Assyrian Holiday Cookies (Kileche/Kleicha)

Although I call these “Assyrian Holiday cookies,” the truth is they are not exclusively an Assyrian cookie. In fact, they are Iraq’s national cookie; specifically the date filled variety. They are called “kileche” in Assyrian, while they are known as “kleicha” in Arabic. I was originally going to name this recipe Assyrian “Christmas” Cookies, but I decided to call them “holiday” cookies instead. No, I wasn’t trying to be politically correct. I’m the least politically correct person around. No, it’s because we usually make them twice a year; Christmas and Easter. I think it’s because they take so much effort to make. But the fact that we only make them twice a year makes them even more special!

 

Kileche Varieties

Kileche will usually have three different fillings: date, walnut, and coconut. Date kileche are easy to identify, because the filling is visible. The other two (walnut and coconut) are not as easy to identify. For this reason, we make them in different shapes. If there is extra dough remaining, it’s usually rolled into braids or wreaths. My sister, Beni, loves the ones without filling, but they’re my least favorite. If I’m going to blow my diet, filling definitely needs to be involved. You’ll find that most people have their favorite filling; I prefer the walnut. But truth be told, I wouldn’t kick any of them off my plate! What about you? Do you have a favorite?


But Do I Have the Time?

I originally estimated it would take three hours to complete this recipe, boy was I wrong! I started at 7 AM, and I finished around 2 PM. In my defense, it does take longer to stop to take pictures and write down all the steps for the blog post. Just to be safe, clear the calendar on the day you decide to make them. There are other factors that play into the time required for this recipe. For example, will you have help? I always make them by myself. Sadly, my sisters don’t live close by, and my daughter hates to be in the kitchen. If you can enlist help, I highly recommend it. Making kileche can be compared to making tamales. It’s an all day ordeal, but with great reward! Involve your family and friends, and make it a cherished holiday tradition!

 

Do I Need Special Tools and Ingredients?

I’m happy to report that you don’t need any special tools or ingredients to make kileche. All you really need is a rolling pin, a work surface, and ingredients easily purchased at your local supermarket. Having said that, there are a few tools that can make your job a little easier. One such tool is called a maamoul mold. This mold is used to make another Middle Eastern cookie, known as “maamoul.” This awesome mold can also be used to form the coconut kileche. Another fun tool, a krinkle cutter, can be used to add a decorative edge to the date kileche. As far as the ingredients are concerned, you might have a hard time finding sativa seeds and rose water. Luckily, they can both be purchased on Amazon. You’ll notice that they are both optional ingredients, but I wouldn’t skip the sativa seeds. They add a wonderful nutty flavor!

Print Recipe
Assyrian Holiday Cookies (Kileche/Kleicha)
kleicha
Prep Time All Day! Clear your schedule!
Cook Time 30 minutes per batch
Servings
pieces (approximate)
Ingredients
Kileche Dough
Walnut Filling
Coconut Filing
Date Filling
Glaze
Prep Time All Day! Clear your schedule!
Cook Time 30 minutes per batch
Servings
pieces (approximate)
Ingredients
Kileche Dough
Walnut Filling
Coconut Filing
Date Filling
Glaze
kleicha
Instructions
Dough
  1. Mix yeast into warm milk and sprinkle with one tablespoon sugar, set aside.
    kileche
  2. Add 10 cups of flour to a large bowl. (I use a bowl that my mom used to make her kileche in. Since it's made of metal, there's no chance of me breaking it with my clumsy ways. I hope to one day pass it down to my daughter, Nena. Maybe one day she will attempt baking)? Mix in the remaining dry dough ingredients.
    kileche
  3. Add melted butter and mix in with your hands, until crumbly.
    kileche
  4. Work in milk, followed by the yogurt.
    kileche
  5. Add the beaten eggs and knead by hand, until the dough is soft and smooth, approximately 10 minutes.
    kileche
  6. Score with a Cross, cover, and allow to rest for one hour. (Christians have been persecuted in the Middle East throughout history. Mom shared that a cross was scored into the dough to symbolize that their faith could not be shaken).
    kileche
Fillings
  1. While the dough is resting, prefare the fillings. Mix the ground walnuts with the sugar and cardamom and set aside. Do the same with the coconut filling ingredients. The rose water helps the dry coconut to bind together, making it easier to work with. It also adds that classic rose flavor.
    kileche
  2. For the date filling, heat vegetable oil in a small pan. Add the date paste (see note below the recipe about making your own). Sprinkle the dates with the cardamom. Stir and mix, over medium heat, until the dates, oil, and cardamom are throughly mixed. Frying the dates really brings out their flavor!
    kileche
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
  1. Divide the dough into 4 pieces. I use one section for each filing, and I use the last portion of dough as needed to use up whatever filling is remaining. Any extra dough can be rolled into braids, and wreaths, and baked as is.
    kileche
Assembly
  1. To make the walnut kileche, take a small portion of dough and roll it into a ball.
    kileche
  2. Flatten using your thumbs and pointer fingers. Mold the dough into a bowl shape.
    kileche
  3. Fill the bowl with the walnut filling.
    kileche
  4. Fold the dough in half and press the edges together.
    kileche
  5. Make small folds all around the edges, as shown in the picture. Continue until all the filling is used up.
    kileche
  6. Place the kileche on a cookie sheet as you make them.
    kileche
  7. When you have a full pan of kileche, pierce them with a fork. Beat the glaze ingredients together and brush generously over the kileche. Bake for 30 minutes.
    kileche
  8. Remove kileche when nicely browned, then get back to work!
    kileche
  9. Making the coconut kileche is similar to the walnut ones. The main difference will be the shape.
    kileche
  10. Once the dough is filled, pinch the dough together into a ball.
    kileche
  11. With the pinched portion facing up, press into the maamoul mold.
    kileche
  12. Tap mold onto your work surface to dislodge the kileche. If you don't have a mold, shape by hand into a circle.
    kileche
  13. Continue until you have used up the coconut filling, glazing and baking as you go.
    kileche
  14. Remove when golden brown and move on to the date kileche.
    kileche
  15. Place half of the date paste on a long sections of wax paper.
    dates
  16. Cover with another sheet of wax paper and roll out, using a rolling pin, into an approximately 9" x 14" layer.
    date kileche
  17. Divide the dough piece reserved for the date kileche into two sections. Roll one piece into the same size of your date layer.
    kileche
  18. Line up the date layer over the dough and peel back on one section of waxed paper. Turn the exposed dates towards the dough and press to adhere the dates to the dough. Peel back the remaining sheet of waxed paper.
    date kileche
  19. If some of the date paste sticks to the waxed paper, scrape off using a spatula, and fill in the dates where needed on the dough.
    kileche
  20. Roll the dough into a long tube.
    kileche
  21. Pinch the dough end to seal the roll. Flatten either by pressing down gently with your hands, or use a rolling pin. Make sure the sealed side is facing down.
    kileche
  22. Cut into one inch sections with a crinkle cutter.
    kileche
  23. If you prefer, use a plain-edged pastry cutter.
    kileche
  24. Brush pierce, glaze, and bake. Follow the same steps using the remaining date paste, and other half of the dough.
    kileche
  25. As mentioned earlier, the extra dough can be rolled into different shapes and baked as is.
    kileche
  26. Remove the date kileche from the oven, and take a moment to appreciate your mad baking skills!
    kileche
  27. Now take a well deserved rest, as you enjoy the fruits of your labor, with a hot cup of chai, of course! Merry Christmas!
    kleicha
Recipe Notes

To make date paste, place 3 cups of dates in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Allow to soften for five minutes, then drain. Process in a food processor until smooth. Tell me, does it get any easier?

I managed to sneak in my two favorite nutcrackers into the blog post. I had given the male nutcracker to my mom for Christmas in 2006. The following year, we pulled it out with the rest of her Christmas decorations, and set him up on the mantle. While I was out shopping a few days later, I found a female nutcracker, dated 2006. I decided to purchase her to go with mom's other nutcracker. Besides, what are the chances that they would be selling a nutcracker from the previous year?

Mom was so excited when I gave her the female nutcracker. She asked how I knew that she was wishing for a "wife" for her male nutcracker. Mom told me that I was in her heart, and knew what she wanted without having to say it. That's just the kind of bond we had. I sure do miss her! If your mom is still around, be sure to appreciate every moment you have together, and show her some extra love this Christmas!

Share this Recipe


6 thoughts on “Assyrian Holiday Cookies (Kileche/Kleicha)”

  • I think it is so similar to what we call in Egypt Ara’eesh. We make them year round and they are pretty much sold in every bakery, small of big. They are indeed yummy cookies and I like them for breakfast with a cup of black tea :). We do not have the walnut or coconut varieties we make them filled with dates or turkish delights and of course plain as well. I am like you, I like stuffed ones more :). Your recipe looks so delicious Hilda.

    • Hi Amira, I’m not surprised you have them in Egypt too. I’m surprised the name sounds so different. Usually it seems the food names are similar in the Middle East, no matter what country. My family members also buy them from the Middle Eastern markets year round (in Chicago). I guess making them is a different story, since it’s so time consuming. I like the idea of making them only a few times a year. Gives me something to look forward to in the holidays. I’ve never heard of the ones filled with Turkish delights, I’m definitely looking into that further! I enjoyed your comment, don’t be a stranger!

  • Hi Hilda, I have had your book for a few years now, and I love it! My Assyrian mama is coming to town this Christmas and I am going to FREAK HER OUT by making kileche for the first time. My question is, “Beni’s recipe” in your book does not call for yeast…is it necessary? I would ask my mom, but again – it’s a surprise. Thank you!

    • Hi Cynthia,
      I’m so happy to hear that you have my book and that you love it, thank you! I’m excited for you and for the fact that you will be surprising your mom. The recipe in my cookbook uses baking powder, and this one uses yeast. I had another lady who purchased my book tell me that she preferred softer kileche dough, so I decided to experiment using yeast instead of baking powder. I personally like both recipes, but some prefer one over the other. Maybe you can try one recipe this year and the other next time, and see which one you prefer? Good luck, I’d love to hear about how it goes. You can post pictures of your kileche on my Assyrian Cookbook facebook page, if you’d like. Good luck and Merry Christmas!

Leave a Reply


Join Mailing List
Get notified when a new recipe is posted!
We respect your privacy.