon (4g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt use half as much by volume or the same weight
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/4 cup (60ml) vegetable oil, plus more for shaping dough
- 1 cup (235ml) whole milk, warmed to 110-115°F (45°C)
- 1 tablespoon instant yeast, such as SAF (about 10g yeast or one-and-a-half 1/4-ounce packets); not RapidRise or active dry (more info here)
- 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon (75 ml) room temperature water
- To Boil, Top, and Bake Ka'ak:
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) grape or date molasses
- 2 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces; 40g) roasted sesame seeds mixed with 1 tablespoon (1/3 ounce, 10g) nigella seeds, for topping the ka'ak
To Make the Dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the hook attachment, stir together flour, sesame seeds, sugar, nigella seeds, za'atar, salt, and turmeric until well combined.
Turn mixer to low speed and add the oil, followed by milk and yeast and mix until combined.
Add the water and mix until the dough comes together and pulls from the sides of the bowl but is still stuck to the bottom, about 2 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes.
Turn mixer to medium-low and knead until dough forms a soft, smooth ball, about 2 minutes.
Grease a large mixing bowl with oil, transfer dough to mixing bowl, cover, and let stand at room temperature until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C) and set oven rack in middle position. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Divide dough into 10 equal portions (about 3 ounces/90g each), forming each into a smooth ball and pinching at the bottom. Set dough balls on prepared baking sheets. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rest 10 minutes.
Working with 1 dough ball at a time and keeping the rest covered, place dough ball on a work surface and, using your hand, flatten into a 3 1/2-inch disc.
Using your fingers, poke a hole in the center, then gently stretch the dough out, rotating it as you stretch, to form a roughly 4-inch ring. Return to parchment-lined baking sheet and repeat with remaining dough balls.
To Boil, Top, and Bake Ka'ak: Fill a wide pot with 2 inches water. Add grape (or date) molasses and bring to a boil over high heat. Working in batches, add 2 or 3 ka'ak (only as many as can fit with room to spare around each) and boil, turning once, for 30 seconds per side. Using a spider, slotted spoon, or slotted spatula, remove bagels from boiling water and let drain briefly, then return to parchment-lined baking sheets. Sprinkle all over right away with sesame and nigella seed mixture. Repeat with remaining ka'ak, making sure to keep boiled and topped ka'ak covered until ready to bake.
Working with 1 baking sheet at a time, bake ka'ak until golden brown all over, 20 minutes. Let rest 15 minutes before serving. Repeat with remaining baking sheet of ka'ak.
Za’atar blend is usually a mixture of ground dried za’atar leaves mixed with salt, sumac, and sesame seeds. It is available at all Middle Eastern grocery stores and some supermarkets as well.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Fully cooled ka'ak can be stored in a paper bag at room temperature up to 24 hours, or frozen in a zipper-top bag for up to 4 weeks. Reheat from room temperature or frozen in 375°F (191°C) oven before serving, about 8 minutes.