If you want to know anything about Iraqi food, you cannot miss the istikan of tea with date kleicha (كليجة).
The are oh-so-many home made kleichas that vary in the details (coconut kleicha), but the principle remains the same: date paste enveloped in a flakey buttery dough. (See also Traditional Iraqi Date Kleicha.)
Iraqi Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike all make kleicha to celebrate an occasion, or even without an occasion!I have tried so many different dough for kleicha, but once I learned this one from my blessed aunt (from whom I also learned the madgooga), there was no other recipe I needed ever again.If you are lucky enough to have mahlab (محلب) (an aromatic spice from the kernel in cherry seeds), by all means do not pass the opportunity to use it for the kleicha.
If not, no big deal, the kleicha is still indescribably delicious without it.
Note that kleicha differs from maamoul, which, unlike kleicha, has a crumbly dough.
In the festive spirit of kleicha, it is commonly made in large quantities with all the women in the family (and the neighbors too), working and chatting together while making the kleicha, usually around the time for Ramadan and Eid.
This quantity is a manageable one to make alone or with another person (I got 125 kleicha out of this recipe).
You can bag and freeze the baked kleicha without a problem, and de-frost at room temperature in the quantity you want.
For the dough:
3 cups flour
1 cup milk, warmed
1 cup butter, melted
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground mahlab, optional
2 tsp yeast
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp black nigella seeds
For the date filling:
2 cups dried dates. seeded
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp powdered cardamom
1 Tbsp ghee
1 egg, beaten, for brushing
You can make the date paste rods a few days before making the dough.
Pre-made date rods make the kleicha making process much faster.
To make the date paste rods:
Heat the ghee in a pan or pot, add the fennel seeds and the cardamom and the dates.
Stir often until the dates soften.
Set aside to cool enough to handle.
Take small pinches of the date paste and roll between your palms to form a rod the same length as an espresso cup opening (which will be used to cut the dough into circles).
Align the rods in a single layer without touching each other in a flat plate.
Cover with plastic wrap and set aside until needed.
To make the dough,
Stir the the flour, mahlab, salt, and nigella seeds to equally distribute.
Whisk the yeast and sugar in half a cup of the warmed milk, set aside for 5 minutes to activate the yeast.
Pour the yeast-milk mixture, and the remaining half cup of warm milk, and the melted butter over the flour mixture.
Knead for 5 minutes.
Let rest and rise for 30 minutes.
Divide the dough into 3 balls.
Work with one ball, keeping the others covered.
Roll out the ball of dough onto a large surface to about 3 millimeters thick.
Cut using an inverted espresso cup into circles as close to each other as possible.
Place a rod of date paste in the center of each circle, and roll the circle around the rod.
Place, seam-side down on a baking sheet.
Lightly brush the surface of the kheicha with the beaten egg, then poke three times using a toothpick.
Bake in a preheated 360F oven for 12 minutes, then broil to a golden brown for a minute or two.
Delicious straight out of the oven, or cooled, with a steaming cup of tea.
To freeze, cool completely, place in zip-lock bags, and freeze.
De-frost at room temperature in whatever quantity you want.
Perfect for impromptu guests.