The blessing cookies of Grandma Mariza. Photography: Galit Levian
The blessing cookies of Grandma Mariza. Photography: Galit Levian
Recipe

Kaak Bilsacar

Every year before Shavuot my grandmother runs a small workshop making kaak bilsacar for the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren!

Grandma makes cookies in all kinds of shapes – with each shape representing a different meaning: a ladder that symbolizes Jacob’s ladder and closeness to God, a bird that symbolizes the dove that Noah sent out after the flood, a hamsa for luck, and other shapes that she doesn’t remember the meaning of, but she makes exactly as her mother did.

Grandma makes sure to save cookies for family members who can’t come on Shavuot eve, so that no one misses the blessing for the holiday. She strings the cookies onto chains that the grandchildren wear as necklaces and eat, and learn a little in a fun way about the holiday and its meanings, about the tradition of generations, the family, and life in Libya.

In the original recipe we use both baking powder and ammonia (or Muniaka) which is ammonium carbonate, a leavening agent that makes the cake airier and lighter. It is customary to use it in the preparation of kaak bilsacar (some women also use it for hamantaschen dough). The muniaka can be found in spice shops, but isn’t absolutely necessary – it includes baking powder, so the cookies will rise and turn out beautifully even without it. Please note: the baking powder must be used even though the muniaka is optional.

Mariza Shasi nee Aton. Grandmother of Gilat Levian, opens a cookie workshop every Shavuot.
Mariza Shasi nee Aton. Grandmother of Gilat Levian, opens a cookie workshop every Shavuot.

Ingredients for Cookies for Shavuot

  • 4 eggs large
  • 1½ cups Sugar
  • 1 cup oil
  • ¼ cup water
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 2.2 lbs (1 kilogram) flour
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon (20 grams) baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon (20 grams) vanilla sugar
  • 1 tablespoon muniaka or ammonia (ammonia carbonate) optional
  • 3 tablespoons Sesame seeds

Instructions

  • 1. Beat eggs and sugar in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle or whisk attachment, until the sugar dissolves. Add oil, water, and orange peel and mix until uniform. Add flour, baking powder, vanilla sugar, muniaka (optional) and sesame and mix in a mixer or by hand for 7 minutes, until you get a flexible and easy-to-work dough with the texture of plasticine. Cover the dough and set aside for 10 minutes.

  • 2. Heat an oven to 350F (180C) degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

  • 3. Roll the dough into a large log. Cut into strips and roll into a long strip about the thickness of a finger. The dough should be easy to work with and does not require kneading, but if it sticks to the work surface, flour the surface a little.

  • 4. Shape each strip into a cookie in the desired shape and place in your mold. If you want to thread the cookies on a string, leave a small hole in each one (or poke a hole with the thin end of a smooth center). Bake for 20 minutes, until the cookies are golden and firm.

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