Saturday, July 24, 2010

Down the Silk Road - Bucharian Bread

The Silk Road was first described to Europeans by Marco Polo in the 13th century. Yes, that's right, the 13th century about 800 years ago. It was a road that led from the bazaars of the Middle East, all the way across Asia and ended, finally, in China. It was named after one of the most precious commodities traded at the time - silk. The Europeans wanted it badly and were willing to pay a high price. China had it and was only too willing to oblige (with the high price, I mean). And so, nomadic traders, often on camels trekked across the deserts of Central Asia with gold and silver from Europe, and returned with silk and spices from China and other places in the Far East.

One of the places they passed on the way was Bucharia, today in the Republics of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in Central Asia. There today, as in the days of Marco Polo, bakers used outside stone ovens called a taboon. Probably few of you have a taboon in your back yard. Still, a very good approximation can be baked in a modern home oven using a baking stone. This is a simple bread, using simple ingredients. And most important, it is extremely delicious. This recipe came to me by way of a very old Bucharian woman who looks like she, herself accompanied Marco Polo on his trek across Asia. Probably didn't, but her ingredient measurements and timing are inexact in the way of experienced bakers who work by feel taste and touch. A handful of this, and two pinches of that. She uses a taboon! I have reconstructed the recipe for a modern kitchen.

Here is what you'll need:
1 kg (2.2 lbs.) AP flour
50g (1/4 cup) active dry yeast
1 Tbs. salt
2 Tbs. sugar
about 3 1/2 cups water 

Here is what you'll need to do:
Mix all the ingredients together, add ing the water slowly, until you have a not too sticky dough. It should be tacky, but not sticky. Knead for 5 to 10 minutes until smooth. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat, then cover and let it rise until doubled, about an hour.

Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces, then form them into rough squares (like in the photo) using oiled hands. After forming let the squares rise about another 20 minutes. 

Preheat the oven to 180C (350 F). Brush the squares with egg then sprinkle some sesame seeds on top. Place the squares gently on the baking stone. Bake for about 20 minutes until golden brown. You could use a baking sheet but, honestly, they are so much better when baked on the stone!  I added a little cheese in the middle which is optional. Yum!!

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