What is khubz tannour?
Khubz tannour is a type of flat bread, typical to Iraq and overall to Levantine cuisine.
It is composed of the same ingredients as any other bread : flour, yeast, salt and water.
It has a circular shape, is about 8 inches (20 cm) long, and 1 inch (3 cm) thick. It is characterized by the air bubbles that appear on its surface during baking.
What are the origins of khubz tannour?
Etymologically, khubz means bread in Arabic, and tannour refers to the clay oven in which it is traditionally baked. It is also called khebez tannour, khobz or khubz mei, this last one meaning “water bread”, which stems from the absence of oil in its composition.
As far as can be remembered, khubz tannour has always been present in the Middle Eastern culinary culture. It is a key element of any meal, and serves as a link between each course and between the different flavors.
Historians have traced back the consumption of flat bread such as khubz to the Sumerian civilization, one of the oldest in Mesopotamia. Some records have even shown that more than 300 types of bread existed at the time. Nowadays, this region covers most of Iraq, which is why khubz is mostly considered to be an Iraqi dish.
What should be eaten with khubz tannour?
French people have baguettes, Iraqi have khubz : it goes with everything and works for every occasion.
In the Middle East, it is common to use khubz as a form of cutlery by folding it on itself to grab and eat food. People also enjoy dipping it in sauces or dips, in hummus or baba ghanouj for example, or stuffed with meat and vegetables so as to make delicious sandwiches.
Covered with muhammara, a traditional sauce made with chilies, khubz tannour could almost be mistaken for pizza.
Baking khubz tannour
To prepare khubz by the book, following the traditional method, a traditional bread oven called tannour is needed.
The specificity of tannour is its vertical and cylindrical shape, with a base larger than its opening. Usually made of clay, it is about 3 feet high and heats up to extremely high temperatures.
To bake khubz in a tannour, you have to arrange the bread dough shaped in circles on the internal walls of the oven. With the extreme heat, the dough will stay stuck to the walls and will cook very quickly.
Designed thousands of years ago, the tannour oven has barely changed throughout the years. In a family, traditionally, it is customary for the women to bake khubz at home. Even though the advent of bakeries made it more common to get khubz already made, it is still homemade in many villages as of today.
Pita or khubz tannour?
Khubz tannour looks very much like pita, which probably is the most well-known flat bread in the world. Originating from the Middle East, pita is also very popular in the Balkans and in Mediterranean countries.
Even though they are made of similar ingredients, the two breads differ by their texture and the amount of air in them. Whereas pita is very airy thanks to its pocket shape, filled with air, khubz is thicker and softer.
The other variants of khubz tannour
Among the countless flat breads in the world, khubz has many other similar variants.
For example, it is very similar to laffa, a flat bread that can be baked either in a tannour oven, or in a very hot pan. The only significant difference is that its dough contains oil.
In India, Pakistan and other regions of Central and Southeast Asia, meals are traditionally accompanied by naan bread. Even though the composition of naan bread varies depending on the country, the original recipe has eggs and yogurt, which add a smooth and soft texture to it.
Man’ousheh is another olive oil bread which is very popular in Levantine cuisine. It is often served for breakfast, with cheese, vegetables, or aromatic herbs.
This recipe is validated by our expert in Iraqi cuisine Nawal Nasrallah. An award-winning researcher and food writer, Nawal is the author of the definitive cookbook on the Iraqi cuisine Delights from the Garden of Eden.
- 3 tablespoons active dry yeast
- 9 cups warm water (at 95 F / 36 C)
- 18 cups flour , sifted
- 2 tablespoons fine salt
- Extra fine durum wheat semolina (for sprinkling)
- Stand mixer
- Pizza stone
- Cut circles of parchment paper with a diameter slightly larger than the bread.
- In a bowl, combine the dry yeast and warm water. Stir with a whisk and set aside in a warm, draft-free place for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, add the flour into the bowl of a stand mixer.
- Dig a well in the center of the flour and add the yeast mixture.
- Using the dough hook, start kneading at low speed by gradually adding the water.
- After incorporating all the water, add the salt.
- Increase the speed and knead on medium speed for 5 minutes, until the dough comes off the edges of the bowl.
If the dough is too sticky, add 1 or 2 tablespoons of flour. If, on the contrary, it is too dry, add a little water.
- The dough should be soft and look slightly moist.
- Transfer the dough to a very large bowl and smooth the surface with wet hands.
- Cover the bowl and allow the dough to rise in a warm, draft-free place for about 45 minutes.
- Midway through rising time, punch and knead the dough lightly with both wet hands.
15 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450 F (230°C).
As soon as the oven is on, place a bread or pizza stone on the lowest rack of the electric oven (directly at the bottom of the oven if it is a gas oven).
With no stone, place a large baking tray upside down (if not flat) on the lowest rack and another on the highest rack.
- After the dough has risen for the second time, punch it lightly with wet hands.
- Generously sprinkle two large trays or a large work surface with durum wheat semolina.
- Divide the dough into 8 or 15 portions depending on the desired size, and form balls.
- Place each ball on the tray or work surface, spacing them well.
- Always handle the dough with both wet hands.
- To flatten the dough pieces, place a piece of parchment paper on a flat tray and with no edges.
- Place a portion of dough on the paper.
With the moistened fingertips, flatten with rapid movements in all directions until you form a thin disc about 15 inches (38 cm) in diameter (or 10 inches / 25 cm). Leave the finger marks visible on the surface of the bread. Moisten the fingers as often as necessary.
- Allow the dough disc to rest for 5 minutes before cooking.
- Open the oven door and pull one-third of the bottom rack.
- Quickly transfer the disc and parchment paper by pulling the uncovered edges over the heated stone or inverted tray.
- Immediately begin to flatten a second ball of dough following the same process.
- After about 5 minutes of baking, transfer the first loaf to the top layer, also using the uncoated edges of the parchment paper.
As soon as the first loaf forms bubbles on the surface (about 4 to 5 minutes), remove it from the oven and place the one on the top rack and so on until the balls of dough have been used up.
- Immediately remove the paper from each baked bread and place them on a large rack.
- Avoid stacking the baked breads while they are still hot, as the bubbles will deflate.
Keep cooled breads in plastic bags to prevent them from drying out.
Freeze for further use any quantity that you will not be able to consume after 2 or 3 days.
To heat frozen bread, place in an oven at 350 F (170˚C) for 5 to 7 minutes or until warm.