Tag: Jordan

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.50: Tabun or Pita bread, from Jordan

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.50: Tabun or Pita bread, from Jordan

This blog post is a two-in-one, because these two flatbreads are the same for the whole process up to the final bake, where different techniques get a different structure. I’ve labelled them as Jordanian because the first recipe I looked up claimed to be from Jordan, but in all honesty, you’ll find these all over the Arab world. I was actually making them to eat with lamb shawarma, in a recipe from Sami Tamiri’s wonderful Falastin.

If your idea of pita bread is the small oval slices of cardboard bought from supermarkets, think again. Freshly made pita crisps and puffs up like a ball, perfect for stuffing with the filling of your choice: shawarma, falafel, muhamarra or any other Middle Eastern goodies. Tabun (or taboon) is softer and flatter: use as open sandwich rather than trying to stuff it. (The tabun is the name of the wood-fired open-topped oven in which the bread is traditionally baked, similar to the indian tandoor.)

Since  I don’t have a tabun, I’m improvising, using one of two techniques. For pita, I’m putting a pizza stone in the oven and winding the temperature as high as I can get. The sudden heat applied to the dough makes the moisture in the centre evaporate, resulting in the characteristic pocket. For tabun, I’m approximating to the stones on which the bread would traditionally be made by pouring ceramic baking beads into a frying pan (or skillet), and laying the flatbread over the top and using a lower temperature oven (you could also do this on the hob).

Here’s an updated round-up on the list of flatbreads in this blog:

  • Aish baladi (Egypt): the wholemeal version of pita or tabun
  • Focaccia (Italy): flavoured with olive oil, salt and other ingredients such as rosemary, olives or tomatoes. Thickness varies from one baker to another (it can be very thick)
  • Lavash (Armenia): similar dough to tabun, but rolled or thrown to be wafer thin before baking
  • Naan (India): between a tabun and a focaccia in thickness, often flavoured with ghee, nigella seeds or other ingredients.
  • Pita: thickness somewhere between lavash and naan, baked quickly at high heat to puff up into a pocket for filling.
  • Tabun: thickness starts similar to pita, but baked more slowly for a more pillowy texture.
  • Finally, there’s Persian flatbread (Nan Barbari), which is probably my favourite of the lot of them, which has the generous softness of a focaccia but with Middle Eastern flavours instead of the oil. I’ve already done a Persian bake in this series, so I’ll just point you at Sabrina Ghayour’s Persiana as the source of a fabulous Nan Barbari recipe. The Afghans do their own version (Nan Afghani), so this may appear in a future post – but first, when I stop being worried about lockdown, I want to go and watch them at the Afghan shop a few km from my home.

The dough

The quantities here make four flatbreads.

  • 5g dried yeast
  • 10g sugar
  • 200g lukewarm water (around 40℃)
  • 25g olive oil
  • 300g strong white flour
  • 10g salt
  1. Combine yeast, sugar and water, leave for a few minutes until frothy.
  2. Combine flour and salt. Add the wet mixture and the olive oil and mix until smooth.
  3. Knead until stretchy. I found these quantities too small to work properly with the dough hook in my stand mixer, so I did the kneading by hand. If you double the recipe, the stand mixer should work fine.
  4. Leave to rise until doubled in size (1-2 hours depending on ambient temperature and the temperature of the water you used).
  5. Divide the dough into four, roll into flat circles of around 5mm thick. Personally, I seem to be incapable of rolling a perfect circle, so mine tend to end up oval, heart-shaped or some crazy irregular alternative. This doesn’t seem to matter too much.

The Pita version

  1. Place a pizza stone in your oven and preheat the oven to 250℃ fan
  2. When you’re ready to bake, give a circle of dough an extra roll (it’s probably shrunk a bit).
  3. Working quickly, open the oven, take the stone out, place the circle of the dough on the stone and put back into the oven. If you have space for two at a time, great.
  4. Bake for around 8 minutes (you can turn the bread half way if you want, but that’s not essential) until puffed up and crisp.
  5. Repeat for the remaining flatbreads.

The Tabun version

  1. Pour baking beads into a skillet. If using an oven, preheat it to 200℃ fan. If using the hob, heat your skillet until everything is very hot.
  2. When you’re ready to bake, give a circle of dough an extra roll (it’s probably shrunk a bit).
  3. Lay the circle of dough over the beads. If using the oven, put the skillet back in.
  4. The flatbreads should each take around 10 minutes to cook. You’ll want to turn them over half way.