Arabic Flatbread

This Arabic flatbread recipe from the war-torn but beautiful country of Syria is as authentic as they come! Although flatbreads cross continents in their popularity, there’s something about this one that makes me think of hot streets, and the sights and smells of a country so rooted in history, no-one really knows where it actually began.

Arabic Flatbread
Khobez Arabeh

 

Khobez is the Arabic word for bread. Arabic flatbread is available throughout the Middle East. It is considered an essential part of every meal; torn pieces are used to scoop up food. The bread is also toasted and broken into pieces to be used like croutons. In Aleppo, it is sliced and placed under many dishes to soak up the juices.

The rounds of flatbread are typically 13 in/34 cm in diameter and ½ in/¼ cm thick (though smaller sizes exist) with a hollow interior. An air pocket forms in the process of baking, lifting the upper flap, forming a large ball that deflates as it cools.

In the old days, Aleppian families would send their dough to a communal oven, where it was baked and sent back via a young employee. Today, people usually buy their bread from local bakeries or from shops and supermarkets where it is available fresh every day.

Arabic flatbread can be made with white or wholewheat flour and, like pizza, it is best baked in a very hot oven and placed directly on a pizza stone (an inexpensive alternative is to use unglazed quarry tiles or fire bricks or an upturned baking sheet).

Makes: 6 loaves, each about 15cm in diameter, 1/2cm thick

Preparation: 15–20 mins; Resting time: 2-3 hours; Cooking time: 3-4 mins

Ingredients

  • 3 cups/13 oz/360 g all-purpose or
  • bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons instant or
  • active dry yeast
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 1½ teaspoons sugar
  • 1¼ cups/300 ml room temperature
  • Water

Method

If using active dry yeast, warm ¼ cup/60 ml of the water to about 110°F/40°C and add ½ teaspoon of the sugar. Stir to dissolve, then sprinkle the yeast on top. Set aside until it is dissolved and frothy.

To mix the dough in a stand mixer:

Place flour, instant dry yeast or yeast-water mixture, salt and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer with the dough hook attached. Process on low to mix the ingredients.

Add the rest of the water and work the machine on medium speed for about 7 minutes, or until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and is slightly sticky. Add a little water if the dough is too stiff or a little flour if it is too sticky.

Transfer the dough to a work surface and knead for a few minutes by pressing down on the dough with the palm of the hand, away from you, then folding it toward you, repeating this step a few times until smooth and elastic.

To mix the dough by hand:

In a large mixing bowl combine the flour, instant dry yeast or yeast-water mixture, salt, and sugar.

Make a well in the center and gradually add the water, mixing with a wooden spoon.

Turn dough on to a lightly floured working surface and knead for 12 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic.

To shape and bake:

Shape the dough into a ball and transfer to a large bowl brushed with vegetable oil. Roll the dough in the oil so it is coated all over. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free place for about 2 hours (less in warm weather), or until the dough doubles in volume.

Punch down dough and knead lightly. Roll it into a log shape and divide it into 6 pieces (more if you want to make smaller loaves). Shape the pieces into balls, cover, and let them rest for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 475°F/240°C (or the maximum setting on your oven), and place the pizza stone (or baking sheet) on the lowest shelf.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the balls of dough to rounds 6 in/15 cm in diameter and ¼ in/½ cm thick. Place rounds on a lightly floured tray.

Transfer the rounds in batches to the hot pizza stone or baking sheet using a paddle if you have one, and bake for about 3 minutes, or until they puff up and are slightly colored (the precise time depends on how thick and moist the bread is and how hot the oven gets so watch carefully).

Remove the loaves from the oven and transfer to wire racks. They are best eaten fresh and warm out of the oven. (Store in airtight containers in the freezer; they are ideal to freeze since they defrost quickly at room temperature, in a toaster oven, or over a gas flame.)

Extracted from The Aleppo Cookbook: Celebrating the Legendary Cuisine of Syria, HarperCollins NZ, RRP $50.00