Za’atar bread

We bought a really big pack of Za’atar a couple of weeks ago, and the first thought I had (apart from cooking more cauliflower fritters) was that it would somehow make its way into bread.

First we made some sourdough manakish: a sort of flatbread topped with a paste made of za’atar and olive oil. That was very good!

Then I had an idea: what about making a hybrid between manakish and a ‘classic’ loaf?

For a first attempt, it wasn’t totally bad, but I don’t think it quite worked either.

It turned out to be quite impractical (it falls apart so it’s not easy to slice or toast), but it is edible, so there you go!

Here’s how I made it, for future reference and for you to try and make it better than I did, if you’re so inclined…

Ingredients

The same ingredients as in the sesame seed bread, but without the sesame seeds.

Plus:

  • a good amount of za’atar
  • and proportional amount of olive oil

Preparation

Follow the sesame seed bread recipe (sans the sesame seeds in the dough), until you reach the point in which you shape the dough balls and leave them to rest before going into the loaf tin…

Two dough balls resting on the kitchen counter
Two dough balls resting on the kitchen counter

… and then it’s time to prepare the za’atar paste while the dough rests.

Add some za’atar to a little bowl:

A small bowl with za'atar
A small bowl with za’atar

Then add olive oil and stir, and repeat until it becomes a spreadable paste:

A small bowl with za'atar mixed with olive oil, and a teaspoon
A small bowl with za’atar mixed with olive oil, and a teaspoon

Assuming the dough has finished resting, flatten one of the balls using a rolling pin or your hands, if you’re capable of flattening dough with some degree of uniformity. I can’t, so I use a rolling pin:

A dough ball, rolled and flattened
A dough ball, rolled and flattened

Cover about 3/4 of the surface with your za’atar paste.

I was thinking in the same terms as when you roll sushi: you need to leave an area without rice on the nori or otherwise it won’t “seal”.

A dough ball with za'atar spread on top
A dough ball with za’atar spread on top

Then roll it, leaving the uncovered area for last:

The dough has been rolled into a loaf
The dough has been rolled into a loaf

Then carefully lift it and place it on the loaf tin, making sure the seam stays underneath:

Rolled dough into the bread tin
Rolled dough into the bread tin

I managed to flatten the second ball way thinner:

Another dough ball rolled and flattened
Another dough ball rolled and flattened

In retrospect, I put way too much paste (you will see why later):

Another dough ball rolled and flattened, and with za'atar
Another dough ball rolled and flattened, and with za’atar

Since it was thinner, there were more ‘turns’ when rolling it. And off it went to the other loaf mould:

Second dough shaped as loaf and into the bread tin
Second dough shaped as loaf and into the bread tin

Cover the loa(f/ves) and leave to prove until ‘it seems enough’. You could also turn the oven on when the loaves are starting to look ‘active’.

The two loaves after proving
The two loaves after proving

Then score them:

The two loaves, scored, right before baking
The two loaves, scored, right before baking

And bake, preferrably using steam, until golden:

The bigger za'atar bread loaf, from above
The bigger za’atar bread loaf, from above

You can see that the bread opened to reveal its secret heart of za’atar. I am still not sure if I like the effect or not…

The bigger za'atar bread loaf, from a side
The bigger za’atar bread loaf, from a side
Za'atar bread loaves, side by side
Za’atar bread loaves, side by side

I’m also not really sure why the loaves are so lopsided!

Leave to cool down before cutting into it.

Za'atar bread loaves... quite lopsided
Za’atar bread loaves… quite lopsided

Sliced…

Za'atar bread loaf, sliced
Za’atar bread loaf, sliced – showing the spiral of za’atar inside

I don’t know about you, but I can’t stop seeing the SCREAM from Edvard Munch in these slices.

Two bread slices that look a bit like Edvard Munch's "The scream"
Two bread slices that look a bit like Edvard Munch’s “The scream”

This picture shows the fundamental problem with this technique: the layer of za’atar acted as a ‘separation’ between the layers of dough when rolling, and the bread just falls apart when handling it.

In other ‘novelty’ loaves with colour streaks the dough is still the same consistency or the separation between layers is minimal so it all binds together nicely. Not so here… 😱

The emoji is warranted!

Two za'atar bread slices, toasted and with olive oil
Two za’atar bread slices, toasted and with olive oil

It was quite a challenge to toast this on the toaster, as there were sesame seeds and za’atar bits falling all over, and the slice was “collapsing” even more after toasting (as it shrunk).

I was very grateful for my chopstick skills that allowed me to pick small pieces out of the toaster, but I still had to spend some non-insignificant amount of time removing za’atar remains from the toaster, lest they initiate a small fire… 😱

I think if I were to make this again, I would…

  • be less generous with the amount of za’atar in the paste, so it would not act as much as a barrier
  • reconsider where to apply the paste, so the bread keeps a better shape when scored on top (maybe just apply the paste to the half of the surface?)

An additional problem with using so much za’atar is that it sort of defines the type of food you can have this bread with. It does work well with “Mediterranean” such as slices of tomato and some more olive oil, but butter is just not appealing at all with it.

Oh well, live and learn! 🙂

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