Turkish Flatbread Stuffed with Melted Cheese

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Serves

    4 to 6

    round

Appears in

The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen

By Paula Wolfert

Published 2003

  • About

I first heard the expression “winged nostrils” from an Italian chef who was showing me how to roast a pigeon. It was his term for a chef's instinctive olfactory understanding of when a particular dish is done.

Recently I heard an almost identical turn of phrase while attending an outdoor cooking demonstration in a small Turkish village not far from Izmir. The cook was showing me how to prepare a local dish called peynirli bogaca—a. traditional hearth bread made with two unleavened olive-oil bread sheets stuffed with a fast-melting cheese called kesik and some chopped parsley. The bread is assembled in an oiled clay dish set over olive-wood embers, covered with a flat iron lid, then topped with more hot embers. It bakes quickly. “Your nose will tell you when it's done,” the Turkish cook advised.

There came a certain point during the cooking when, indeed, the aroma changed. One instant I smelled baking bread, the next a finished dish—a wonderful and unusual nutty aromatic blend of sesame and cheese. I nodded at the cook. She smiled and nodded back, then quickly removed the bread from the clay dish.

It was wonderful! The hot, slightly burned, crunchy sandwich had a wafer-thin crisp bottom, a crackly top, and a marvelous luscious, oozing, bubbling cheese filling. At her suggestion I drank a glass of ayran, yogurt mixed with cold water, as an accompaniment.

This Turkish flatbread, which is almost identical to a Genoese flatbread called focaccia colformaggio di Recco, is just one of many flaky hearth breads found in different guises around the Mediterranean. (Also similar are the French fouace, the Bulgarian pogacha, and the Algerian bourak b'l-djbene.) Please don't confuse this with the much better known, puffy, yeast-based Italian focaccia, which is served at room temperature. The Genoese focaccia is made without yeast and is always served hot from the hearth.

Another variation, using this same particular pastry and method, is a wonderful torta from the Ligurian-Tuscan coast made with greens and squash, and on the Black Sea a delicious bread pie filled with buffalo-milk mozzarella and feta served hot.

Long ago all these breads were baked in the fireplace. A clay flat-rimmed pan, called a cerepene in Turkey and testo in Italy, was thrust into the coals, then more coals were piled on top, imbuing the dough with a smoky flavor.

My versions are easily baked on a pizza pan on a preheated stone in a hot oven. Please be sure not to open the oven door while they cook, lest you reduce the intense heat. There is no need to check to see how the breads look; your “winged nostrils” will tell you when they're done.

The quick-to-make dough needs to rest overnight, so plan accordingly

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups bread flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons orange juice, lemon juice, cider vinegar, or white wine
  • 7 ounces runny, soft teleme, crescenza, or mozzarella cheese
  • Coarse sea salt

Method

  1. In a food processor, pulse the flour with the salt. Add the 3 tablespoons olive oil and the orange or lemon juice, cider vinegar or white wine. With the machine on, pour in 5 tablespoons cold water and process until the dough resembles wet sand. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth. (You might need another 1 tablespoon water.) Divide the dough in half and pat into 2 disks, brush lightly with olive oil, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate overnight. Let the disks of dough return to room temperature before proceeding.
  2. Set a baking stone on the top rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 550°F. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out each disk of dough to a 10-inch round. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 10 minutes.
  3. Working with 1 round at a time, stretch the dough: lift and pull from the center out toward the edge, rotating as necessary, until you have pulled the dough to a thin round just large enough to fit into a lightly oiled pizza pan. If the dough is resistant, let it rest a few minutes, then continue to press it out. You may need to do this 2 or 3 times to press it out to the edge without its springing back. Trim off any thick edges. If there are any cracks or tears in the dough, pinch or patch together. Scatter the cheese evenly over the dough in the pan to within 1 inch of the rim. Lightly moisten the rim with water. Repeat with the second round of dough, cover, and press the edges together to seal. Trim the edges if necessary. Brush the top with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Make four or five 1-inch slits in the top near the center.
  4. Bake the bread for 7 to 10 minutes, until soft, golden, spotted brown, and bubbling. Slide the bread onto a work surface and cut it into squares or wedges.