Kahi is the ultimate Iraqi breakfast indulgence. Layers of fluffy, flaky pastry soaked in simple syrup and topped with a thick clotted cream called geymar. My mother used to make this for us as a special treat when she was feeling nostalgic. Kahi with geymer is a strong part of my own personal history, as I imagine it is for most Iraqis, both in Iraq and in diaspora.
Growing up, my parents would constantly reminisce about geymar, that unparalleled clotted cream, that dream served with kahi or with honey and bread, the one made from water buffalo milk, and always with stars in their eyes.
Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to find water buffalo milk in most cities. There are many reasons for this. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein inhumanly targeted and drained the Iraqi Marshes, home to the water buffalos of Iraq, in a gruesome attempt to forcibly relocate and afflict the people living there. Today, amid restoration efforts, Iraq faces a water shortage in large part due to corruption. Luckily, as of this year, the Iraqi Marshes are now protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Water buffalos are also moody creatures and raising them is an art, something almost poetic. These animals seem to produce milk only for those farmers with an almost familial relationship, developed over years of trust. It's not something you can mass produce. This is why water buffalo farms are rare. So in diaspora we mostly make due with cow’s milk.
[Note: Since French puff pastry dough is easily accessible and very similar to kahi pastry I more often choose to use it over making the dough. Geymer can actually be found in many Middle Eastern grocery stores depending on where you live. In cities with large Iraqi populations, geymer is very easy to acquire. In some cities, similar Iranian and Turkish variations are also available, but they differ in texture. Since geymar is far more difficult to find, the recipe is below.]
Quick Kahi & Geymar
4 squares of puff pastry dough, 4” x 4”, thawed if frozen
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
8 Tablespoons geymar, see below (variations: sarshir in Farsi, kaymak in Turkish)
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
2. To make the simple syrup: bring the sugar and water to boil, stirring, then reduce to a low simmer until the sugar has completely dissolved. About 10 minutes. Let cool. Simple syrup can be made well in advance, and has a long shelf life if kept in a container in the fridge.
3. Lay the individual puff pastry slices on a baking sheet with room. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden.
4. When ready, pour the simple syrup evenly over the puff pastry, making sure to soak the pastry.
5. Top each with quite a bit of geymer. Serve with Iraqi tea.
adapted from Nawal Nasrallah's Delights from the Garden of Eden
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 cups whole milk, ideally from water buffalo
1. In a heavy pot, gently combine the cream and milk. Place on low heat, no longer stirring.
2. Patiently wait to reach a gentle boil, but be very careful not to boil over. Allow to rise a bit, about 30-40 minutes. Remove from heat.
3. To prevent condensation, place a large upturned colander on top of the saucepan. Cover very tightly with towels. Let sit at room temperature for at least 6 hours.
4. Remove towels and colander. Place lid on the pot and refrigerate for one full day.
5. The geymar is now the thick solid layer of cream that has developed on top of the excess milk. Carefully skim that layer off, transfer to a plate, folding over multiple times, and pour just a little of the extra milk on top.
Bil 'Afya! | Bon Appetit!
A version of this is also published on Yalla Iraq, an online Iraqi lifestyle magazine.