I’ve always had a complicated love affair with bread, especially doughy flatbreads like this Barbari bread or Turkish bread. It’s a bit of a love-hate relationship in that I seem to love it and it seems to hate me. My dad is allergic to the stuff, and it’s possible some of that rubbed off on me because it does have a tendency to sometimes make me feel ill. That slow dawning revelation led me to boldly decide that this would be a year without bread. A resolution which was going quite well until I saw the recipe for this Barbari bread, remembered how much I loved it when I had it in Morocco, and subsequently made it for G’s birthday Persian feast (my previous post). When I made it, I said to myself, “everyone else will like it, I’ll just make it this once”…and like all addicts I relapsed and relapsed hard. In my defense, it may just be the best bread ever.
I hardly ever buy bread, G and I don’t eat it much and it always ends up going stale. In fact. the only times I ever do are really to cook with it. However, I do love baking bread, especially Barbari bread – there’s something about the kneading of the dough which is quite cathartic. I also love that moment when you come back to your dough after it has had time to prove and marvel at how alive it must be to rise so much (I’m a bear of little brain so I marvel at quite small things). It’s really quite a labour of love and it’s very satisfying when the bread comes out of the oven and it has worked. That being said, it’s normally a bit of a nightmare: you have to leave the dough to prove for an hour, which isn’t long enough to leave it and forget about it, so you end up having to do the whole process in one day – it completely monopolises your time and frankly is rarely worth it on anything other than a very lazy Sunday. There are only really two solutions to this problem if you want to keep baking bread, cheat with a bread maker or work out a way to change the process to suit a normal human being’s routine.
Now, bread makers are lovely things and many of my friends are suitably enamoured with theirs. However, as someone for whom the process and loving labour is as much a part of the bread as the actual eating it doesn’t really fit the brief (plus there’s only room for so many gadgets and gizmos in one kitchen!). That was why I was so thrilled to hear about slow proved breads. Essentially you take the awkward process of waiting an hour for the dough to prove and stretch to anywhere from overnight to three days long – i.e., pretty much as long as fits into your life! The bonus cherry on the top is it also improves the flavour of your Barbari bread by increasing the fermentation and eliminates the need to “knock back” the dough and re-prove. For some doughs (e.g., the “no-knead pizza dough”) it eliminates the need to knead as well.
The only caveat is that most yeast you buy is called “fast action yeast”. Fast action yeast is designed to speed up proving times, which runs somewhat counter to this approach so try and buy yeast which isn’t fast action. That being said, for the dough above I used fast action yeast by mistake and it turned out perfectly, so maybe it’s not such a big deal after all.
For me, this approach meant I could make the dough one day, leave it in the fridge in a bowl covered with cling film for a day or two and then shape the Barberi bread (the bowl came in handy here too as you can see from the photos) just before everyone came round so it went straight into a hot oven and got devoured warm (for more detail on how this fitted into the timings of cooking the Persian meal see my previous post). If you have to fall off the wagon, then this bread is the way to do it!
You can spice up this Barbari bread with any flavourings you like just before you put them in the oven – my favourites are the ones pictured above: Zaatar and olive oil, pomegranate molasses and sesame seeds and ras-el-hanout with honey and olive oil. Let me know your favourites!
- 2 teaspoons dried yeast
- 500ml warm water
- 750g strong white bread flour
- tablespoon sea salt
- 50 ml olive oil
- Flavourings of your choice – see above for suggestions
- Dissolve the yeast in 50 ml of the water and set aside
- Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl or mixer, make sure the salt is mixed through as otherwise if the salt comes in direct contact with the yeast it could damage it and prevent proper fermentation
- Add the yeast mixture, the oil and then the remaining water but by bit mixing the whole time. This process is definitely easier in a mixer but I don’t have one and it can be done. Don’t worry if the mixture seems a bit wet and sloppy at this point (that’s why it’s easier in a mixer)
- Either knead in the mixer on a slow speed or transfer to a floured work surface and knead by hand (you may need additional flour to prevent it sticking if kneading by hand). It will probably take 10-15 minutes for it to become a smooth shiny ball. Essentially if when you press your finger lightly into the dough, the dough has some resistance and then springs back you’re done – if not keep on kneading!
- Transfer the dough to the bowl, cover and put in the fridge to prove for 6-72 hours. It should have more than doubled in size and look light and airy
- Preheat the oven to 220 and place your tray in the hot oven for 15 minutes until piping hot
- Shape the dough into large oval shapes (I get about four out of this quantity of mix)
- Flavour the doughs with whatever flavourings you like. For the three flavourings suggested follow the following steps
- Slather one dough with olive oil and place two tablespoons of Zaatar (can buy it in Waitrose, it’s a lovely dried herb blend) on the bread and slosh all over the dough, season with salt
- Brush pomegranate molasses over another dough and dust with sesame seeds, season with salt
- Combine olive oil with ras-el-hanout to make a thick paste and brush all over the third dough, sprinkly lightly with dukkah (again available at Waitrose, it is toasted and crushed chickpeas and spices/seeds), season lightly with salt
- Place the dough on the hot tray and bake in the oven for approximately 7-10 minutes or until lightly golden brown, soft and fluffy. If your oven is like mine you’ll probably only be able to do two Barbari breads at once but maybe you’re lucky and have a supersized oven!