Around the world in 80 bakes, no.73: Nân Barbari – Persian flatbread

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.73: Nân Barbari – Persian flatbread

There have been many types of flatbread in this series. Persian flatbread – nân barbari – is my favourite, by a long way: its pillowy texture and crisp top are a winner. The recipe I’ve used is adapted from Sabrina Ghayour’s warmly recommended Persiana; it’s slightly westernised in that I don’t think they use melted butter for the top in Iran and I’ve westernised it further in that suspect that a self-respecting Iranian baker wouldn’t use a stand mixer either. But these are details: this is reliably the best flatbread I know and it works with just about any Middle Eastern dishes, not just Persian ones.

This recipe makes two flatbreads, which feeds around 10-12 people as part of a buffet including one other starch like rice or couscous. The multiple kneading and resting process described here results reliably in a fabulously stretchy dough; you could try taking shortcuts on it but it’s always worked so well for me that I try not to.

  • 7g dried yeast
  • 500 ml warm water (around 40℃)
  • 700g strong white flour
  • 15g salt (Sabrina is a diehard devotee of Maldon salt, I’m not all that convinced)
  • 75ml olive oil
  • 20g butter
  • A handful of nigella, sesame or caraway seeds
  1. Mix yeast with 50ml of the water, leave to rest for 5 minutes or so until frothy
  2. Put the flour and salt into the bowl of your stand mixer, along with 50ml of the olive oil.
  3. Add the yeast mix and the remaining water to the bowl and combine thoroughly.
  4. With the dough hook at low speed, knead for 7 minutes. With a scraper, take the dough of your hook, reshape into a single ball.
  5. Leave to stand for 10 minutes, then knead for another 2 minutes, then recombine the dough. Repeat this three times in total; after the second time, add the rest of your oil.
  6. After your third 2 minute knead, reform the dough into a single ball, cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave to rise. Sabrina suggests three hours for the dough to triple in size; I bailed out after 2½ hours, by which time the dough was coming close to the top of the bowl. Your yeast and kitchen temperature will vary.
  7. Line two baking trays with silicone sheets or baking paper. Preheat your oven to 220℃ fan.
  8. Divide the dough into two equal parts and stretch each part into a large rectangle covering most of the length of your baking trays and around half as wide as they are long. Actually, you can pretty much use any shape you like, but try to make them of fairly even thickness.
  9. If you like, cut a pair of slashes into each flatbread, which will make your bread easier to “tear and share” at the table.
  10. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for another 40 minutes.
  11. Brush the top with melted butter, and sprinkle your chosen seeds over the top.
  12. Bake for around 15-20 minutes until golden. The loaves should feel springy if you press them gently. 

The ideal timing is for the bread to come out of the oven so that you can cool it to around 10 minutes before taking it to the table. Most of us don’t actually manage this and it doesn’t really matter.

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