07 November 2007

Kleeja (Cardamom-Wheat Cookies)

I like to a keep a good biscuit around the house. I use the word biscuit in the British sense: not one of those puffy buttermilk biscuits in America but rather some cross between a cracker and a cookie, a digestive biscuit or a tea biscuit, call it a snack cookie if you must. They're good for nibbling as a 3:00 sweet fix, a 5:00 pick-me-up, after dinner as dessert, or a midnight snack. And if you tend towards hypo-glycemia, tucking one in your bag is essential.

My favorite biscuit to have around is a cardamom-wheat version, they're called kleeja and they're from Iraq. You can find similar biscuits all over the Middle East but I like to think that they are uniquely Iraqi. Northern Iraq is believed to be the first place wheat and barley were cultivated and planted as crops, and wheat continues to be a staple grain and a symbol of prosperity and fertility. Sheaves of wheat are hung from balconies in Baghdad and their image imprinted on the dinar. I like the slight coarseness of the wheat in these biscuits, and I love the liberal use of cardamom, so particularly Iraqi: Iraqis scent their coffee, rice pilafs, soups, cookies and breads all with heaping spoonfuls of cardamom.


Kleeja are quite popular in the Gulf where they are mass-produced and packaged to be sold all over the Middle East. That's where I first tasted them, but now I've discovered they are just as easy to make at home, and I do, quite often. I've served them with coffee, tea, or wine, sent them in care-packages, and people always love them. I know the recipe by heart, which is good, because people often ask me for it. I've put them here as well so friends don't have to read my recipes scribbled on the back of paper napkins. I think it's the cardamom that gives them that special air, and their satisfying crunch. I hope you'll think they're just as good to have around as I do.

As you can see, I've varied the size and thickness of these cookies, and my favorite version is that rolled 1/4" thick and cut with a biscuit cutter. Feel free to play around, but make sure not to roll them too thinly, as the thickness contributes to their charm.

Kleeja (Cardamom-Wheat Cookies)

3 cups whole wheat flour.
1/2 cup vegetable oil or 9 tbl melted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 egg beaten with 2 tbl water, for glazing

1. Preaheat oven to 350 F. Grease 2 baking sheets or line with parchment. Combine sugar and milk in small pan, stir over heat without boiling until sugar dissolves, set aside to let cool.
2. Combine flour with baking powder, salt, cardamom in a bowl. Mix in the oil/butter until crumbly and well combined, then add egg, sugar and milk, mix well to form a dough. Set aside to rest for 15 minutes.
3. Roll out the dough with a floured rolling pin (you do not need to flour your work surface) to 1/4" thick. Cut out rounds with a biscuit cutter, rerolling until all the dough is used. Make a cross-hatch pattern on the cookies with a knife if desired. Transfer to baking sheets and brush the cookies with egg wash. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until just golden and firm on top (the bottoms will brown, but keep an eye that they don't burn). Cool on a rack, store in a cookie tin.

I should mention that the term "kleeja/kleicha" is used widely in the Middle East to refer to an array of things- it can also refer to a brioche roll stuffed with dates or other kinds of cookies.

31 comments:

Hannah Mae said...

Is that a German/Swiss anise cookie mold up there in the first picture? Biscuits, the international language! These sound awesome and I have a whole new jar of cardamom - time to make some kleeja to go with my springerle....

Michael said...

Wow, those look really tasty. And actually kind of healthy with the whole wheat and all. I like those McVittie's "digestive" biscuits, which aren't so overly sweet. I bet these are great.

Michael Natkin
The Herbivoracious Blog

Luisa said...

That mold looks like a Springerle mold... And this recipe was just MADE for me, I know. Whole wheat flour, cardamom, are you kidding me? I feel like I need to take the rest of the day off to make these. Thank you! for the recipe.

gros lard said...

can these be made with other flours besides whole wheat? Like bread flour? Just wondering, because I really want to make them right now, but dont want to go out and buy whole wheat flour :)

Mercedes said...

Yes, it is indeed a springerle mold in the photo. I thought it would be symbollic, with the wheat and everything. However, the cookies didn't hold the shape very well when they rose, so I wouldn't recommend it. The cross-hatch design is traditional for a reason ;-)

Michael- these are very similar to digestives, probably why I like them.

Luisa- Do they have those on my work plan- sick days, personal days, cookie-making days? They should.

Gros Lard- I really would recommend making these with whole wheat flour, it 's what gives them their nice nubby texture. Sometimes I actually use a little bit of graham flour (like a coarser whole wheat) to enhance this aspect. Technically, yes, you could make this with bread flour, but they just wouldn't be what they should be.

Melissa said...

Digestives are probably what I will miss most about Britain when I finally leave (well, and golden syrup, which I could eat by the spoonful!). I love their crumbly not-too-sweet wholesomeness, and I LOVE the idea of combining that with cardamom. Oh man, I must give these a try!

p.s. Are there any textural differences to consider when opting for butter vs. oil?

Hillary said...

Very nice, thanks! I like how you wrapped them together in stacks for presents - just beautiful.

Lyra said...

This sounds really tasty, and since winter is now officially arrived (its frigid and raining outside) a biscuit and tea sound divine....

Lyra said...

I just made these and they are so delicious...they have the texture of a McVitties (I grew up with those in Belize), but the delicious scent and flavour of cardamom....really excellent. My only problem: they burn easily on the bottom, at least in my oven. I had to keep a close watch on them. Thanks for the recipe, these are great!

Mercedes said...

Melissa- agreed, although you can find digestives here (Carr's whole wheat crackers are really just digestives under another name), there's nowhere near the variety.

The recipe came to me with vegetable oil, but I suspect that is because of the recent sanctions in Iraq when oil was part of the food rations while butter was more expensive. (technically, it would be made with samne, clarified buuter) I have made the recipe both ways, and I find there is little difference. I actually prefer the vegetable oil because it's easier and I find the texture is a tiny bit more crumbly when made with butter. Also, because the cardamom is the overwhelming flavor, the butter flavor doesn't make much of a difference. I included the buttter version because I know there are some purists out there who will prefer it. I should have put a note in the recipe as to my reasoning.

Lyra- I'm so glad you liked them! I didn't have too much problem with burning on the bottom, but they do get a bit brown, it could be a slight difference in our ovens. Thanks for the feedback, I've put a note in the recipe for people to keep an eye out, in case anyone else has the same issue.

Bethany said...

Hi, I'm so excited that I found your blog! I love the pictures and your unique recipes and hope I can make some of them soon.

meeso said...

I love the flavor of cardamom...these are a sure try for me :)

That Brazen Tart said...

Yes! Cookie-Making Days! I'll write my gov't reps if you'll write yours.

Mercedes, I just bought some Mahleb (both whole and ground) on a weekend excursion. Are you familiar with it? Would I be able to taste it in these cookies? I love cardamom, so will try it both ways. Just wondering if you had any advice (other than making Choereg with it).

Mercedes said...

BrazenTart-
I am very familiar with mahlep, the ground sour cherry pits used as a spice in many sweet breads. I would not use mahlep in these cookies. I don't think the result would taste bad, but one doesn't usually combine mahlep and cardamom as each are rather distinctive spices. Besides, this cookie already has enough going on with the cardamom. If you do want to add another spice to the kleeja, some people add saffron.

As for uses for mahlep, I can think of zillions, but most of them involve varieties of breads. Just this morning I made Qurban, a Lebanese Christian bread, very simple yeasted rounds flavored with orange blossom water and mahlep.
Use it in ma'moul cookies, arras-a Syrian sweet breakfast bread, or kaak. I'm sure mahlep would be a nice addition to any brioche or shortbread recipe. The seeds are also used in string cheese.
I also saw this Mahlep Cake.
I hope that gives you some ideas, let me know if you need more specifics.

C(h)ristine said...

I am going to immediately make these for my father-in-law, who spent his early childhood in Iraq! Your site is such a blessing!

sarah said...

hi mercedes - i just made these, (with graham wheat flour, soy milk and guatemalan cardamom; i think michael is right, they are a little healthy), and they turned out so great! and they really are easy to make too. thanks so much for sharing the bits of culture and the recipe - i'm bringing them tonight to any otherwise very american gathering (with pizza, and soda) so i hope to open up the palette a little bit with these spicy treats :)

julie said...

I have made kleeja this week and want to thank you for the recipe. They are very good and healthyish too.

Also want to say that I like your blog a lot.

Anonymous said...

Dear Friend
KLEICHA is an Iraqi cookies, the components of KLAICHA are Iraqis, especially the dates. As you might know that some Arabs who have no cuisine nor culture, or music or art, they stole every thing which belongs to Iraq even the food. If you ask any native speaking Arabic man he will tell you KLEICHA is part of the Iraqi cuisine.
thank you
M. Alasadi

Humeirah Fasq said...

Hi Mercedes!

I tried these three times already and they are delicious. I added raisins and dessicated coconut to the mixture and the result is just too good to be true. I am known as the cookie lady now :D

Thanks again!

Humeirah

claudia said...

I cannot recall how I came across your blog. Lately I have been on vegetable garden blogs only, racing against time to get all my seeds in the ground before frost. The whole family is thrilled I met you and your recipies... these cookies will be on the weekly baking list with my bread forever. I doubt they will last all week though! It took the first batch I made about 10 minutes to disappear! Thank you Mercedes.

claudia said...

I was wondering if anyone had eliminated the baking powder from this recipe (successfully). I was thinking of taking it out next time I make them because they don't rise so i can't really figure any damage done without it... I would appreciate if someone already made the attempt if not I will let you know how my experiment goes.

Carly said...

I made these yesterday and they are delicious! Whole-wheat cardamom Middle Eastern cookies!? They're just what I was looking for! I didn't have any milk so I had a few other options: heavy cream, soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, and evaporated milk. I chose soy milk. (I did have to to add a little cream and water, just a bit, at the final stage of the recipe because the dough wasn't sticking together.) I'm not sure how much the soy milk changed the taste of these cookies, but I think they are great and I can't wait to try them with actual milk :)

Anonymous said...

Cant thank you enough for this great recipe... I am from the middle east, but live in europe, and miss the traditional sweets (and no, I dont mean baklawa) but the kind my aunts would make, like these! So good, I made them for my kids. And they are so easy to make! I am even thinking of making them with Anise (yansoon) just to get an extra twist out of these. Thanks for sharing, you really made my day!

Janneke said...

Dear Mercedes, This sounds like a recipe I have to try. Do you have a tip how to store the biscuits so they keep their crunchiness? My biscuits are always nice in the first day but turn soft the day after and I do love a crunchy biscuit.

esung1 said...

I made these late last night, and wow, they taste really good almost 12 hours later. The cardamom really flavors the cookie. Maybe I'm crazy but it reminded me of Sprite or some other lemon/lime combination. Delicious. Can't wait to share these with my family.

Anonymous said...

Very tasty. Made them with white whole wheat, which is what i had around the house. Next time, true whole wheat.

One question: I'm more of a breadbaker than a cookie person. Should the dough be really crumbly as I try to roll it out?

Nadine said...

I cant thank you enough for posting this recipe, i have a dinner party on Sunday and I will make those to be served with after inner tea and coffee.

Anonymous said...

I made these today, they were delicious. I used a smaller size cookie cutter (we like our biscuit on the smaller side that way we wear less) and I reduced the cooking time to 8-9 minutes. I wanted to add some rose water..do you think it is a good combination? thank you for the recipe.

magpie said...

We have a very similar wholewheat cardamom and almond cookie called Nankhatais in my culture too (Indian)
They were probably influenced by the dutch butter cookies as well as these middle eastern ones!
Lovely! must try them with vegetable oil as well to compare flavours.

Nicole said...

Thank you for sharing ! I am so happy that my favorite oriental biscuits can be made with the veg. oil ! That's a great healthy recipe !

Anonymous said...

Just made a batch of these cookies - thank you so much!
The problem of healthy snacking has been solved!!!