Eating Sito’s Ka’ak (pronounced ‘cock’): Embarrassing Lebanese Pastry

A Man Selling His Ka'ak

A Man Selling His Ka'ak

I know this is off-color, and I’m sure there will be comments that require deletion. Read this: it’s G-rated…the entendre is up to you.

Everyone loved my husband’s grandmother Sito. With thinning blue-white curls and a faded cotton apron stretched over her small round belly, you might think Sito was a feeble old lady, but she rolled grape leaves so tight they popped…and she played cards like a riverboat shill.

Sito was the queen of a Lebanese pastry with an unfortunate name, ka’ak (pronounced ‘cock’). Every Christmas Sito would pinch off hundreds of ka’aks with her tiny hands, branding each soft mound with a nasty metal tool just before shoving a batch in the gas oven.

We’d tear open our annual Holiday shipment of cold ka’ak and let the packing fly, unzipping successively smaller plastic bags to devour the sweet booty inside. Sito packed her ka’ak so tight sometimes we’d need to bang it on a hard surface just to separate ka’ak from box.

It is a family tradition to gorge ourselves on ka’ak to celebrate the birth of the Christ child.

Now that Sito’s gone I don’t crave ka’ak as much as I used to, which is probably a good thing. Once I start it’s hard to stop. I tell my husband that I must have acquired an unfortunate sensitivity to eating ka’ak, and I often politely decline. These days I only eat ka’ak when I can no longer resist the aroma, once or twice a year.

If you don’t eat ka’ak right away it gets too tough to chew, and it loses that faint anise scent that fills the house, letting everyone know that someone is downstairs eating ka’ak. Sito’s ka’ak was pretty big, so it was perfectly acceptable if guests wanted to split a ka’ak with a firm jerk of the wrist. It’s a shame not to try a little, and it’s always interesting to see folks acquire a taste for the stuff. Guests who initially turn up their nose have been heard to politely inquire as they enter my kitchen, “Do I smell ka’ak?”

Our daughter’s friend Jason would down two or three ka’aks in a single sitting. When Jason went away to college, I even sent him a care package with “FRAGILE: Ka’ak” written on the box.

By New Year’s Eve though, we all get sick of stuffing our faces with ka’ak and toss what’s left into the freezer. Ka’ak freezes surprisingly well. It’s naturally kind of dry, and thawed ka’ak is even worse, so I always had something juicy around the house to wash it down, especially when the kids were little. It would have been awful to rush a child to the Emergency Room after he choked on ka’ak.

Everyone in my family is kinky about ka’ak. I prefer mine in the morning, served so hot I can barely touch it, lubed up with a little butter. I’ll look at it, bulging and steaming, and I’ll tell myself to take little savoring nibbles, but I’m embarrassed–and just a little boastful–to admit that I often devour an entire ka’ak in a few bites. My husband prefers his ka’ak straight up at night. For our daughter, ka’ak smeared with just about any condiment is a meal in itself.

For our some reason our son never cared much for ka’ak. He’d toast his ka’ak until you could hear it sizzle, and then scoop ice cream on top before wolfing it down, hoping to disguise the taste.

After my husband’s grandmother Sito passed away, her only daughter became the Keeper of Ka’ak. Auntie’s ka’ak tastes like Sito’s, but there’s something about the texture that will just never be the same.

I am afraid someday when Auntie passes away, no one in our family will eat ka’ak again. It’s sad to even contemplate the Holidays without embarrassing Lebanese pastry. Perhaps to defy that day, Auntie in her later years has done Sito proud: she’s become wildly prolific, giving away so much ka’ak that by summer I break up what’s left in the back of our freezer and scatter broken ka’ak on the back deck where it’s picked at by neighborhood felines.

Poor Auntie has become self-conscious about the lore that surrounds this delicacy, so she has invented a euphemism for ka’ak. She’s in her 80’s now, and she calls it “cookies”, but you can’t fool us: we all know ka’ak when we see it.

About wedgeblog

Claire Baiz is a columnist for Signature Montana, a featured editorial writer for The Great Falls Tribune, and a regular contributor to the Folio award winning jeweler’s trade magazine InStore. Claire has written for niche and trade magazines, both online and in print. Contact Claire via e-mail at clairebaiz@gmail.com
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11 Responses to Eating Sito’s Ka’ak (pronounced ‘cock’): Embarrassing Lebanese Pastry

  1. Jaren Jourdonais Rabe says:

    Ha! I love it.

  2. Larry says:

    That is great…glad that you published it!

  3. keith says:

    I love my Ka’ak after dinner, warmed and with tea.

  4. sarah says:

    My hot boss is lebanese, I would love to try some ka’ak one day!

  5. Rony says:

    It is actually not pronounced “cock”, it is ka ik, this is as close as you can get it. But if you prefer “cock” no harm.

  6. wedgeblog says:

    Thanks, Rony. My husband’s family is from Musghara, Lebanon, and they all pronounced it ‘cock’. Actually it was a bit of a flat ka’ak. Like someone was stepping on it when the word was spoken aloud…Thank you very much for reading my blog.

  7. Tom says:

    I am Lebanese and never heard it pronounced as you say. Ka’ak is a generic term that means cake. There are many different types of Ka’ak. The large ones sold everywhere on the streets of Beirut are just one variety. Others are more like cookies, and small cakes.

  8. Tricia says:

    Thank you for that great blog! our mom is in her late 80s and we just had our good laughs as we made ka’ak today.

  9. How about the recipe? My grandmother made Kaak every year for me but I can’t seem to duplicate the recipe. I remember they were VERY hard, with Anise seeds and Mahleb…..HELP!

  10. wedgeblog says:

    There’s an old cookbook, called “Sahtein” that’s available on Amazon. The best Lebanese recipes are in this old classic cookbook, including ka’ak.

  11. MDaher says:

    In my family we always pronounced both “a” — “kah-ahk.” Of course growing up in the south of the United States, there was a lot of mispronunciation! My great-aunt owned a store in New Hampshire where she sold ka’ak, and each year after my grandmother visited, she would come home with bags of it. Before my aunt died I got the recipe from her and now I make it every Christmas. My son was born this year, and it means so much to me that I will be able to pass down this family recipe to him.

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