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Kaak el Nakache (Gâteaux Fourrés aux Dattes)

Why are Algerian sweets so complicated and difficult to make? Every year, I tell myself that I'm going to take on the responsibility of making ALL the sweets for Eid and that basically never happens because I give up before I even start. I mean, if you saw the pounds of almonds that have to be blanched beforehand, you would give up too.

The sad part is, my mom did all the blanching for me this year. And even then, I couldn't handle making everything. It's tough stuff people! I think what it all comes down to though is practice. Practice makes perfect. And what makes practice perfect is awesome step by step photo tutorials to guide you when you're practicing. That's why I made you guys this little tutorial to assist you in making one of my hands down favorite Algerian sweets of all time: kaak el nakache.

In summary, kaak el nakache is basically like a shortbread cookie that's stuffed with dates and then decorated on the outside with a special pinching tool known as a 'nakache'. Hence why it's called kaak el nakache. So let's get started!

First, you'll want to grind up some of those blanched almonds I mentioned earlier in a food processor, but not to the point where they become a powder. You want them in between powder and diced. Once you have them like that, you're going to sift them to separate the powder from the diced almonds, and then you're going use only the diced ones. Above, you can see a picture of how the almonds should look like. Just set them aside once you're done grinding, you'll need them for the filling later.

Next, you'll make the dough. You'll need butter, flour, powdered sugar, an egg yolk, salt, vanilla, baking powder, milk, and orange blossom water. And if you don't have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, you'll also need very strong arms to mix all those ingredients together yourself. Once everything is incorporated and you form a soft dough, you let it rest for half an hour and you start working on the filling.

The filling is basically a combination of pitted baking dates, cinnamon, orange blossom water, and those diced almonds from earlier. You don't necessarily have to add the almonds in the filling because original kaak el nakache doesnt have them, but my mom likes to add them and people always rave about these when she makes them so I figure she must know what she's doing. Once you've mixed together all the ingredients for your filling, you can start rolling it out into little balls. I actually found that having the filling rolled out into little snakes or sausages made life much easier when assembling the cookies, so you should do that.

With both filling ready and dough rested, you can start assembling your cookies. You're going to take a small ball of dough and roll it out to approximately the size you see in the picture below. Then you'll take a knife or a pastry cutter like mine and cut off the uneven edges to make a perfect rectangle.

At this point, you'll add your filling. If you've already rolled your filling out into sausages, good for you, you just made this step a whole lot easier and you won't need get your hands dirty. If you haven't, it's all good. Just take one of the balls of filling you made and roll it out into a small sausage approximately the size of the rectangle. Then place it near the end of the rectangle closest to you and fold the dough over it, kind of sealing it. Then, using light and uniform pressure, gently roll the dough back and forth into a snake. 

Now here comes the hard part: sealing the cookie. What you're going to do is take one end of the cookie and sort of open up the dough at that end. Basically, unsealing it. Open it up wide enough to where you can stick the other end of the dough in it. Stick the other end of the dough in it and then basically seal the dough that you just unsealed, over that end. Use your hands now to gently adjust the seal and mold the cookie into an even ring.

You probably won't get it perfect on your first try, I sure as heck didn't. But the more you make, the more comfortable you will get with the dough and getting it to be a perfect circle.

I know it seems like this tutorial is never going to be over but stick with me, we're just about done! The last thing to do before baking these cookies is using a special pinching tool to make little crimps all around them, as demonstrated in the picture below. 

At first I wasn't sure if this tool was available in the U.S., but I did some research and apparently there's something called a pastry crimper that looks just like it. Mine is a bit different, as it's ends are more curved and so it pierces into the dough and grabs a lot of it. But I'm sure with a pastry crimper like the one I linked above, you could achieve a more elegant look to your cookie like this one.

Once you've pinched and crimped all your cookies, you'll bake them in a preheated oven for about 15 minutes. Their bottoms will be golden brown as shown above, while their tops will be a light golden brown.

Although these cookies are phenomenal any time you eat them, they're particularly phenomenal when you eat them warm, just a few minutes after they come out of the oven. They literally melt in your mouth. Ah, these are moments when I wish I owned a microwave so I could go heat one up right now. Sigh. Well anyways, without further ado, here is the recipe!

Kaak el Nakache

Yield: 40+ cookies
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For the dough:
4 and 1/2 cups all purpose-flour
3/4 cup powdered sugar
pinch of salt
pinch of vanilla powder (or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract)
2 pinches of baking powder
3 sticks unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup milk + 1/4 cup orange blossom water, combined

For the date filling:
One package (375 grams) pitted baking dates
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon orange blossom water
1/4 cup diced blanched almonds, optional


For the dough:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix together the flour, sugar, salt, vanilla, and baking powder on low speed for about 1 minute. Add melted butter and egg yolk and mix  together until well combined. Gradually add the milk/orange blossom water mixture while the mixer is stirring on low speed. Increase speed to medium-high and knead until a soft and smooth dough forms. Cover and set aside for half an hour.

For the date filling:
Using your hands, mix together the dates, cinnamon, orange blossom water, and almonds (if using). Form into small balls. You will be forming the balls into small sausages later on so you can always just do that beforehand if you prefer.

Assembling the cookies
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Take a small ball of dough and roll it out into the shape of a rectangle. Use a knife or pastry cutter to trim off any uneven edges and make a perfect rectangle. Take one of the balls of filling and roll it out into a small sausage, approximately the width of the rectangle.

Place the sausage of filling on the long edge of the rectangle closest to you. Fold the dough over the filling, sealing it gently. Then, using uniform pressure, roll the dough gently back and forth with your hands, forming a snake.

To seal the cookie and form a ring, take one end of the dough and unseal it at that end to make room to insert the other end of the dough in it. Seal the ends together and use your hands to additionally mold the cookie into an even ring.

Using a pastry crimper or nakache, decorate your cookies with a pattern of your liking.

Bake cookies on the middle rack of the oven for about 5 minutes, or until their bottoms start to brown. Then, move them up to the top rack and bake for an additional ten minutes, or until light golden brown.

Note: The amount of cookies this recipe yields depends on how large you make your cookies, as well as how much filling you use for each cookie.

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