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Zaatar bread is a soft, Arabic-style bread topped with olive oil and the tangy spice mixture called zaatar. The bread can either be baked in the oven, quickly cooked in a skillet, or baked in the traditional Bedouin manner over an open fire.
A few weeks ago we celebrated a Middle Eastern food week over on my Mediterranean food blog, Hestia’s Kitchen. Along with the chickpea salad, Israeli salad, falafels, and homemade hummus we enjoyed these tangy breads. The recipe is adapted from one found in The New Book of Middle Eastern Food
Making Zaatar Spice Mixture
Zaatar spice mix can be found in gourmet, specialty, or Middle Eastern food shops. If you are unable to find it, you can make your own mixture by combining equal amounts of dried thyme leaves and sesame seeds. Add up to ¼ of the total amount of powdered sumac. For example, combine ½ cup each of the thyme and sesame seeds, then up to ¼ cup of sumac. If sumac is not available in your area don’t worry, the sumac is entirely optional. Your breads will still be delicious.
Arabic Bread Recipe
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups bread flour
2 cups Kamut® flour*
1 ½ tsp instant dried yeast
1 tsp honey
1 ½ tsp salt
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 – 2 ½ cups lukewarm water
*I like to use Kamut® flour because of its soft, nutty quality. Spelt, whole wheat, or even additional all-purpose flour would work well here too.
Zaatar Topping Recipe
3 Tbsp zaatar spice mix
5 Tbsp olive oil
Add zaatar spice mixture and olive oil to a small bowl. Stir until well combined.
Mixing Zaatar Bread
Add all ingredients to a large bowl, or a stand mixer bowl. Mix well to combine. Knead by hand until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes, or using a stand mixer for 5 - 8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place until almost doubled, about 2 hours. Gently fold to deflate. Divide the dough into 4 pieces. On a floured surface, roll each piece out ¼ inch thick. Cut 2 ½ inch rounds from each piece using a biscuit cutter. Roll each 2 ½ inch round out as thin as possible without making holes. Rounds should be 5 – 6 inches in diameter. You may have to do this step using your hands - like making a pizza – instead of a rolling pin. Repeat with remaining dough.
Baking Zaatar Bread
Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenfeit. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the bread rounds on the sheets. Spread each round with the zaatar topping. Bake for 5 – 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven, place two rounds together, facing each other, and place in a plastic bag. Repeat with remaining bread rounds. This step may seem unusual, but it keeps the rounds nice and soft for a few days. Zaatar breads can also be frozen.
Zaatar breads have found a place in my baking repertoire. Although the rolling out step takes a little time, the work isn’t difficult and the end result is well worth it. I personally am not overly fond of thyme, but the zaatar mixture was savory and tart, and the thyme flavor wasn’t overpowering at all.
The breads stayed soft and fresh for 3 days. They may have stayed fresh longer, but we ate them all in 3 days!