Arkatenio or Eftazymo

Chickpea-Leavened Bread from Cyprus

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THIS DELICIOUS, fragrant bread is leavened using fermented chickpeas rather than the piece of starter dough that is part of most traditional Greek breads. The word eftazymo means “kneaded seven times,” but it does not actually describe the process of making the bread. Many scholars believe that the first part of the word is not efta (seven), but instead a phonetic variation of the prefix auto, referring to bread that rises by itself.

The only baker who makes this chickpea starter on a large scale is Yannis Argyrakis from Chios. He invited me into his workshop there but warned me that he wasn’t going to reveal his secrets. “It’s like a diamond bracelet that you can’t let everybody know you have,” he told me.

Traditionally, the starter is made from a handful of coarsely crushed chickpeas that are soaked in warm water and kept at a more or less constant warm temperature for 7 to 12 hours, until a thick froth forms on the surface of the water. This froth—and sometimes the crushed chickpeas, depending on the cook—is mixed with flour. Village women usually begin the process in the afternoon, placing the peas in a covered clay pot that they nestle under lots of blankets. One woman from Cyprus told me that she wraps a woolen shawl around the well-sealed jar of crushed chickpeas and water and holds it between her thighs all night long. Other women get up a couple of times in the middle of the night to add warm water to the pot of chickpeas, especially during cold winter nights.

Fortunately, today we have the means to keep the chickpeas at a constant temperature—either in a low oven or under an electric blanket—and that, as I found out, is the key to the success of the starter.

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Ingredients

Starter

  • cups chickpeas, preferably organic
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2½–3 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons Bread Spice Mix
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
  • About cup warm water
  • Nigella seeds (optional)

Method

Make the Starter

Place the chickpeas in a large bowl and add water to cover by 4 inches. Let stand for at least 6 hours, or overnight.

Drain the chickpeas and pulse a few times in a food processor to coarsely grind them. Return the chickpeas to the bowl and add warm (100°F) water to cover by 2 inches. Set the oven on low (warm) and place the bowl in the oven, or surround the bowl with an electric blanket. Let stand for 12 to 18 hours, or until a thick foam forms on the surface of the liquid.

In a large bowl, combine the foam and 1½ cups of the liquid with the 2 cups white flour. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the oven set to its lowest temperature or under the blanket for about 3 hours.

Remove the starter from the oven or blanket and let stand for 4 to 5 hours more, or until tripled in size.

Place cups all-purpose flour, the whole wheat flour, spice mix, nutmeg, ginger and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. With the motor running, pour in the starter and ½ cup of the water and process for about 30 seconds. Let the dough rest in the processor for 15 minutes.

Process the dough for about 2 minutes more, or until smooth and a little sticky (add a little water if the dough is too stiff).

Oil an 8- or 9-inch round pan and a piece of plastic wrap. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for 3 to 4 minutes, adding a little more all-purpose flour as needed until the dough is soft and elastic. Shape the dough into a loaf and place in the pan. If you like, place the dough in a 6-cup loaf pan and slash it deeply with a wet knife at 1-inch intervals. Cover with the oiled plastic wrap and place in the oven set to its lowest temperature. Let rise for 2 to 3 hours, or until doubled in size. Remove the plastic wrap and sprinkle the dough with the nigella seeds.

With the bread still inside, preheat the oven to 400°F.

Bake for 45 minutes. Wearing oven mitts, take the bread out of the pan and place it directly on the oven rack. Bake for 10 minutes more, or until it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Let cool on a rack before slicing.

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