Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Meet the Laffa - A Middle Eastern Tortilla

A stack of various breads in a local farmer's market in Jerusalem. The laffa can be seen in the right corner.

As the cradle of Western civilization, the Middle East is, of course, also the source of many of our most familiar things. The first beer, for instance, was likely brewed in Egypt. There are even recipes for brewing beer written in hieroglyphics. So, too, the first wine, and even the first breads. The discovery of wheat near early towns and villages no doubt led to the first breads, at first by accident then on purpose. Without a doubt these breads were flat breads at first Only later, when rising action was discovered and developed, did we get loaves of bread instead of flat hard 'cracker-like' breads that were easy to store and carry but probably not too tasty. The laffa, as such, would be a relative latecomer to the this crowded field, since it contains yeast, but it is so popular everywhere in the Middle East, and so tasty to boot, I just have to show you how to make it. Originally the laffa probably comes from Lebanon, Syria or even Turkey. Today it is found everywhere and is used for everything from wrapping up a good shawarma or falafel or even just salad greens topped off with some fire-grilled eggplant. All covered, of course, with garlic-infused tehina paste and maybe some hot sauce like schug, the Yemenite fiery chili pepper sauce. Here is a version of the laffa that is both easy to make and quick. It is perfect for picnics or just regular grill parties. Use them to wrap all your favorites like sliced grilled chicken breast like a fajita, for instance. Or with your favorite veggie filling. Whatever you choose, the laffa is delicious and, IMHO even more practical that the tortilla. This is because it is softer, absorbs the juices better than tortillas, and therefore leaks less. Don't get me wrong, I like tortillas too. Maybe I just have a soft spot for something local. Whatever, I'm sure you'll love them. Yum!!

Laffa - A Middle Eastern tortilla (with yeast)

What You'll Need

3½ c bread flour
25g (1oz) fresh yeast or about 7g dry yeast
1½ c water
1 tbs sugar
½ tbs salt
2 tbs olive oil
A collection of flat breads in a farmer's market in Jerusalem. The laffa, with (green herbed bread) and without za'atar and olive oil  can be seen in the foreground.

What You'll Need To Do
1. Mix the yeast and flour in a mixer with a kneading hook. Add the water, sugar, salt, & oil and knead for 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and shiny, and slightly sticky.
2. Transfer the dough to a large greased bowl. Turn in the bowl to make sure it is covered in oil and cover with cling wrap and allow to rise to double its size. This will take about an hour or so.
3. Divide the dough into 6 parts, rolling each into a ball. Cover with a moist towel and leave for 10 minutes to rest.
4. Roll each ball into a disk 30- 35cm  (12 to 15 inches) across.
5. Bake at 180 C (350 F) for about 10 minutes.
6. Remove from the oven and immediately cover with a dish towel.
OR, toast with oil in a frying pan. Turn over when brown scorch marks begin to appear. Then, toast for minute. Stack the laffot, covered by a towel. 

The classic baking book The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion: The All-Purpose Baking Cookbook has a great collection of flat breads, including one, similar to this using boiling water! It is definitely worth checking out.
In rural areas of the Middle East, the laffa is made in/on a taboon. This is a stone oven heated with a wood fire to very high temperatures. The laffa is often rolled out and then slapped onto the roof of the taboon to 'bake' very quickly, often only a minute or so. The taboon exists in one form or another all over the Middle East and even in India where it is called a tandoor. (Think tandoori chicken - another story for another post!) The closest equivalent we can have in a modern Western kitchen is the un-greased frying pan heated to a high temperature (just smoking). The end product is very much like the real thing. Yum!!
* To make the laffa really authentic, try brushing with a little olive oil as soon as it is baked then sprinkling some za'atar (hyssop available in Middle East groceries)) over it and maybe some coarse salt. 


  1. Thank-you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I have been looking for this recipe forever! I just didn't know what it was called. I can't believe how many different kinds of Flatbreads there are. can be very confusing. Thanks, again

  2. So glad I could help you out. You're right there are many, many kinds of flat breads. Keep coming back for more bread recipes all the time, and please pass the url along to all your friends! All the best,

  3. Going to pin this, looks great! I love Lafah bread, just never had a good recipe...will let you know how it turns out! Thanks!

    1. This is a variation on a classic Israeli recipe. It tastes great and is not difficult. Keep me up to date on how it works out.

  4. Not sure why you call for so much yeast..?
    I put 4 g (active dry yeast) and cooked on very hot cast iron skillet on the gas stove top, turned out well, but for some reason it separated with an air pocket in the middle, like regular pita. May be I should put more yeast..? ;-)

    Toda :-)

    1. The yeast at first glance looks excessive to me too, actually. I think the problem is in the kind of yeast. For 3 1/2 cups of AP flour, 25g of fresh yeast would be right, and half that, about 11 or 12 grams (1 Tbs) of dry yeast. As to the bread separating, that is a function of the temperature of the oven. If the oven is too hot (like for a pita, say) then the water in the dough becomes steam which puffs the bread, making the pocket. Try lowering the temperature to 350F or 180C.

  5. David...tried this recipe and followed it to the T. Wow!!!! everyone was more than impressed. Cooked on a large skillet sprayed with olive oil. All I can say is you have something great there.

    1. Glad you liked the recipe. I only post recipes that I try myself. This makes it more personal, of course, but also, I can speak from my personal experience. BTW, how did you find Breadmantalking?

  6. David...just came back to site to make MORE laffa for family and friends who are clamoring at the gates for more!!..found your site through google by typing in laffa. Reviewed other recipes but those had something missing. Your pictures along with stories caught my interest and the rest is in the yeast!!! Also if I might add I liked your observation on the tortilla-I make and enjoy them but there is a distinct place for each bread(??)...in my humble opinion, sometime east does not meet south(west).

  7. Hi - Are you sure the yeast amount is correct?

    Your recipe is almost identical to the one posted here (http://www.theglobaljewishkitchen.com/2011/04/29/laffa-bread/) but it has a 1/4 of the yeast - they only use 1 package (about 7 grams).

    1. You are absolutely correct, and thanks for pointing this out. The correct amount of yeast for fresh yeast is around 25g but for dry yeast (which is what I always use) the correct amount would be about 1/3 of that or around 7g or 8g. I will correct the error.

  8. Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit a new little family run restaurant down here. What a lovely time we had...the proprietor and family are Israeli. Absolutely delicious foods. We got there around 11am, so they'd not had time to cook the shawarma, and I 'promised' to come back, later in the evening. I ended up ordering a falafel/pita sandwich at that point, which was wonderful. Later, when I went back, I asked about the other type of flatbread, which they had listed as 'lafa', as I'd never heard of that one! He'd just gotten in a lovely fresh, still oven warm batch, and prepared my shawarma with it. Yummmm!
    Now, thanks to you!!! I can make some at home!

    1. This is not a complicated recipe as it is the kind of food eaten by people all over the Middle East as 'street food'. Enjoy. Like I wrote in the title to this post, it is a Middle Eastern tortilla, another kind of 'street food', just from a different culture.