Persian flatbread with nigella and sesame seeds
Barbari is a yeast-leavened Iranian flatbread. It is one of the thickest flatbreads we have and is commonly topped with sesame and nigella seeds. The top layer of the bread is similar to a pretzel due to a glaze made of baking powder, flour and water, brushed on before baking. It is widely known as Persian flatbread.
Barbari is an obsolete Persian term (meaning Easterners) for the Hazara people living in the Khorasan province, Iran. They are the third-largest ethnic group in Afghanistan and are also a significant minority group in neighbouring Pakistan. The Hazara people speak Dari, a form of Farsi (the main language of Iran). Farsi and Dari are mutually intelligible, with differences found primarily in the vocabulary and phonology.
Barbari bread was first baked by Hazaras and taken to Tehran over 200 years ago. Hazaras are no longer called barbari, but the bread is still referred to as noon-e barbari in Iran while Hazaras refer to it as nan-e tanoori (tandoor oven bread). The Turkish have a similar bread, with theirs being slightly thicker. The bread is usually 70 to 80 cm long, and 25 to 30 cm wide. It is the most common style bread baked in Iran. It is usually eaten at breakfast with Lighvan cheese (a ewe’s milk cheese similar to feta cheese) and preserves such as sour cherry jam and carrot jam as pictured above.
My version of Barbari has been a 6 month process of experimenting with various baking styles in order to replicate this wonderful bread in my oven. Ultimately it has similar measurements to most bread recipes but it is a wetter dough, which I have found is the key to achieving a version close to the traditional Barbari. Also the glaze takes the standard bread recipe and transforms it into an extraordinary tasting bake. My version is smaller than the traditional Barbari, as most of us cannot fit an 80 cm long flatbread in our oven but it loses none of its deliciousness. I knead my dough by hand, as I find the process therapeutic, but please feel free to use any electrical mixer with a dough hook that you may have to help you with this stage.
There are no rules as to how you should eat your Barbari. Although it is commonly eaten at breakfast, we also eat ours with various Persian dips and appetisers, as a sandwich bread or with soup.
- 7 g sachet of instant yeast
- 1 tsp sugar
- 350 ml luke warm water
- 500 g strong white bread flour (plus extra for kneading)
- 1 tsp salt (heaped teaspoon)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
Glaze and Topping
- 1 tsp strong bread flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 100 ml water
- Nigella and sesame seeds (to sprinkle on top of the bread)
- For the Barbari dough - Use 150 ml of the water and pour into a bowl. Add the sugar and yeast, stir and leave to work for approximately 15 mins (bubbles will form on the surface).
- Place the flour in a large bowl, add the oil and then add the salt to one side of the bowl.
- Add the yeast mixture to the bowl and begin mixing the ingredients together. Gradually add the remaining water (200 ml) until all the flour leaves the side of the bowl and you have a soft, rough sticky dough.
- Sprinkle a bit of flour onto a clean surface and sit the dough on the flour and begin to knead. Do this for 5-10 minutes, or until the dough becomes smooth and silky - it will be a little stickier than your standard loaf dough. Once the correct consistency is achieved, place the dough into a clean, oiled bowl. Cover with cling film and leave in a warm place for 2 hrs or until it has tripled in size.
- To make the glaze - place a small saucepan on a medium / high heat and add 100 ml of water, 1 tsp of flour, 1/2 tsp of baking powder and stir until it forms a shiny white paste. Remove from the heat and set aside until you are ready to glaze prior to baking.
- Once risen, place the dough onto a floured surface. Knock back the dough a few times to remove the air but no need to knead again.
- Halve the dough and take one half and begin to shape it. I use a floured rolling pin to roll the dough into an oblong shape and then hand-stretch it until it gets to approximately 40 cm in length, 20 cm in width and 1 cm in depth. Place it on a grease-proof paper lined baking tray. Then take a knife and lightly score along the length of the dough about a finger-width apart.
- Repeat the step above with the remaining half of the dough.
- Cover the baking trays with tea-towels and leave in a warm place for 30 mins.
- Pre-heat the oven to 200°C (fan) / 220°C (conventional) / Gas Mark 7.
- Take a baking tray containing one of the Barbari breads and brush with the glaze. Use your fingers to push the dough between the scored lines down so you end up with small ridges. Then top with sesame and nigella seeds. Repeat with the other Barbari bread.
- Place the bread in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes until golden and cooked. I slice mine into squares so they can be easily toasted for breakfast.