Arabic bread is a pivotal part of the Middle Eastern eating experience, where it is used interchangeably with utensils to create delicate bites, wraps or sandwiches and to help mop up prized stew juices.
It’s in quite a separate league to the thick, heavy pitta breads sold in the West. Making Arabic bread at home is rewarding, and watching the air pockets develop is quite exciting. Sure, it’s not the exact texture of commercial-grade Arabic bread, but that’s precisely the point.
Baking this beautiful
bread is, in fact, not as hard as one may imagine: just be sure to have a well-heated oven ready before popping the dough in. Arabic bread has many uses. As well as being served alongside stews and other dishes with sauces, it can also be used in different ways. For example, you can also spread a herb mixture and olive oil over the dough before popping it into the oven for a pizza-style snack. Triangles of Arabic bread can be toasted and then used to dip into hummus, or added to fattoush salad. Alternatively, the toasted bread can be crushed into large breadcrumbs and then used in a savoury crumble.
1. Sift the flour into a mixing bowl, add the salt and sugar and pour in the oil, then mix well with your hands.
2. Add the yeast to 150ml/5fl oz/2/3 cup lukewarm water and stir until dissolved. Pour the water and yeast mixture into the flour and oil mixture, little by little, combining it with your hands as you go, until a ball is formed. Depending on the age and brand of flour, you may find that you need more or less water.
3. Transfer the dough to a well-floured work surface and continue kneading it until it is smooth and elastic. Return the dough ball to the mixing bowl, then score the top with a knife to loosen the surface tension. Cover with a damp, clean dish towel and place it in a warm, draught-free place for about 1 hour or until it doubles in size.
4. Once the dough has doubled in size, turn it out on to a lightly floured work surface and knock it back, then knead gently before rolling it into a log. Divide the log into four balls of equal size, each weighing about 125g/41/2oz. Lightly flour the work surface once more and use a rolling pin to roll out each ball, re-flouring the surface as necessary. For small loaves, roll out each ball of dough into a circle about 20cm/8in in diameter. For large loaves, roll out each ball of dough into a circle about 30cm/12in in diameter. Cover the loaves with a dish towel and leave to rest for a further 10 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 230˚C/450˚F/Gas 8 and place a baking sheet in the oven to warm up. Baking one loaf at a time, spray a loaf lightly with water and bake for 2 minutes until the top and edges are lightly golden and a pocket of air has formed (the cooking time depends on the heat of the oven and the thickness of the bread). Do not cook them for longer than 1 minute after the air pocket has formed, or they will turn out more brittle than pliable. Repeat with the remaining loaves.
Leaving the breads to cool uncovered will also make them brittle, so if you are not serving them immediately, cover with a damp dish towel and store in a sealed plastic bag.
6. The breads can be kept, wrapped, in a refrigerator for up to 2–3 days or in a freezer for up to 1–2 months. Allow 20–30 minutes defrosting time. Alternatively, microwave briefly or bake in a hot oven for a couple of minutes.
Extracted from The Jewelled Kitchen by Bethany Kehdy© Bethany Kehdy 2013, 2016 published by Nourish Books, London. Paperback £14.99
Visit our Middle Eastern section for more delicious Arabic recipes