When I was a kid, we would often go to Andersonville to see my great grandfather, his sister, and my great uncle's family. Umtie (Assyrian for the paternal aunt) Yasmi would make a big pot of chai and thaw some kadeh, which she would cut into a beautiful trapezoidal design. The freezer was always packed to the brim with loaves of kadeh, some with a middle layer of martookhah, or golden-brown roux, and some without. I was thinking about these memories recently, so (after a miserable attempt at figuring it out on my own) I asked my Aunt Masy to teach me how to bake kadeh, and I'm so glad I did, because this is the kadeh of my childhood in all its buttery glory.
The most important thing in learning to bake like your elders is making sure you record the butter carefully, because there is always more butter than you could ever imagine. Don't let the adorable granny demeanor fool you: they will lie about this to protect you from knowing how much butter you've really eaten in your life. So instead of asking Masy how to make kadeh, I watched her make it and took careful notes, and I'm so glad I did, because I would have never guessed two and a quarter sticks.
But if you're looking for the best way to put two and a quarter sticks of butter to use, if you're looking for a way to help two and a quarter sticks of butter become their best selves, kadeh is the answer. It is a love letter to butter. The dough is like a rich brioche, with so much dairy fat than you don't need to use flour when you roll it out. There's just enough flour to hold everything together and to give the yeast something to nosh, so that they can give the bread just enough lightness and air to make it perfectly balanced.
As if a rich-brioche dough weren't enough, the inside gets filled with a buttery roux, which might sound strange if you've only ever encountered roux when making béchamel or gumbo. But if you've ever licked the spoon early on while making mac and cheese, I'm sure you've thought to yourself, "wow, this would make a really good sandwich." And I'm here to tell you that you can totally make a roux sandwich, and it's just as delicious as you've secretly dreamed.
There's not much more to say about kadeh, since it speaks for itself. It goes great with chai, as a not-too-sweet dessert, and my mom loves to split hers open and spread some grape jelly over the martookhah. Kadeh is particularly beautiful when you cut it the traditional way. Just slice a few chunky strips horizontally, and then cut each strip in half on a bit of a diagonal to make little trapezoids. It's great the first day, but it stales just like any homemade bread, so you should store it in the freezer and then reheat it in a warm oven for a few minutes before serving. Kadeh freezes beautifully, especially before slicing, so don't feel like you're losing anything by doing so.
kadeh | roux-stuffed brioche
yield: 2 loaves (cut into about 18 to 20 pieces total)
active time: 1 hour
total time: 4 hours 15 minutes
also try my recipe for kadeh brioche star, in the Bake for Syria Cookbook
download a PDF to print
Dough starter (khmira)
1 1/2 teaspoons yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup 115° F water
Combine the yeast, sugar, vegetable oil, and water and mix to dissolve.
Cover and let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes, until it's very foamy.
15 ounces flour (about 3 cups unsifted, 3 3/4 cups sifted)
3/4 teaspoon salt (add an extra 1/4 teaspoon if you prefer saltier kadeh)
1/4 cup sugar
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (1 stick and 1 tablespoon)
1/4 cup + 3 T milk (115° F) (plus more, if necessary)
Sift together the flour, salt, and sugar.
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, add the butter, 1/4 cup milk, and starter/khmira, and stir together to combine. As it starts to come together, add one more tablespoon of milk at a time until it comes together into a soft, flexible dough. Knead by pulling the sides of the dough into the center of the bowl. If it looks a little dry, add another tablespoon of milk, let it sit for 5 minutes, and then continue kneading until it comes together into a pliant dough. Knead until it's elastic and smooth.
Cover the dough and let it rise for 1 hour and 15 minutes while you make the roux/martookhah.
Once the dough has risen, divide it into two equal pieces and shape each piece into a smooth ball. Let the dough balls sit, covered with plastic wrap, for 30 minutes.
10 tablespoons (divided into 1 stick + 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup flour
Melt the stick of butter with the sugar and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat.
As soon as the bubbling becomes a little quieter (about 3 minutes after the butter melts), immediately add the flour and whisk continuously for about 5 to 10 minutes.
The martookhah might be clumpy in the beginning, but it should thin out after a few minutes of cooking. Once it thins out, determine whether to add the extra 1 or 2 tablespoons of butter. The martookhah should thin-out into a slow-flowing viscous liquid that is thick enough that you can leave a trail with a spoon. If it is clumping together, it needs more butter. Add the additional one or two more tablespoons of butter if you need to, and continue cooking.
The martookhah is ready once it is golden-brown (according to your preference); make sure you pull it off the heat when it's about a shade lighter than you'd like it to be; it will continue to cook for another minute or two.
Let the martookhah cool while the dough rises.
Assembling the Loaves
2 risen dough balls
1 egg beaten with 2 teaspoons water
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
Preheat the oven to 350° F.
Roll each ball of dough out into a circle with a thickness between 1/8 and 1/4 inch. ** Try to make the circles as symmetrical as possible by lifting the dough and rotating it as you work, and let them rest for about 3 to 5 minutes if they're really stretchy and difficult to roll out.
Move the rolled-out discs to a sheet pan.
Divide the cooled martookhah evenly between the circles of dough. Smooth it out so that the martookhah is covering half of each disc, with a margin of about 1/4 to 1/2 inch around the edges. Brush a light layer of the egg wash along the border around the martookhah.
Fold the dough over like you're making a calzone and press down around the edges to start to seal them shut.
Finish sealing the edges either by crimping the dough with the back of a fork or your fingers, or by folding it over on itself as you work your way down the edge.
Dock the dough with a fork. Pierce all the way through to the bottom and over the entire surface of the filled part of the dough. After you fully dock the dough, gently pat the surface to make sure that all the air bubbles have been pressed out.
Brush the surface of each loaf with a light layer of eggwash.
Sprinkle each loaf with a teaspoon of sesame seeds.
Let the loaves sit for 10 minutes.
Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, until the surfaces are golden brown and the loaves have puffed up and cooked through.
Let the loaves cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. To cut traditionally, follow the pattern pictured above. First slice it into about 5 pieces vertically, and then cut each vertical piece in half diagonally, so that you end up with a bunch of trapezoids (and a few triangles toward the ends). Or you can cut it up however you'd like, if you don't want to go the traditional route.
* If you overcorrect by adding too much butter, you'll see a lot of butter pooling on the surface. Simply catch the problem toward the beginning, and add 1 or 2 more tablespoons of flour. The measured amounts in the ingredients list are tested, so you should be fine with just 10 tablespoons of butter and 3/4 cup of flour. But always trust your common sense more than ingredient quantities.
** if you've kneaded the dough into a smooth ball, you should not need any flour to do this, since it will be both buttery and glutinous.