The flatbreads I became devoted to in Saudi Arabia are nothing like this semolina bread that accompanies tagine in Marrakech. In her book, The Food of Morocco, Paula Wolfert describes this unique flatbread as so popular in the city that you can find it sold almost everywhere by street vendors. It has a texture that can soak up the spicy tagine juices, and a remarkable flavor that had my family begging for me to make more. It’s so good that I have seriously looked into buying semolina flour in bulk.
I have collected several of Wolfert’s books over the years, and this new one is such a treat. Her stories and insights make this more than just a cookbook; it’s a guide, a visually glorious trip through the cities, towns, and villages of Morocco. I found myself pouring over the pages and plotting to search for ingredients such as cardoon or make my own smen (a cultured and aged butter), so if you have an interest in the food of Morocco, beware the power of this book. You just might find yourself making flatbreads, harissa, tagines, preserving lemons, and stashing an earthenware jug full of smen to age for at least a year in your pantry.
The bread is easy, once you get the hang of it. I didn’t hit a homerun the first time due to the vagaries of my oven which didn’t brown the top of the loaves when I tried baking at the very bottom of the oven, or even the second time when the boys distracted me to the point that I accidently skipped the first rise and couldn’t figure out why I was manhandling some seriously sticky dough. (Just because boys grow older doesn’t necessarily mean they are any less underfoot when I’m in the middle of a project.)
The recipe calls for making four loaves, which we find quite large, so I make 6 smaller loaves. I decided to stick with my preferred method of rising on parchment with some semolina sprinkled to keep it from sticking to the peel. That just comes from bad experiences of scraping beautifully risen dough off the peel into misshapen lumps, I know I have to get over it someday. I also prefer melted butter for brushing on the top of the bread before baking as it gives a nice golden color, then I like to dust a little semolina over it before sliding the loaves into the oven.
MARRAKECH TAGINE BREAD
Adapted from The Food of Morocco, by Paula Wolfert.
Makes 4 to 6 loaves.
5-cup food processor
pizza peel or baking sheet
parchment (optional, see below)
2-1/2 cups (420 g) semolina flour, plus extra for sprinkling
1 cup (120 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons rapid rise yeast
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1-3/4 cups (420 ml) lukewarm water, about 105° F/41° C
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (or milk)
1. In the work bowl of the food processor, combine the semolina flour, unbleached all-purpose flour, yeast, salt, and sugar. Pulse until it’s all mixed together. While the machine is running, slowly pour in the warm water and olive oil, and process until it’s all mixed and you have a dough that is silky-smooth. It may feel slightly to very sticky, depending on humidity. If it’s too wet, as in runny, add another tablespoon or so of all-purpose flour and process until it’s mixed in.
2. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and lightly turn it over a couple times to make the dough smooth, elastic, and satiny. Cover with a cloth and let it rest for 15 minutes.
3. Punch the dough down, turn it over, and divide into 4 or 6 equal pieces. Flatten each piece into a round about 1/4-inch (0.64 cm) tall. Lay a piece of parchment (optional) on a large pizza peel or the back side of a baking sheet and sprinkle it with additional semolina and lay the rounds on it, side by side. Cover with a tea towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes.
4. While the dough is rising, position the oven rack on the lowest rung in the oven and place the baking stone on it. Preheat the oven to 400° F/200° C.
5. Press the center of each round with the palm of your hand to deflate it, then prick with a fork a couple times. The loaf should hold its shape. Brush each round with the melted butter. Immediately slide Immediately slide the loaves onto the hot stone and bake until the tops are golden and the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom, about 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a towel-lined board to cool.
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