Barbari is one of the most popular breads of Persian cuisine.
There are smells and tastes that accompany you for life, and one of them is for me the ones of fresh homemade bread, with a crust that can be crispy or soft, and its crumb that can melt in your mouth in no time!
Bread is one of the staples of most cultures and civilizations, which explains, of course, why there are so many variations.
Already, during prehistoric times, bread was prepared with a mixture of cereals and water, and baked between two hot stones. Today, you can find breads made with various flours all over the world, with or without yeast, plain or with the addition of different ingredients, and of various shapes and sizes.
What is barbari?
This bread is one of the four varieties of daily bread for Iranians and also the thickest.
What is the origin of this thick Persian bread?
According to Ali Akbar Dehkhoda, author of the most extensive dictionary of the Persian language, barbaric bread was first baked by the Barbar Hazaras who then brought the recipe to Tehran during the reign of the Qajar dynasty, the dynasty that ruled over Iran from 1786 to 1925.
In Iran, the Hazaras were called Barbari, which means “barbarians”, “foreigners” or “uncivilized”. The Shah of Iran, Mohamed Reza Pahlavi, finally had their name changed by decree to Khavari (oriental). Since then, the name Barbari was abandoned and no longer applies to this ethnic group. However, the bread is still called nan-e barbari.
How to make barbari
Barbari bread should be about 30 inches long, about 12 inches wide and 1/2 to 1 inch thick.
It is more traditionally oval-shaped but can sometimes also have a rectangular shape. The secret of the very distinctive golden color of barbari as well as its smell lies in what the Iranians call romal, a mixture of baking soda, flour, and water that is boiled, then cooled and with which the bread is generously brushed before being baked.
Baking soda is supposed to create a crispy crust enclosing a soft and airy crumb.
This process aims to replace a source of steam that would yield a perfect crust, much like French baguette prepared with a source of steam within the oven.
The baking powder mixed with the flour is also an essential element of this recipe.
What else can I tell you about this bread that is a real delight? Kneading and manipulating the dough and observing it rise, still remains a true therapy of happiness for me with a mixture of relaxation, excitement and satisfying curiosity to see how this dough rise, in a process that turns out to be so delicate!
- 2 lb flour
- 3 cups warm water (more or less, at about 100 F / 40˚C)
- 6 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon golden sesame seeds
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 tablespoons baking soda
- ¾ cup water
Dissolve the yeast in ½ cup (100 ml) of warm water and set aside for 5 minutes.
In a large bowl or the bowl of the stand mixer, mix the flour and the baking powder.
- Make a well and add the dissolved yeast. Mix everything by incorporating the water gradually. Then, add the salt.
- Knead the dough for 10 minutes, until it is homogenous and somewhat elastic.
- Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Place the pieces on a well-floured plate, cover and let rise in a warm place, away from drafts, for 90 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a saucepan, mix all the ingredients for the romal then bring them to a boil and set aside to cool to a temperature of about 75 F (25˚C).
- On a well-floured work surface, flatten the dough pieces by dipping your hands in the romal so that the dough does not stick.
Flatten the dough in order to obtain an oval shape and a thickness of about ¼ inch (0,5 cm).
- With the tip of your fingers (except the thumb) or using a long knife, make scratches on the surface of the loaves. Brush them generously with the romal then sprinkle them with sesame seeds.
- Let rise for another 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 F (190˚C), then bake the bread for 30 minutes or until golden brown.