Olive oil bread, kaaek bel zait (كعك بزيت) or akras el eid (اقراص العيد) is a popular bread in the middle east.It is usually made in the olive pressing season to celebrate the fresh olive oil and a sweetened version of it is made in Eid as a dessert served to friends and family. What makes this bread special is the combination of seeds (sesame, Nigella and anise seeds), spices (mahlab, ground anise and ground fennel) and olive oil. The seeds add texture and little bursts of flavor when you bite into them. While the olive oil adds a nutty rich flavor and a beautiful yellowish hue. The characteristic pattern that sets this bread apart comes from the hand carved wooden molds traditionally used in making this bread.
If the mold looks familiar, it is because the mold is a bigger version of the maamoul molds you saw in my maamoul post. As with the maamoul molds, these beautiful old hand carved molds are being replaced by plastic mass-produced ones. They may be cheaper and easier to find than their wooden counter parts but if you ask me, they lack the character and spirit unique to the hand carved ones.
There are different stories behind the patterns on the old traditional wooden mold. My favorite is that the little circles are supposed to resemble the effect raindrops leave when they hit the soil or water. Being originally a peasant bread, farmers wanted bread with patterns that reminds them of the rain that means a good season.
Making this bread is easy and rewarding. The combination of seeds and spices used to season it, with the nutty olive oil results in a unique bread that will captivate your senses. It is beautifully patterned with a special warm and earthy hue. When you bake it, a cloud of spice will take over your house and call everyone to the kitchen. The real treat however is when you taste it. Soft and chewy. Fragrant with pleasant hints of spice. Rich without being overwhelming.
If you need any more convincing and you are not already in the kitchen gathering ingredients, this olive oil bread stays in the fridge in great condition for 2 weeks and you can store in the freezer for 3 months. All you have to do is take it out and heat it, make a cup of tea and enjoy a wonderful snack or lunch with some salty cheese and sliced cucumbers and tomatoes.
Olive oil bread (Kaaek bel zait كعك بالزيت )
Makes 20 small or 8 large loaves
5 cups flour (see notes)
2/3 cup olive oil
1 cup powdered milk
3 teaspoons dry yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons anise seeds
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoon ground anise
1/2 teaspoon ground mahlab
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds (optional)
2 cups Water
Olive oil for brushing the bread
Bread making instructions
Proof the yeast by mixing the yeast with 1/2 cup of water and the sugar and wait for it to foam and bubble.
In a bowl, mix the flour, powdered milk, anise seeds, sesame seeds and ground anise, mahlab and fennel
Add the olive oil and rub it into the flour mix with your finger tips until the mix resembles wet sand.
Add the yeast water mix and start kneading the dough.
Gradually add the water until you get a smooth dough that does not stick to your hands or the bowl
Cover the dough and allow it to double in a warm place
Preheat your oven to 270 C and position the oven rack in the middle
Cut the dough into 20 small balls or 10 big ones depending on the size of the loaves you want
Brush your bread mold (if using) with olive oil and roll the dough on top of the bread mold or simply roll the dough into a circle 1 cm in thickness (see notes)
Arrange the dough circles on a baking sheet that has been brushed with oil or lined with parchement paper, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with sesame seeds
Bake in the oven until the bottoms are golden brown
Turn on the broiler and allow the top to become golden brown
If you like the bread to be richer in flavor, brush the hot bread with some more olive oil. (I usually skip this step)
Cool the bread on a wire rack and then store in the fridge for 10 days or freeze for up to 3 months.
Serve with a salty cheese like nabulsi cheese and a cup of tea and enjoy.
The flour: The outcome of this recipe depends on the type of flour you use. The recipe as listed will give you a soft and chewy bread. I usually use 4 cups white four and one whole wheat flout to get a hint of nutty flavor from the whole wheat flour. If you increase the amount of whole wheat flour to 50% the bread will be crisper, almost cracker like in consistency.The bread in the top picture was made with 4 cups white flour and 1 whole wheat, it comes out soft and chewy. The big ones in the other pictures were made with 50-50 whole wheat and white bread and they were crispier and more cracker like
Thin or thick: Another factor that will greatly affect your finished bread is the thickness you roll the bread into. If you roll the dough thinly (less than 1 cm)the bread will be crisp and almost like crackers. If you roll it thick the bread will be chewy and soft. Do remember that this bread will rise considerably in the oven, it almost doubles in thickness..so keep that in mind when you roll it. The small bread you see in the top picture was rolled to be 1 cm thick , the big loaves in the other pictures were rolled thinner and as a result they were crispier
Wait or bake immediately: Another way to control how soft or crisp your bread will be. If you want the bread to be soft and chewy allow the bread to rest for 15-20 minutes after rolling. If you want it to be crisper, bake it immediately after you roll it.
The olive oil: Some recipes call for kneading the dough with only 1/4 cup of olive oil and brush the rest on top after baking the bread. I personally prefer to add the olive oil to the dough, that results in a richer flavor and softer bread that is more chewy
Don’t have the mold: Don’t worry about it, you can just roll the dough with a rolling pin and decorate it with a fork or the edge of the knife or you can leave it as is. It will still taste amazing