It is the day before Christmas and I wouldn’t be cooking normally. If I am in Beirut, it is either my mother or sister at the stove and if I am in England, I would be in the country with my English adoptive family. But this year I decided to have Christmas lunch at home, mainly to save on the exorbitant mini cab fares with no public transport (turned out to be a flawed logic!). Regardless, our meal is a shared effort. My brother is bringing the champagne and wines (he has a fine collection). A chef friend is making the starters: foie gras, brioche and ceviche of scallops and langoustines. He is also bringing a buche de noel and my lovely friend Arabella is supplying the mince pies — she has been trying them all over London and has finally settled on some from Chiswick farmers market (a nightmare for her to get to yesterday because of the Hammersmith fly-over closure) and some from Sally Clarke’s. I am in charge of the nibbles (sweetbread boreks) to serve with the champagne and the main course: a beautiful baby goat served with spicy biryani rice as well as the salad (white tabbuleh) and the bread (k’sra, a classic Moroccan loaf) which is the subject of this post.
Moroccan home-cooks make k’sra daily, kneading the dough at home before they take or send it with one of the children or men to the local bakery to have it baked in the communal oven. When I am in Morocco, I love to watch the old and young file through the narrow alleyways of the medina carrying wooden trays with the loaves covered with colourful cloths which identify their loaves for the baker. Sometimes they stamp the loaves to differentiate them.
K’sra is one of the easiest breads to make. You can use plain flour or semolina. I prefer the latter. In some parts of Morocco they use barley flour but it’s more difficult to get a good loaf using barley because it has no gluten. I like to make the festive or breakfast version with anise and sesame seeds. And even though it goes against received baking wisdom, I make my dough the way a Moroccan cook taught me, adding water after kneading the dough. Somehow it makes the dough softer and more malleable. I am sure I could achieve the same result by adding all the water at the beginning but by doing it her way, I remember the times I spent with her.
The irony is that her method is more tiring than the conventional method. Still, it may help with the short rising time which in her case is half an hour and in mine nearer to one hour. I guess it is warmer in Morocco than London!
And there you have it, a scrumptious flat bread in under two hours from beginning to end with an interesting texture because it is made with semolina. I alternate between fine semolina for a softer texture, regular for a stronger one and sometimes half and half. It is very rare that I make it with plain flour. And on this bready note, I wish you all a fulfilling 2012!
2 1/2 cups fine semolina (or semolina flour), plus all-purpose flour for kneading and shaping
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 package) easy bake yeast
1/2 tablespoon anise seeds
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
Mix the fine semolina, yeast, anise and sesame seeds and the salt in a large mixing bow. Make a well in the centre and gradually add 3/4 cup warm water, bringing in the flour as you go along. Knead until you have a rough ball of dough.
Remove the dough onto your lightly floured work surface. Knead for 2-3 minutes. Invert the bowl over it. Let rest for 15 minutes. Measure 1/4 cup water and use some of it to smear your work surface. Flatten the dough into a circle over the wet surface and sprinkle a little more water over the dough. Press on the dough with your knuckles until the water is absorbed. Lift one corner and fold it over. Do the same with the other 3 corners. Knead the dough for a minute or so, and repeat the process twice or three times until you have used up the water and the dough is smooth and elastic but not sticky. Shape into a ball and flatten into a 3/4 inch thick disk. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on how warm your room is. The dough should double in size.
Twenty minutes before the dough is ready, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake the bread in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes or until golden all over. Let cool on a wire rack. Serve at room temperature, or reheated.
©anissa helou from Savory Baking from the Mediterranean
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