Armenian “Barbary” Bread

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Preparation info

  • Makes

    two

    long
    • Difficulty

      Complex

Appears in

The Modern Baker

The Modern Baker

By Nick Malgieri

Published 2008

  • About

There’s a bit of a debate as to whether this is an Afghan, Armenian, or Iranian bread. I’ve seen and tasted it at the Armenian bakeries in Watertown, Massachusetts. Most have a couple of different versions, one that they make, and another imported from Canada that’s larger, whiter, and tastes more industrial made. Basically, berberi, or barbary, bread is a long, oval flatbread, dimpled on top and sometimes sprinkled with black sesame or nigella seeds. It’s light and tender and makes a perfect bread to serve with Middle Eastern cheeses or with pureed salads such as baba ganoush or hummus. Thanks to my dear friend Sandy Leonard, who lives in Watertown, for tracking down this recipe.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (spoon flour into a dry-measure cup and level off)
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 teaspoons ( envelopes) active dry yeast
  • 2 cups warm water, about 110°F (45°C)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons black sesame or nigella seeds, optional
  • 2 cookie sheets or jelly-roll pans lined with parchment or foil

Method

  1. Combine the white flour, whole wheat flour, and salt in a mixing bowl and stir well to combine.
  2. In a separate large bowl, whisk the yeast into the water, then whisk in the olive oil. Stir about 2 cups of the flour mixture into the liquid, until it is smooth. Continue beating in the remaining flour mixture, 1 cup at a time, waiting until it is absorbed before adding more. After all the flour has been added, the dough should be medium soft.
  3. Cover the bowl with a towel or plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest for 20 minutes.
  4. Invert the dough from the bowl onto a floured work surface and use a bench scraper to fold it over on itself several times to make it smoother and more elastic.
  5. Place the dough in a clean oiled bowl and turn it over so that the top is oiled. Cover the bowl with a towel or plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise until it doubles in bulk, 1 to 2 hours, depending on the temperature of the room.
  6. Once the dough has risen, invert it onto a floured work surface and use a bench scraper or knife to divide it into 2 equal pieces.
  7. Gently press and stretch one piece of dough, trying not to deflate it too much, into a long narrow oval, 12 to 15 inches (30 to 38 cm) long and 4 to 5 (10 to 13 cm) inches wide. Flour the top lightly, then fold the shaped dough into thirds and transfer it to one of the prepared pans. Unfold the dough and adjust its shape in the pan. Repeat with the other piece of dough.
  8. Cover each bread with a towel or oiled plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
  9. About 20 minutes before the breads are fully risen, set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 425°F (220°C).
  10. Uncover one of the breads, and use your fingertip to dimple the top gently at 1-inch (-cm) intervals, without pressing too hard, or the dough will deflate. Sprinkle with the seeds, if using. Repeat with the other bread.
  11. Bake the breads for 10 minutes, then switch the pan in the lower third of the oven to the upper third and vice versa, turning each pan from back to front at the same time. Continue baking the breads until they are deep golden and firm-spongy to the touch, about 10 additional minutes.
  12. Slide or lift the breads from the pans onto racks to cool.

Serving

These flatbreads are a perfect accompaniment to Middle Eastern meze or hors d’oeuvres. But they are excellent with any kind of food.

Storage

Keep the breads loosely covered at room temperature on the day they are baked. Wrap in plastic and freeze for longer storage. Defrost frozen breads and reheat them at 375°F (190°C) for 7 to 8 minutes and cool before serving.