As someone who’s spent a lot of time in the former Soviet Union and who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Kazakhstan, this bread is near and dear to my heart – it’s chewy, elastic, and is made the length and breadth of Central Asia and Russia. I have fond memories of getting loaves at any number of markets and finishing them off before I ever got home. The reason it rarely made it home is that this is best warm and fresh, torn apart with the fingers and eaten on the fly. It’s also good with things on it…more than a few homesick Peace Corps volunteers turned these loaves into makeshift pizzas (I’m more of a thin crust gal, myself).
The traditional version involves just flour, yeast, salt, and sugar, but I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t give it a little twist so I added garlic powder and cayenne pepper. The result is more a warm than spicy feeling – a colleague who sampled this at work described it as a “sleeper spice” that gave the mouth a pleasant tingle.
Yield: 1 loaf Total Time: 3 hours 15 minutes (15 min active, 2:45 hours to rise, 15 min cook time)
- 190 grams plain flour (slightly less than 1 cup)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fast-action dried yeast
- 1 teaspoon salt (sea or kosher, not fine table salt)
- 1/2 teaspoon caster/powdered sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
- 125 ml warm water
- Olive or sesame oil, for brushing
- Measure the flour into a large bowl and make a well in the center with your fingers or a spoon.
- Add the dried yeast to one side of the bowl and the salt, sugar, garlic, and cayenne to the other.
- Pour the warm water into the well and mix thoroughly. If it feels stiff, add a little more water to make a sticky dough.
- With a kitchen-aid or your hands, knead for 10 minutes until the dough is silky soft and smooth. Form into a ball and put in an oiled bowl, cover with cling wrap and leave to rise for about 2 hours, or until at least doubled in size.
- Knock the air out of the dough and form it into a domed round.
- Cover a wooden board or pizza peel with a piece of baking paper and tip the dough onto it. Knock the air out of the dough and form it into a flat round, then cover again with the cling wrap. Leave to prove for another 45 minutes, or until doubled in size again.
- Preheat the oven to as hot as it will go, and put a pizza stone or baking sheet in to heat up – it needs to get really hot before you bake the bread.
- Make an indentation in the middle of the dough by pressing with the heel of your hand, leaving a doughnut-shaped ring around the edge. Pierce a pattern in the middle using the tines of a fork, then brush the top with oil.
- Put a handful of ice cubes on the floor of the oven – these will create steam.
- Use the board to lift the bread to the oven and carefully slide it (still on the baking parchment) onto the preheated stone or tray.
- Bake for 12-15 minutes. The top should be golden and the loaf should sound hollow when tapped underneath. Enjoy warm, tearing it apart with your hands.
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