For years, even decades, I avoided baking bread. Bread baking? Me?
Bread has strange ingredients like yeast–now what does one do with that? And even stranger instructions. Proof the yeast. What kind of proof? Is this something legal? Punch down the dough Why? What did the dough do to deserve such violence?
Meanwhile, my friends had started baking challahs and I had to try. Working DIY style at home I make every possible mistake . Some weeks my loaves were as dry as doorstops. Sometimes they tasted like stale coffee cake. Yet I kept chugging and , thank G-d my challahs today are light and fluffy and yummy!
Now as to other breads, I never bothered. Mid week breadbaking? Who had time for such things? Let me tell you, once you get into the swing of it, bread baking can be almost as easy as boiling up a pot of pasta. If you use whole grain flour, your bread will be healthier and cheaper than store bought and slipping whole grains into bread is the best way to get them into my kids’ bellies.
This week’s recipe. Na’an or Afghani Flatbread comes from Gil Marks’s Encylopedia of Jewish Food . I baked a batch on Sunday, when I was fasting and feeling too weak to drive to the bakery. If you have a standing mixer, Na’an takes minute to put together. Rising and baking time are relatively short especially on hot days.
According to Marks’s Na’an is the traditional bread of Afghani Jewry–yes there are Jews from Afghanistan, though I don’t think the community exists today. Not only is this bread eaten before and after Tisha B’Av, it’s a Sabbath bread as well. Don’t expect a big fluffy loaf. This is a flat bread–like chewier and more savory pita . Becasue it lacks a pocket and it’s too thick to roll, don’t make sandwiches but na’an is a perfect landing pad for dips.
From the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, by Gil Marks
2 t instant yeast
1 and 1/2 cups tepid water
1 t sugar or honey
3 T oil (olive is good)
4 cups whole wheat pastry flour (in Israel Rubinfeld 75- or a blend of white, and whole wheat. You could add spelt to the blend. I would avoid coarse mills)
2 t salt
2 T nigella seeds (ketzach and sesame seeds for sprinkling)
Mix the yeast and water. Add sugar and oil. Slowly add flour and salt.
Using dough hook knead on a slow setting until the mixture forms a ball.
Oil the ball (that means pour a tablespoon of oil into the bowl and roll your dough ball around until it developes a greasy skin)
Cover with a damp cloth and let the dough rise until it’s doubled in bulk. (Meanwhile take a nap)
Punch down the dough. Cut it into six equal pieces.
With a rolling pin roll each piece into a rectangle. (don’t worry about being to perfect. don’t think the Afghanis who made this in the desert made loaves that looked like they came from Martha Stewart’s test kitchen)P Ieces should be about one and one half inches thick.
Wet your fingers and press them inside the dough to make grooves. Pour the sesame or nigella seeks inside the grooves.
Let the pieces rest for 10 minutes
Bake in on the lowest rack of a preheated oven on high. 475 F 0r 245 C.
Baking time 5 to 10 minutes or until the bottoms of the Na’an start to turn golden brown.
Eat right away or freeze. If you freeze you can pop the slices into the toaster. Yum.