October 16th will mark the 11th edition of the “World Day of Bread”, an opportunity for Mike and me to discuss all you “knead” to know about this staple of Western cuisines!
It is the UIBC or International Union of Bakers and Confectioners, which chose October 16th as the World Day of Bread. This date was not picked randomly. It happens to also be World Food Day, and bread is an essential part of the human diet. It all makes sense!
It is impossible to count the number of varieties of breads around the world and it definitely deserved a World Day dedicated to it.
I said it when I prepared my lepinja bread, I love to make bread or knead leavened dough of any kind. There is a great little baker that lives inside of me! As a child, I loved to see the dough rise and yes, I felt the need to knead! And this all started even before my teenager years that I talked about in my kringel!
“I knead you, you, you” – Blues Brothers – World Day of Bread Remix
Yes I do need to knead! To decompress, relax, this is not a surprise, I love to cook! I lock myself in my kitchen, with loud music, and what I like best is kneading bread and working the dough.
Before we talk about my great kesra recipe, let’s talk about the origins of bread.
The history of bread starts with the Upper Paleolithic, in the middle of Prehistoric Times. Unleavened bread traces were found at several sites dating from 30,000 BC. Men ate grains in their raw form, without any preparation and prehistoric bread was really a porridge made of raw wild grains crushed and wet with water.
One day, men decided to grill this porridge into patties. This was really by chance, around 3000 BC, when a bread dough was forgotten, that the Egyptians invented leavened bread where wheat grain is crushed in a mortar.
It is in large earthen vessels that the dough was kneaded with water from the Nile, rich in silt and natural ferments close to baker’s yeast. This dough was forgotten and as it rested a few hours, it fermented naturally.
It is actually the Greeks who perfected the technique of baking bread in the oven. Their daily bread called maza was a simple unfermented barley flatbread, and their festive bread called artos was a wheat bread. Both were cooked on hot stones. After a few years, the Greeks abandoned this cooking technique for one that used an oven with a frontal opening. In the second century AD, there were 72 varieties of breads in Athens!
I chose to prepare unleavened bread, a mainstay of Algerian cuisine: kesra.
Kesra is an Algerian bread native to Eastern part of the country that is semolina-based, and has the shape of a round flatbread.
It is called khobz ftir in Algiers, kesra to the east and aghroum n’tajin in Kabylia. This recipe is very simple but yet will make you travel! Traditionally, it only consists in semolina, oil, salt and water, and… that’s it!
To make kesra, the Algerians use a cast iron pan or Dutch oven with embossed circle lines at the bottom. If you do not have this special pan like me, no problem as you can create the lines with cookie cutters!
Kesra is an essential accompaniment to soups such as chorba or or harira, bell pepper salads, but also butter, milk and buttermilk.
Warning ! For this recipe, only use fine and / or medium durum wheat flour.
Whether it is Moroccan, Tunisian or Algerian, the cuisine of North Africa is very rich. Every country in the Maghreb has its specificity, the ingredients are often the same, but the skill is different from one country to another.
I was born in Fez, Morocco, and I was raised on kesra. At home, we called it harcha. It is exactly the same recipe except for one detail: the Moroccans put a few pinches of baking powder in their bread and you know what? I did not feel any difference whether in taste or texture!
I’m a big fan of pan-baked breads. Just like my huni roshi recipe from Maldives, I loved baking and eating my kesra!
- 1 lb durum wheat flour (fine semolina)
- 1 lb medium semolina
- ½ cup sunflower oil (or olive oil), to taste
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 cup semolina (for dusting the work surface)
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil (for cooking)
Pour both semolinas in a large, wide bowl.
Add salt and mix well with your hands.
Make a well in the center, pour the oil, mix everything with your fingertips and rub the mixture between your two palms to get a crumbly texture.
Pour water slowly by working the semolina until it has the consistency of a light dough but not sticky.
Let stand 20 minutes.
Cut dough into 4 equal parts and form balls.
Place each ball on a work surface generously dusted with semolina, and roll it with a rolling pin into a circle of about 6 inches in diameter.
Heat the pan and grease it using a clean cloth with oil wiped across the surface.
When the pan is hot, lay down the flatbread and cook it over medium/high heat for 1 to 2 minutes while piercing with a fork all over its surface.
Turn over gently to cook the other side for 1 to 2 minutes. You can then turn it over with the help of a large plate or with a wide spatula.
Enjoy kesra hot or cold, as an accompaniment to savory or sweet dishes.