Kneading Khubz

In Arabic, the word for bread is "khubz," a general term to encompass all kinds of bread baked in the many countries of the Middle East and North Africa. Similarly, the Italians have "pane," but when it's time to get more specific, they've got words such as foccacia, ciabatta, grissini and piadina.




Arab flatbread. (Kim O'Donnel)

Americans may be more familiar with the word "pita," a pocket of slightly leavened dough that is filled with falafel and chicken shwarma at Middle Eastern restaurants or torn for dipping into a mound of hummus or baba ghanoush. No matter what you call it, Arab bread is flatbread or a lot flatter than the loaf-style breads of the Americas and Europe.

I recently tried making khubz for the first time and the experience was eye-opening. First, I was surprised at how easy it was to make. The dough was clean and unsticky when kneading and was manageable to roll out. Second, the dough emitted a seductive yeasty perfume while baking and I remember thinking, "Now you're really baking!" Third, the final results were delicious, offering a chewy bite and a lot more depth than any pita I've previously torn.

It worked equally well as a wrapper for under-the-broiler halloumi cheese and a dipper for roasted red pepper soup. I was also impressed by its reheat-ability; a few minutes in the oven was sufficient to bring it back to life. A batch of seven "loaves" kept well for several days in a plastic zip-style bag.

Perhaps you have another way of baking "khubz" or a favorite way to serve it. Please share all Arab flatbread ideas in the comments area below!

Arab Flatbread
From "The Arab Table" by May S. Bsisu

Ingredients
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
2 cups warm water (110 degrees); add an extra ¾ cup if using whole-wheat flour
1 ¼ teaspoons sugar
5 ½ cups all-purpose or whole-wheat flour, plus extra for kneading
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons olive oil

Method
Combine yeast, 1 cup of the warm water and sugar in a small bowl and stir to dissolve. Set aside until mixture is foamy and doubled in size, about 10 minutes.

Sift flour and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and add remaining 1 cup warm water, yeast mixture and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Mix ingredients until dough pulls away form sides of the bowl, forming a ball. (Can also be done with a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook.)

Transfer dough to a floured work surface. Sprinkling as little flour on the dough and your hands as possible, knead the dough -- push, fold and turn -- about five minutes, until dough is smooth, elastic and doesn't stick to your fingers.

Coat a large bowl with remaining olive oil and place dough inside, turning to coat with the oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel, and set in a warm draft-free place until dough has doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Meanwhile, lightly dust a baking sheet and a kitchen towel with flour.

Punch dough and transfer to a floured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Divide dough into 7 equal pieces, roll each one into a ball and place on prepared baking sheet. Working with 1 ball of dough at a time, flatten gently, using a rolling pin or your hands. Roll dough out until about 5-6 inches in diameter, ¼-inch thick. Lay loaves on floured towel, sprinkle flour on top, cover with a second towel, and let rest about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Preheat baking sheet 10 minutes before ready to bake.
Arrange 2 loaves on baking sheet, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Bake until they puff up, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer loaves to a wire rack to cool; repeat.

Can be frozen in plastic zip bag and thawed in refrigerator. Reheat at 300 degrees for 10 minutes.

Serve with sliced tomatoes and broiled halloumi cheese, cut into 1-inch-thick slices: Brush cheese with olive oil and place in a pan that fits in your broiler. Broil until golden, about 3 minutes on each side.

By Kim ODonnel |  October 2, 2006; 11:49 AM ET Bread , Ramadan
Previous: Yom Kippur Make-Ahead Tricks | Next: A Fool for a Kitchen Tool

Comments

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Would you have a dough recipie for Kibuz Saj, a Arabic bread baked on an inverted dome?

Posted by: John | October 2, 2006 5:22 PM

Kim, would the "warm draft free place" be the same as for any other type of bread?

Posted by: Cooking in SS | October 2, 2006 7:26 PM

SS: Yes, the same warm, draft-free place applies here, like any other type of bread.
John: I will look and let you know. Cheers.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | October 3, 2006 7:07 AM

Kim, would you recommend baking these on a baking stone, or do you think that they would brown too quickly?

Posted by: Jasmine | October 3, 2006 3:56 PM

I like throwing za'atar and some olive oil on top of my khubz. Za'atar is a mix of sumac, wild thyme, sesame seeds. The smell is ridiculously fantastic.

Posted by: R in Ohio | October 6, 2006 10:55 AM

Kim, I'm thinking of making this for an after-work party. Do you think I could give it a slow (10 hr) rise in the fridge instead of 2 hours in a warm place? Or would I be better off making it in advance and freezing the baked bread?

Posted by: B in B'more | October 12, 2006 8:07 AM

Hey B in B'more:
While I haven't tried doing the slow rise with this dough, I have frozen the baked bread, and I can say with certainty it reheats beautifully. Besides, it's one less thing to worry about as you prep for the party. One batch, by the way, will make about 7 loaves, and I think 1 loaf per person is perfectly adequate. Let me know how it goes!

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | October 12, 2006 9:00 AM

Asalamu alaikum to all muslims and greetings to everyone! Baking Khubz is something that you will never get "right", as for every household there is yet a different "right" way to do it. That said, find what YOU like with a little tweaking and call it your khubz. I will add that as a caucasian "revert" to islam, that is not married to a muslim, I have had my share of people trying to teach me the "right" way to make khubz. Two things seem to be common amongst the bakers, a "strong" flour, which is a higher protein flour that retains more moisture, commonly referred to as "bread flour", and the gas oven. Most of the bakers seem to prefer to get the oven up to it's highest, which is about 500 F for most of our ovens, and then, putting the dough on the bottom of the oven. Seems odd to most of us westerners, we are always trying to keep things off the bottom of the oven, lol. I think a baking stone that is allowed to preheat for it's prescribed amount of time will suffice very nicely. If you find the top of the bread not browned enough, just run it under a broiler for a minute or until brown. As for the customs of iftar of this American Muslim, well, often it's just a dish called Yum, this is good, what did you call it? One last thing, if your khubz pleases your palate and those of your loved ones, call it good, as most Arabs don't bake their own bread any more often than your average American does.

Posted by: Leslie in Southern Cali | October 14, 2006 11:15 PM

Hi Kim,
Reporting back. I made the bread 24h before the party. I tried both a pizza stone and a heavy, dark baking sheet, and both worked well. I sealed the fresh-baked loaves in plastic bags with the air pushed out, and the next day they were a little tough, but fine. They were well-received, but not as enthusiastically as the simple black bean hummus I served with it! Which just goes to show...

Posted by: B in B'more | October 16, 2006 1:22 PM

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