Turkish flatbread with za’atar (Zahterli pide)

Turkish flatbread with za'atar (Zahterli pide) - recipe - A kitchen in Istanbul

Few things are as important as bread in Turkey. The nature of the meal is irrelevant. There must be bread.

To most, bread means the plain white one you can buy from any bakery. It is so common it has become subject to the country’s health policy. Both the recipe and price is administered by a baker’s association, and recently they have both reduced the salt content and introduced bran to the recipe.

But today’s post is not about this bread. It’s about one of the best breads the Turks have to offer. The one that is brought out at more important occasions. It’s about pide.

Making of Turkish flatbread with za'atar - recipe - A kitchen in Istanbul

Pide is perhaps best known as Turkish pizza, shaped a little like a ship. But it is also the name of a simpler variety, made from the same dough but without any toppings and served alongside meze or other food such as kebabs. Today is all about the latter variety, though on this occasion I’ve subsituted the more traditional sprinkling of sesame seeds or nigella seeds with za’atar, the Middle Eastern herb mix.

The recipe itself is based on an authentic one from Gaziantep, a region in south-eastern Turkey known for its pides (and indeed food in general). I’ve taken it from the wonderful book A Taste of Sun and Fire, a collection of local recipes from five well-known local home cooks. If you’re interested in regional Turkish food, or just good food for that matter, I highly recommend it. I’ve made a few small adjustments to the original but it yields the same delicious result: Airy and soft, yet still slightly chewy, bread. With lots of flavour, without running the risk of overpowering other offerings. Perfect for serving alongside your mezes, or as a snack before the main meal.

Making of Turkish flatbread with za'atar - recipe - A kitchen in Istanbul

Making of Turkish flatbread with za'atar - recipe - A kitchen in Istanbul

A couple of notes on bread baking. I’ve not stipulated times for rising because the variables are too many. Both the temperature of the ingredients, notably the water, and the room in which the dough is left will impact rising times. But since the dough has quite a lot of yeast in it, it won’t take long. Both my water and my room temperature is around 24-25 C these days (summer’s still going strong in Istanbul) and for me each of the three main rises take between 30 and 60 minutes. That makes these pide a 2-3 hour project. If it is a little cooler where you are, it may take slightly longer.

If I have enough time, I tend to put the dough in the fridge for the second rise (that is, after all the flour has been added – see recipe below). This doesn’t quite pause the development of the dough but it slows it down considerably, allowing flavours to develop even further. If you do this, it should be ready after 4-6 hours, but you can leave it up to 24 hours. In fact, don’t worry if you leave it a little too long on this particular rise, because the dough will be knocked back down and have a chance to rise again.

Making of Turkish flatbread with za'atar - recipe - A kitchen in Istanbul

Another way of slowing the process to extract more flavour is to use less yeast, but I don’t recommend that in this recipe – the texture of the bread just won’t be the same. It’ll surely be delicious. But it’ll likely be more like foccaccia and less like pide in texture.

The other point I would make is about the baking itself. Pide is typically baked in a stone oven on a high heat. The book even suggests the best results are achieved by just bringing your desired toppings to your local bakery and have them bake it, using their own dough. But, it says “they can be made at home by preheating the oven to the highest temperature”.

Because bringing your toppings, in this case olive oil, za’atar and salt, to the local bakery and asking them to make a pide is impractical for most of us, even those of us living in Turkey. And I’d even say the book is a little pessimistic – you can make pide in your home oven which will taste better than what many bakers offer. A few tricks will help you along the way, though. Set the oven as high as it can go. Mine maxes out at 300 C, so that’s what I use. Better still, put a baking stone in the oven prior to heating it. This provides heat from underneath, helping those nice big air bubbles form and keeping the temperature drop when you open the oven door to put your pide in to a minimum. I use a custom cut piece of granite, but I’ve heard of people using bricks and other things too. A pizza stone or pizza steel is of course great for this. But do some research: when I lived in London I also had a granite piece. I bought it online, sold as a cutting board at less than a quarter of the price of virtually exactly the same granite pieces sold as baking stones.

And one final note. I use fresh yeast because I can and I find it always yields superior results to dried yeast. If they don’t sell fresh yeast where you are, or it’s impractical to get it, use dried. Nigella Lawson says if you use active dry yeast, halve the amount, and if you use instant yeast, use 1/4 of the amount.

Yields 4 pide, more than enough for 4 people.

Turkish flatbread with za'atar (Zahterli pide) - recipe - A kitchen in Istanbul

Ingredients

  • 500 g strong white bread flour
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 25 g fresh yeast, crumbled (or equivalent active dry yeast or instant yeast, see above)
  • 350 ml water, at room temperature or cooler
  • 10 g salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to top
  • za’atar, to top
  • flaky sea salt, to top (I use Maldon)

My method

  1. Mix 350 g of the flour, the sugar, yeast and water to a wet dough. Cover with clingfilm or a lid and leave until it bubbles and it’s doubled in size. This is called making a poolish, and allows the yeast to develop in a wetter (and therefore more yeast friendly) environment before adding salt (which kills yeast).
  2. Mix in the rest of the flour as well as the salt and olive oil. Use a kitchen machine to knead at high speed until the dough lets go of the bowl, 2-3 minutes with my Kenwood. Cover with clingfilm or lid and leave to rise until doubled in size again. This rise may also be done in the fridge, in which case you can leave it up to 24 hours (though it will be ready after 4-6, perhaps even earlier).
  3. Beat the dough back down by folding the edges towards the middle 4-5 times, turning the bowl as you go along. Wet your hands with a little water first to avoid the dough sticking too much to your hands. Cover again and leave to rise until doubled one final time.
  4. Set the oven to maximum heat (300 C for my oven). Remember to put the baking stone in, if you have one.
  5. Scrape the dough out onto your work surface, cut into four and shape into rounds. Do it whichever way is more comfortable for you, then leave for 15-20 minutes. I do it like this: Scrape the dough onto a non-floured surface. Sprinkle a little flour on top. Use a metal dough scrape to turn the dough upside down, leaving the floured side down. Cut into four pieces. Fold each piece towards the middle from each side, flip over again and work between your hand and the dough scrape to a nice, round shape before leaving it for 15-20 minutes (as already mentioned).
  6. Use your hands to shape the balls to drop-shaped pide. They should be around 1 cm thick, a little more on the edges and transfer to a sheet of baking paper or a baking paddle, if you have one, sprinkled with flour. Dent the top using the tips of your fingers. Brush or sprinkle with olive oil and sprinkle some za’atar and flaky sea salt on top. If you want an even softer end result, use a perhaps more traditional milk and egg mixture instead of olive oil. Bake until the pide has started to colour, 5-6 minutes in my 300 C oven – longer if yours maxes out at something less. Repeat with the other balls – you may be able to bake them in pairs depending on how large you make them.

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1 Comment

  • I am an American citizen who spent his youth in Istanbul (where I was born). After years of experimenting I found a technique which satisfies me, although I am trying to improve it still, at age 66.
    2 cups of room temp water
    1/4 teaspoon dry yeast
    4 cups of flour
    1 Tablespoon of kosher salt (if using common salt, cut the amount in half)
    Add the ingredients in a large bowl in the order listed. Just mix with a wooden spoon until the dry ingredients are mixed with the water. It will look shaggy and ugly. Cover bowl with stretch film and leave at room temp for about 24 hrs. Resulting dough will be very slack. Pour it into a container with plenty of flour (which can be reused as many times as you wish). Sprinkle some flour on the wet dough, cover your hands with flour, try to stretch and fold the dough. Cut in two, shape into two balls and place in smaller bowls sprayed with cooking oil, cover loosely with plastic bags. Let rest until they rise to double. About an hour or so. No precision required. Heat the oven to max temp with stone or steel in it. Dump one of the bowls in the same flour you used before, flip it, stretch it some into a circle. Place on pizza peel covered with flour, or corn meal, or parchment paper.
    Stretch and shape to final form, wet surface with water, sprinkle some nigella seeds, slide onto cooking surface. In my oven which goes to 550F on a stone, it takes about 8 minutes. I just bought a half inch thick steel, I expect a shorter baking time, but I need to experiment.
    My original technique receives accolades from Turks saying this has the flavors they remember from childhood.

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