Recipe Source: This recipe is a combination of the khubuz al-Tannour recipe from Nawal Nasrallah's Delights from the Garden of Eden and Ibn Sayyār al-Warrāq's Nabatean Water Bread recipe from Annals of the Caliphs' Kitchens, which was translated by Nawal Nasrallah. Some of my own adaptations have been included here.
So, I've had my eye on a particular recipe in Annals of the Caliphs' Kitchens for a while. The recipe is for a bread called Nabatean water bread and it's used as a base for some other dishes, such as a tharid that was supposed to be served on Nabatean water bread. I was also enthusiastic about this recipe because I've been assured several times that there are no extant bread recipes from the medieval period because everyone just knew how to make bread. The thing is that something kept stopping me from working on this recipe. I think that the thing that stopped me was chemistry. Bread baking is chemistry. I barely passed chemistry. Also, the Nabatean water bread recipe called for seven and a half pounds of flour and I was doubtful as to whether or not my stand mixer could handle it. (I haven't been that kind to my stand mixer lately.) Dr. Nasrallah mentioned that she published a version of that recipe in her book on Iraqi cookery, Delights from the Garden of Eden. I had been planning on picking that book up anyway, so I decided to get myself a birthday present and ordered it from Amazon.com. Then I used the two to kind of adapt and make a version for me. I don't know how authentic it is, being, you know, not Iraqi. It is, however, delicious.
I do want to make a few notes about this recipe. The biggest change that I made was to use sugar to activate the yeast. Neither recipe called for sugar and I suppose it is entirely possible that the yeasts would have woken up on their own, but I just couldn't make myself do it. I dispensed with the stand mixer, using a combination of a wooden spoon and very, very wet hands. Keeping your hands wet is very, very important. If this is a problem for you do not make this bread. (Personally I'd recommend working it out, because this bread just plain rocks.) This dough takes on a life of its own. It devours everything in its path. (Is this because I used the sugar to activate the yeast, or is that common?) I thought it was going to eat the cat. It was absolutely worth it, though.
I made this to test a recipe for a class I was teaching on tannūr cookery at an even up in Maine and served our dinner on top of it. All three of us – me, my husband and our daughter – loved this bread. It has taken the place of pita in my heart. I'd like to try it with the combination of flours recommended in Dr. Nasrallah's modern version, I just didn't have enough of any of them. I'd like to think that this would be a great recipe for kids to help with, especially kids in the 2 – 5 year age range. They'll enjoy the messiness, the sponginess of the dough. The bread freezes remarkably well.
Iraqi Flat Bread (makes 16 small-to-medium sized breads; approx. $0.10/ea.)
1 ½ tablespoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons raw sugar
4 ½ cups warm water
10 cups white bread flour (or a combination of white bread flour, whole wheat flour and wheat bran)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
- Big Green Egg or other tannūr like cooker. A brick oven will work. You can also make this in your oven and Dr. Nasrallah's book has extensive instructions on doing so.
- Very, very large bowl
- Aluminum foil
- Combine the yeast with the water and the sugar in a very, very large bowl.
- Set aside and wait until the yeast mixture becomes frothy.
- When the yeast is proofed, add the flour and salt. Stir with a wooden spoon until all the water is incorporated.
- Knead with wet hands until the dough is very soft and rather wet. Wet your hands every time the dough starts to stick to your hands. Cover and let rise about an hour in a warm place.
- Preheat your tannūr with a pizza stone to 500 ̊.
- Divide your dough into about 15 pieces. With wet hands, press each piece into a flat round disc. (I like to set them onto aluminum foil, Dr. Nasrallah prefers parchment paper.)
- Bake each piece directly on the pizza stone 10 minutes. Remove carefully and cool before serving.
- Important note: Do not stack the breads while they are cooling.