When I was a teenager my mom would go to a Middle Eastern store not far from our house, and buy things like feta cheese, olives and one of my favourites a Persian flatbread that was topped with sesame seeds. We just called it Persian bread at the time, but in doing some searching on the internet, I believe it was Barbari. We would often grill the bread on the barbecue or eat it with a salad for lunch.
This Christmas my mom gave my daughter the America’s Test Kitchen Complete Baking Book for Young Chefs. As I was thumbing through the book the other day, I noticed a recipe for Middle Eastern Za’atar Bread and the picture looked very similar to the bread I remembered having at my parent’s house. I decided to give it a go and see how it turned out!
For those of you that are unfamiliar with Za’atar, it’s a Middle Eastern Spice blend of sesame seeds, oregano, thyme and sumac (which gives a lemony flavour). The bread was quite easy to put together as it required only 30 seconds of kneading. The rest was done by processing it for 1 minute in the food processor. I did add slightly more water than the recipe said, as I prefer stickier bread dough since it comes out less dry after baking. I also added some extra sesame seeds since I remembered the bread I had having sesame seeds all over the top. After baking and trying it, I would say that it’s not exactly the same as what I had as a child, but it was still very good. The texture reminded me of focaccia. I did find there was too much Za’atar spice on the top which left it with a muddy dried-herb flavour so I have reduced the amount in the recipe I’m sharing. I also thought it could have used a sprinkle of kosher salt on top of the bread to pull it all together, so I’ve added that to the recipe. I reduced the amount of yeast a bit in the recipe because I prefer to make bread with less yeast. It tastes better that way.
When I processed the dough in my food processor, it started smoking by the end of one minute. I think that is because my food processor is old and has had a lot of use. If you are concerned about that, you could knead the dough by hand for 3-4 minutes.
[recipe title=”Middle Eastern Style Bread with Za’atar Spice” servings=”1 9×13 inch flatbread” preptime=”10 mins” cooktime=”20-25 mins” difficulty=”easy” description=”This bread is similar in texture to foccacia. It is given a Middle Eastern twist with the addition of Za’atar spice and sesame seeds. The cold water slows down the rise a bit and makes for a more flavourful dough.”]
– 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
– 1 1/2 cups cold water
– 2 tsp yeast
– 2 1/2 tsp sugar
– 3 1/2 cups (17.5 oz) all-purpose or bread flour
– 2 tsp salt
– 1 tsp Za’atar spice
– 1 – 2 tsp sesame seeds
– 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1. Spread 2 Tbs olive oil on bottom and sides of a 9×13 inch rimmed baking sheet.
2. In liquid measuring cup, combine cold water, 2 Tbs oil, yeast and sugar. Let stand 5 minutes to activate the yeast.
3. Add flour and salt to the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine.
4. With processor running, slowly pour in water mixture, processing until dough comes together and no dry flour remains. Continue to process for 1 minute.
5. Turn dough out onto counter and knead for 30 seconds until smooth.
6. Place dough on oiled baking sheet and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until tripled in side, about 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
7. Preheat oven to 375 F.
8. In small bowl mix 1/4 cup olive oil with Za’atar spice.
9. When dough is ready, use your hands to gently press down on dough to pop any large bubbles. Gently pat and stretch dough out to the corners of the baking sheet. If dough snaps back when you press it to the corners, cover with plastic wrap, let rest 10 minutes and try again.
10. Use your finger tips to dimple the entire surface of the dough.
11. Spoon Za’atar/oil mixture over dough and use the back of spoon to spread into an even layer all the way to the edge of the dough.
12. Sprinkle top of dough with sesame seeds and salt.
13. Bake until edges are crisp and golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes.
14. Let bread cool in baking sheet on rack for 15 minutes.
15. Use spatula to loosen bread then carefully slide bread onto a cutting board. Cut into pieces and serve.
Coat bottom and sides of 9 x 13 inch rimmed baking sheet with 2 Tbs olive oil.