Qagħaq tal-Ħmira, or Yeast rings, are small pillowy soft aniseed spiced buns covered with sesame seeds. A traditional Maltese sweet treat to enjoy for breakfast or as a teatime snack.
What are Qagħaq tal-Ħmira?
If you ever visit a Maltese bakery or see a Maltese baker van roaming around the streets, you will see piles on piles of bags filled with about a dozen of small yeast rings. Those would be the qagħaq, which normally are sold in bags of 6 or 12. The best part is that often you have to separate the buns yourself; since they will be still all sticking to one another just like when the baker takes them out of the oven. These qagħaq tal-ħmira basically are sweet soft and fluffy buns topped with sesame seeds and resemble the shape of a bagel. They are infused with aniseed, cloves and orange zest, which is their significant unique characteristic.
Most probably, these qagħaq are another version of the many Ka’ak popular in the countries of the Levant and North Africa. Malta has many influences from these countries, both from their cuisines and their language.
How to make the Qagħaq?
Making the qagħaq is extremely easy, especially if you have a mixer. It’s important to start with lukewarm milk and water, together with the sugar to active the yeast. You can use any type of milk here, dairy or plant based. Afterwards, combine the yeast mixture with the flour, spices and margarine. For this recipe, we use margarine and not butter as the dough needs to be lighter and doesn’t need to be as rich. The spices here are key to the authentic flavour of the qagħaq. Aniseed takes the star position, as these little seeds give the aroma of the qagħaq with their mild liquorice spiced flavour. A touch of cloves are added for some warmth to the flavour and to give a slight tint of shade to the qagħaq.
After kneading the dough for several minutes, you will get a tad sticky dough. That’s good! That’s what we want! Place the dough in a bowl and let it rest in a warm place for about an hour, or until it doubles in size. As soon as it’s done, punch it down and divide the dough into about 36 pieces. Each piece should weigh around 25g or 30g. Roll each piece into a log of about 20cm and pinch the ends together so that you form a ring. Dip each ring into the sesame seeds and place on a baking sheet. Put them close together and only leave a small space between each one. Do not worry of them touching, that is how they are traditionally made. Bake the qagħaq in a hot oven for about 10 minutes until they have a nice golden brown colour.
Tip for baking the Qagħaq tal-Ħmira
As these qagħaq tal-ħmira are basically sweetened bread, I used a technique to help with the cooking of the bread in a normal home oven. This technique will help with the rising of the dough in the oven, thus will result in the bread rings to be way more fluffier. All that is needed is to fill a small dish with a thin layer of water. Place this dish in the oven in the bottom rack, and place the baking tray with the yeast rings on the higher shelf. The steam created will make the baking so much better!
How to eat the Qagħaq?
The best part of these qagħaq? It’s definitely eating them! Once taken out from the oven, they are perfect to eat soft and warm on their own. Or else, layer them with butter or your favourite spread. They are a perfect tea time snack and make great dunkers! In fact, as they start drying quickly, in Malta it’s custom that we use the qagħaq tal-ħmira from the day before, to dunk in our tea or coffee. They become so soft and absorb just the right amount of liquid.
Qagħaq tal-Ħmira (Maltese Yeast Rings)
- 600 g strong bread flour
- 275 ml milk lukewarm
- 125 ml water lukewarm
- 10 g active dry yeast
- 2 tbsp whole aniseed
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- zest of an orange
- 50 g margarine
- 100 g sugar
- golden sesame seeds
- In a small bowl mix together the lukewarm water, milk, yeast and sugar. Set the mixture aside until it froths. This usually takes about 15 minutes.
- In a mixer or in a large bowl, mix the flour, aniseeds, cloves and orange zest together and make a well. Add the margarine and the yeast mixture in the well.
- Start kneading or mixing the dough in the mixer. If you are going to knead the dough by hand it should take you about 20 minutes. Whereas with the mixer the dough should be done in 10 minutes. The dough should be sticky, so don’t add any extra flour to it.
- Place the dough in a bowl, cover and let it proof for about 1 hour. After this resting time it should be double in size.
- Prepare a plate with a good layer of sesame seeds. Set aside
- Preheat the oven to 220°C or 430°F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Prepare also a small dish with water. Set aside.
- Once rested, punch the dough down and divide into 36 pieces. About 25-30g each. Roll each piece into a 20cm log and join both the ends together tightly. Dip the ring into the plate with sesame seeds.
- Place each ring on the baking sheet, leaving only some space between one another. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes.
- Place the dish with water in the oven in the bottom rack. Bake the qagħaq for about 10 minutes until they have a nice golden brown colour.
- Let them rest slightly before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.
If you have any questions, feedback or comments on this recipe, please leave a comment below. Please also rate this recipe by double clicking on the stars below. If you did make this recipe, tag @apronandwhisk and hashtag #apronandwhisk, as I’m curious to see what you create!
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