Sitting early in the morning in the living room of my grandmother’s house, we can both hear the birds chirping amid a bustling and noisy main street in Cairo. She gets up to prepare tea for us, my favorite shay be laban (tea with milk) — the one only she can perfect — and the crunchy ‘Fayesh’ to delight our morning. This is how I remember being introduced to homemade Egyptian rusks.
Al-Fayesh Al-Sa’edy (Fayesh from Upper Egypt) or Fayesh, its more popular and commonly used name, are basically Egyptian rusks. Fayesh literally translates to high or puffy describing what the crunchy dried bread looks like once it’s ready.
Typically more popular with older generations, Fayesh is characterized by the use of a distinctive baking spice called Mahlab — sesame or chickpeas crushed with sugar and left to brew with boiling milk — which gives the bread a special flavor and fragrance.
People often have Fayesh along with tea or tea with milk, some like to dip it for a softer feel of the bread, while others prefer it as a midday snack on its own, or with barameeli cheese (similar to feta) on top. Dubbed by its fans as the “king of crunch”, a few sources claim that the origin of Fayesh goes back to the Fatimid era.
Like most bread recipes, Fayesh is slightly time-consuming to make at home. However, it can often be found at some local bakeries in Egypt, mostly unpopular ones. Nevertheless, if you prefer to give it a try at home, you’ll need:
1/2 a pack of regular yeast
3 cups of lukewarm milk
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
6 tablespoons of melted butter
1/4 teaspoon of turmeric
1 teaspoon of ground Mahlab
Nearly 2 pounds of flour
1. Add turmeric and lukewarm milk together in a large bowl.
2. Add yeast and one tablespoon of sugar to the bowl.
3. Let it sit until the yeast dissolves.
4. Add Mahlab and two to three cups of flour.
5. Mix the ingredients together in the bowl.
6. Add melted butter.
7. Continue to add flour until the mixture forms a ball but make sure the dough does not become sticky; it should have a soft consistency.
8. Knead the mixture until the dough is smooth.
9. Place in a large bowl and cover it well.
10. Place the bowl in a cool area and let it sit overnight.
11. Grease four baking tins with melted butter and make sure to cover the sides too.
12. Divide the dough into four parts and press the dough into the pan.
13. Let them rise for one or two hours.
14. Brush the tops with melted butter.
15. Bake in a 400 degree oven for approximately 20 to 25 minutes until it becomes golden brown.
16. Remove it from the oven and let it cool.
17. Cut in slices approximately 3/4 in thickness.
18. Either package them and dry them in the fridge or freezer, or dry them in the oven at 225 degrees for approximately 1.5 hours per side.
Recipe by Lilly My Cat.