In the Arab World, the sweet pastry known as kahk represents an integral part of the Eid el-Fitr feast. Other pastries — such as ghorayiba and petit four — are also baked and consumed in large quantities, but it is the cookie-like kahk that has come to epitomize the post-Ramadan holiday.
Kahk is a heavy, sweet pastry made of flour, dairy/vegetable ghee (or butter or vegetable oil), eggs, milk and loads of sugar. Traditional Egyptian kahk is a plain disc-shaped tartlet covered with powdered sugar, but there are also other types of kahk stuffed with a number of different saccharine fillings.
Kahk fillings may include pistachios, walnuts, almonds or Turkish delight (malban.) Kahk with pit-less puréed dates (or ‘agwa) is more common in the Arab Gulf, where the pastry — known as maamoul — is said to have originated; another kind, ‘agamiya, is filled with honey and sesame seeds. There is even a variety of kahk filled and/or covered with chocolate.
In terms of its nutritional value and calories, kahk is low on the former and loaded with the latter. While it is a relatively good source of carbohydrates and protein, kahk is a much better source of saturated fats and sugars. Each teaspoon of dairy ghee contains an average of eight milligrams of cholesterol.
Keep in mind that each piece of date-filled kahk contains an average of 180 calories; 31 grams of carbohydrates; six grams of fat; three grams of fiber; two grams of protein; 14 milligrams of cholesterol; and three milligrams of sodium. Larger pieces of kahk, those with more filling, and those made with larger quantities of ghee or butter may raise the calorie count to a whopping 210 per piece.
Kahk is said to have originated in Ancient Egypt during the 18th Dynasty (1540 BC – 1307 BC). The precursors of modern-day kahk were made of honey and flour, pressed into discs, decorated with the imprint of the sun’s rays, and then baked. Numerous different forms of this Ancient Egyptian pastry adorn the inner walls of Kheime Ra’s tomb in Thebes, near the modern city of Luxor.
The iconic pasty is said to have been re-introduced in its contemporary form during Egypt’s Toulounid period in the 9th century. The association between kahk and the Eid el-Fitr holiday is attributable to Fatimid Caliph Al-Muezz li-Dein Illah, who commemorated the end of the fasting month by distributing kahk among his subjects in the newly founded City of Cairo in 969 AD.
In the millennium since, kahk has been traditionally made at home by mothers and wives to mark the first day of eid. This custom began to change during the 1960s, however, when readymade kahk was introduced at bakeries and patisseries. So take caution: more traditionally-minded women may take offense to friends and family members who consume readymade kahk instead of their original homemade variety.
There are countless places from which to purchase kahk, a few of which are listed below:
Koueider Patisserie Damas
This Levantine patisserie is well worth trying. Heavy but extremely delicious, the kahk comes in medium sized, sugar-powdered pieces. One sampler, his mouth full of the Turkish delight variety, gave it two thumbs up. Another sampler described the date-filled kind as “soft and fresh, with that authentic homemade taste.”
Koueider offers scrumptious date-filled kahk at LE 36 per kilogram; ‘agamiya at LE 36; Turkish delight at LE 36; and plain kahk at LE 40.
Roxy, 19 Ibrahim el-Laqani St; Tel: 2258-4886
Daher, 29 Habib Shalaby St; Tel: 2591-1929
Marghani, 127 Marghani St; Tel: 2290-6556
Nasr city, 45 Abbas el-Aqqad St; Tel: 2402-1285
Local delivery available from 2pm until 10pm
Semiramis Bakery and Confectionary
The Semiramis Bakery (unrelated to the five-star Semiramis hotel chain) offers kahk filled with Turkish delight at LE 40 per kilo, date-filled kahk at LE 40, plain kahk for LE 46, and walnut-filled at LE 60. Semiramis makes its kahk with butter rather than ghee.
“I like Semiramis kahk the best because they’re made in small, bite-sized pieces,” said one sampler. After having a piece of date-filled kahk, however, another noted, “It’s a bit too buttery; a bit too heavy.” A third sampler observed, “Heavy but tasty — it reminds me of the kahk my mother-in-law used to make.”
Garden City, 72 Qasr el-Aini St; Tel: 2794-4586
Specializing in biscuits and sweets, the state-owned Biscomisr Company was established in 1957, and generations of Egyptians have since been raised on the company’s trademark biscuits. Biscomisr’s kahk, “made from the finest ingredients, including pasteurized eggs and natural butter,” is only available in the holiday season.
One of the best things about Biscomisr kahk is that each box, specially designed to prevent crumbling, comes replete with a separate baggie of powdered sugar, allowing finicky consumers to regulate his or her preferred level of sweetness. The downside is that each box weighs exactly one kilogram — you cannot mix or customize your order to include different sorts of kahk in a single box.
While Biscomisr kahk comes in larger-sized pieces, they tend to be drier than most other sorts of kahk — probably because they use less butter. One sampler noted the “delicate balance” between taste and texture. “I like Biscomisr kahk because it has that biscuity taste, which reminds me of my childhood,” said another contented sampler.
Plain kahk is available for LE 31 per kilo; with pistachios at LE 45; with walnut filling at LE 38; with ‘agamiya filling at LE 32; and with date filling at LE 32.
Biscomisr kahk can be found both in supermarkets and at official Biscomisr outlets. Ask your local grocer/supermarket for delivery.
La Poire Bakery & Pastry Shops
Each box of La Poire’s kahk also comes with a separate sack of powdered sugar, allowing the consumer to sprinkle according to his or her needs. La Poire’s kahk comes in smaller pieces, which — given the amount of butter they contain — is probably for the best.
After biting into one of the date-filled pieces, one sampler commented, “This tastes more like pure butter than anything else.” “Mmmmm…tasty!” said another, “but way too rich.” La Poire’s pistachio filled kahk may be the best kind they have on offer, although the Turkish delight variety is also worth trying.
La Poire offers plain or date-filled kahk at LE 36 per kilo; ‘agamiya at LE 45; pistachio- or walnut-filled at LE 65; and with Turkish delight at LE 42.
Cairo: Garden City, Al Ahly Club, City Stars Mall, Rehab Compound, Gisr el-Suez Street, Heliopolis, Nasr City, Shobra
Giza: Haram Street, Doqqi, Shooting Club, Sixth of October City
Alexandria and North Coast: Semouha, Stanley, Loran, Agamy (Sixth of October Resort), Sidi Krir Resort, Marakiya Resort, Marina Resort, Diplomats Resort #3, Minya City
Mansoura City, Tanta
Tel: 19515 (unified number for delivery from 9am until 11pm, although not all branches deliver