Remembering Ka’aKa

by Leah Hadad on October 1, 2014

Bagel smeared with cream cheese and topped with lox is the quintessential food with which American Jews break the Yom Kippur fast. Growing up in a Yemenite Jewish family in Israel, at the end of the fast, we first revived ourselves with a cup of ‘white’ coffee, spiked with ginger and other spices, into which we dunked pieces of ka’aka , or ka’ak, a pastry prevalent in the Arab world. Ka’aka can be best described as a scone or biscuit-like baked good, but drier and more packed. There are sweet and savory variations.  By sweet, I mean lightly sweetened; sugar was then used as a condiment, rather than a main ingredient.

In the recipe I offer here, I re-imagine the ka’aka I remember from my late great aunt Zahra, who was my honorary Bubbie.  This pastry had most likely been baked originally with ghee – clarified butter – or olive oil; today, in Israel, it is usually baked with margarine.  Yemenite immigrants in Israel adapted their traditional cooking to cheaper local ingredients.  I am using butter and a mix of all-purpose flour and whole grain wheat because even the ‘clean’ flour in Yemen was in all likelihood less refined than the all purpose flour we use now.

Amma Zahra baked these pastries weekly and stored them in a large tin jar. She always made time for her afternoon ‘white’ coffee into which she dipped her home baked ka’aka.  This time of year, and especially Yom Kippur, is not just about food; it is a time of remembrance. Baking these cakes soothes the pangs I feel remembering Amma Zahra and the other loved ones who are no longer with me. It brings them closer to me. Enjoy!

Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 15-16 cakes
  • 1 c unsalted butter
  • 3 c AP flour (350 g)
  • 1⅓ c whole wheat flour (150 g)
  • ½ c sugar
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¼ c ice cold water
  • 2 Tbsp. Sesame or nigella (black seed)
  • 1 yolk + 1 Tbsp. water for egg wash
  1. Preheat oven to 350°;
  2. Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix with a wooden spoon or by hand until dough comes together. It will be soft and a bit tacky. Alternatively, use a food processor and mix for about 7-10 min.;
  3. Tear a chunk from the dough and with cup of your hands form into a ball (65 g). It should be 2 “ in diameter;
  4. Place on an oiled or parchment-lined baking sheet. Press the ball gently with the palms your hands to flatten;
  5. Brush the top with egg wash and sprinkle with seeds. Bake for 25 min.


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