The Fresh Loaf

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Persian/Iranian Barbari Bread

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Omid's picture
Omid

Persian/Iranian Barbari Bread

Greetings! I am a new member here, and this is my very first post. So, allow me to briefly introduce myself. My name is Omid, from Southern California. About two years ago, I brought my law career to an abrupt end after working for many years in the field of civil litigation. I just had to find a new undertaking, a new reason to seduce me to life, something "creative". So, I have been working as an aspiring pizzaiolo, not without some prior experience, in a Neapolitan pizzeria for the past two years. On the side, I try to bake breads at home as much as time allows me. I find it quite riveting when one can discipline one’s own senses and hands, with all the hardship and sacrifice that it may entail, in order to transform raw materials (such as water, flour, salt, and a fermentative agent) into a work of art, in which one can find oneself, define oneself, overcome oneself, recreate oneself. In my assessment, the psychology of baking is just as important as the act of baking itself. In other words, baking is about transforming the raw materials as much as it is about transforming oneself, cultivating oneself, building artistic character. As German philosopher Karl Marx eloquently expressed, “As man works on nature outside himself and changes it, he changes at the same time his own nature.”

Upon scanning this forum, I noticed that barbari bread has not been discussed in appreciable details here. I am by no means a professional barbari baker, but I will try to make contributions, if the members are interested, as much as time allows and as far as my knowledge can assist me in this matter. Once upon a time, I did one year of internship (six hours per week) at a traditional barbari bakery in Tehran, Iran. Unfortunately, back then I was too impatient and not entirely interested to absorb everything.

Last Monday, I baked some mini barbari breads, using the basic recipe hereunder. (In passing, allow me to interject by stating: Experience has taught me that, recipes make breads no more than sermons make saints! By analogy, I believe, a recipe is like a map, and as the great maxim has it, “The map is not the territory.” I think what are more fundamental than recipes are the underlying principles of bread-making and, above all, the artistic character of the baker or aspiring baker.)

King Arthur all-purpose flour: 2200 gr. (datum point)
Water: 1518 gr. (69%)
Salt: 44 gr. (2%)
Sourdough culture: 176 gr. (8%)

Mixer: Santos Fork Mixer (84 RPM)
Straight Dough: Water (65.7˚F)  Sea Salt  Sourdough Culture (71˚F)  Flour (64.2˚F)
Mix Time: 5 Minutes & 33 Seconds
Rest Time (After Mixing): 20 Min

Duration of Mass fermentation: About 10 hours at room temperature
Duration of Ball fermentation: About 4 hours at room temperature
Weight of Each Ball: About 300 gr.

Oven: Forno Piccolo brick oven by Forno Classico
Floor temperature: 450 to 500˚F
Fuel: Propane Gas
Bake Mode: Interactive

Bake Time: About 8 to 12 minutes each

Barbari dough mass at the end of mixing for 5 minutes and 33 seconds

Barbari dough mass at the end of mixing

Barbari dough taken out of the mixer bowl after 20 minutes of rest

Barbari dough mass taken out of the mixer bowl after 20 minutes of rest

Barbari dough mass shaped into a ball

Barbari dough mass formed into a round shape

Mass fermentation begins

Barbari dough placed inside a container to undergo the initial fermentation

End of mass fermentation

Barbari dough after about 10 hours of initial fermentation

Dough balls are formed

Dough balls are formed

Dough balls reached maturation

Dough balls reaching maturation after about 4 hours

Dough balls are placed on worktable, resting for about 15 minutes while covered

Dough balls are placed on the worktable (dusted with whole wheat flour), resting for about 15 to 20 minutes while covered

Three dough balls are sauced, grooved, and topped with sesame seeds

Three dough balls are sauced, grooved, and topped with sesame seeds. They will be launched on the oven floor after they are hand-stretched.

Barbari breads in the process of baking inside the brick oven

Barbari breads in the process of baking inside the brick oven

Barbari breads in the process of baking inside the brick oven

Barbari breads in the process of baking inside the brick oven

Barbari breads in the process of baking inside the brick oven

Barbari breads are baked

Next three dough balls are sauced, grooved, and topped with sesame seeds

The next three dough balls are sauced, grooved, and topped with sesame seeds. They will be launched on the oven floor after they are hand-stretched.

Barbari breads in the process of baking inside the oven

Barbari breads in the process of baking inside the brick oven

Barbari breads in the process of baking inside the oven

Barbari breads in the process of baking inside the brick oven

Barbari breads in the process of baking inside the oven

Barbari breads are baked

Omid's picture
Omid

Continued . . .

Barbari dough is stretched and placed on the wooden peel

Barbari dough is stretched and placed on the wooden peel

Barbari breads in the process of baking inside the oven

The third barbari dough is stretched and placed on the wooden peel

Barbari bread in the process of baking inside the oven

Barbari bread in the process of baking inside the oven

Barbari bread in the process of baking inside the oven

Barbari crumbs

Barbari crumbs

mdvpc's picture
mdvpc

Very nice!  I too am a lawyer, retired now.  I had not heard about this type of bread, thanks for posting.

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Thanks for the post. What is the recipe for the sauce that you mention?

Paul

Antilope's picture
Antilope

Is the final bread dry like a cracker or soft? 

dsadowsk's picture
dsadowsk

My summary judgment is that the barbari looks very appealing.

How are these loaves traditionally eaten? Dipped in oil?

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

but it sure looks fantastic!  Just beautiful,  What sauce are you using?

Well done and welcome to TFL!

kygin's picture
kygin

  

And I love the quote....

>>recipes make breads no more than sermons make saints!

A world of truth in that one!

 

 
M2's picture
M2

This bread is available in our local grocery stores and I always eat them with my eyes :-)  Thank for for sharing all these amazing photos.  I have the same questions that other TFLers have asked.

Welcome to the TFL community!

Michelle

breadsong's picture
breadsong

Hello,
Your Barbari breads are beautiful! Your fork mixer looks like it does a wonderful job of developing the dough.
Thank you for the formula and illustrative pictures of the process to make this bread.
:^) breadsong

Mirko's picture
Mirko

could you please explain what you mean sourdough starter (8%)? You just used 176gr starter or sourdough fermented 12-16h?

by the way bread looks amazing

Mirko

clazar123's picture
clazar123

They are so regular and yet look like fingerpokes. 

Is oil brushed on before the sesame seeds? Is that the "sauce"?

Beautiful bread! I have been looking for some Persian/Assyrian breads to try.

Thank you!! Beautiful post!

yozzause's picture
yozzause

Hi Omid

Welcome to TFL and thanks for a very informative post that i think a good few members will have a shot at, Including myself.

i am very interested in the propane lance firing arrangement for the brick oven if you could elaborate on that would be wonderful, i have long been thinking of a similar arrangement for our WFO  either during high fire danger times or unfavourable wind conditions for the smoke or just to get more use of the said oven.

Many thanks and kind regards Derek 

Omid's picture
Omid

Dear members, I thank you for your patience and generous compliments. Although I am not a professional barbari baker, I will do my best to answer your questions. Before I do so, allow me to make some prefatory remarks. Since bread, culture, and history go hand-in-hand, I will complement my remarks with some historical and cultural information germane to the subject matter.

§1. History of Iranian Barbari Bread

Barbari bread of Iran seems to have scanty and highly speculative history; no one seems to know for sure the origin(s) of this bread in Iran. Similar types of breads are also produced in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Turkey under different names. Nonetheless, they can be distinguished from the Iranian barbari by the recipes, preparatory procedures, geometric configurations, and ovens they employ to prepare them, with the exception that Turks and Iranians generally use the same type of masonry, brick-domed, wood-fired ovens to bake the breads in.

In Persian, the adjective barbari means “of barbars”. And, the noun barbar means “barbarian” or “foreigner”. Some hypothetically attribute the barbari bread to the Hazara people (a people that are said to be of Mongolian and Turkic ancestry) who began to migrate from Afghanistan to Persia (the modern-day Iran) about or over two centuries ago. According to this hypothesis, the Hazara, whom the Persians referred to as the “barbars”, began baking the flatbreads which Persians eventually named “barbari bread”, the bread of barbarians/foreigners. It is said that Hazara of central Afghanistan are skillful bakers, and bread-making is one of their main occupations.

According to another hypothesis, the barbari bread of Iran is of Turkic origin. Keep in mind that the Turkic people (who are diverse people)—before migrating to northern Iran, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and conquering Byzantium and Anatolia (collectively known as the modern-day Turkey)—inhabited the land that was in close proximity to Hazara in Afghanistan. It is said that the Turkic people, similar to Hazara, are genealogically related to Mongolians. In the 13th century, the Mongol Empire encompassed much of Eurasia, including modern Afghanistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Turkey.

 

Akin to the Neapolitan pizza which transformed into the New York-style pizza in New York in early 1900s, the proto-barbari likewise underwent a transformational process to reach its present form in Iran. Whatever might be the genesis of the Iranian/Persian barbari bread, it is an integral part of the culinary landscape of the land. It is believed that barbari bread has been mainstream in Persia since late 1700s, when the Qajar Dynasty (whose kings were of Turkic origin) began to rule over Persia.

§2. Physical Appearance, Anatomy, and Characteristics of Iranian Barbari Bread

The geometric shape of typical Iranian barbari consists of a flat, three-dimensional, rectangular plane. The approximate measurements of the length, width, and depth of the flatbread are: 60-70 cm, 20-23 cm, and 2.5-3.5 cm, respectively. The two ends of the flatbread, lengthwise, are rounded rather than being straight lines. (See the picture below.)

In certain regions of Iran, such as around the Caspian Sea, the flatbread often takes on a round or roundish shape. Nonetheless, the rectangular configuration is popularly considered the norm. Naturally, the provincial variations, in terms of dough formulation and geometric configuration of the bread, have always been present. Reproductions of cultural products sometimes do not have immunity to mutations.

The adoption of the industrialized/mechanized, commercial barbari ovens and other automatizing bakery machines within the last two decades by new waves of Iranian bakers (many of whom are neither professional nor traditionalist bakers) have brought about unprecedented changes to the traditional composition and dimensions of the bread in order to render it machinable—often at the cost of diminishing the bread qualities. In addition, the ever-increasing demands for bread, which is an indispensible and substantial part of the daily Iranian diet, has effectuated changes in the overall production of barbari. Such changes are importantly predicated on the rate of production and quantity, rather than quality, of the breads. At last, the bread production and political economy have always been interlinked in Iran. The US sanctions in the last two decades have taken heavy toll on the bread industry in Iran. The orthodox bakers construe these socio-economic changes as imminent threats to the traditionalisms of barbari and other types of Iranian flatbreads. Therefore, one should not be surprised to encounter barbari breads, both inside and outside of Iran, that may not have much in common with my description of traditional barbari bread. Of course, my description is a construal according to my best understanding of the tradition. Thus, it is always open to revisions as my understanding of the tradition expands. I kindly invite barbari aficionados to contribute to this thread. 

The anatomy and attributes of traditional barbari bread ideally consist of:

1. "Top crust"

  • Description: “Top crust” refers to the crusty skin that covers the entire visible, top surface of the bread.
  • Characteristics: The top crust should be lively golden brown (not dark brown) in color and crisp in texture without being excessively dry, brittle, and flakey like a cracker.

2. "Bottom crust"

  • Description: “Bottom crust” refers to the crusty skin that covers the entire bottom surface of the bread.
  • Characteristics: The bottom crust is lighter in color than the top-crust and crisp in texture without being excessively dry, brittle, and flakey like a cracker.

3. "Bulges"

  • Description: There are two bulges on each rounded end of the bread. In Persian, the bulges are technically known as gonbadbālesh, or ghos, literally meaning "pillow", "dome", and "arch", respectively.
  • Characteristics: The two bulges are more elevated or inflated that the rest of the top surface between them. The interior of the bulges are airy and moderately soft.

4. "Grooves"

  • Description: There are parallel grooves extending through the length of the top surface of the bread from one bulge to the other. The grooves are technically known as sheeyar or dandeh, literally meaning “indentation” and “ribs”, respectively.
  • Characteristics: The grooves should not overstep the two bulges on each end, and the grooves should not make it difficult to separate the top-crust from the bottom-crust by using your fingers. In other words, the seams, created by the grooves, should be loose enough to enable you to detach the top from the bottom crust without tears developing along the seams.

5. "Crumb"

  • Description: “Crumb” refers to the entire inner, fleshy part of the bread enveloped inside the top and bottom crusts.
  • Characteristics: The crumb should be airy, light, and moderately soft in texture; moderately sour if sourdough culture is used; not yeasty if baker’s yeast is used; subtly sweet and nutty in flavor; not doughy; not overly chewy; easily digestible)

When fresh, the flatbread as a whole should feel firm, yet flexible enough—without being floppy or soggy. Occasionally, French tourists who visit Iran view barbari bread as a “flat baguette”, yet its flavors are not identical but similar to a degree. I would add that baguettes, on average, are firmer than barbaris. The former usually bakes for a longer period of time (more dehydration) than the latter. Moreover, by virtue of the fact that one is flat and the other bulky, they bake differently, which impacts the flavors and crustal developments. For me, living here in southern California, a good baguette is the closest substitute to barbari. Both are sublime!

§3. Barbari Dough

Traditional barbari dough of Iran is comprised of only (1) wheat flour, (2) water, (3) salt, and (4) sourdough culture or baker’s yeast. That is all. The third-generation master baker that used to supervise my work at the barbari bakery in Tehran considered adding any elements beyond the four ingredients as an “act of sacrilege”. He particularly felt indignation toward those bakers who used baking soda/powder in their recipes. Although the Iranian Ministry of Health has banned, for sound reasons, the use of baking soda/powder in the commercial productions of many types of breads, there are renegade bakers who still keep on using these chemical leavening agents in both the dough and barbari sauce.

If you do an online search, you will see that about 99% of the barbari recipes on the Internet use sugar, oil, and baking soda/powder. Some of them even prescribe milk, yogurt, butter, eggs, date syrup, grape juice, etc. According to the guidelines issued by the Institute of Standards, which is a governmental agency of the Republic of Iran in charge of food quality control, no other ingredients other than wheat flour, water, salt, and sourdough culture (or baker’s yeast) should be used in preparing barbari dough. Moreover, per the studies conducted on Iranian breads in 1980 by the College of Agriculture Research Center of Washington State University, barbari dough is composed only of the four aforementioned ingredients. 

Since early 1970s, many barbari bakeries in Iran stopped using sourdough cultures and began using baker’s yeast instead. The traditionalist bakers, who are few, still use sourdough cultures in preparing barbari dough. The Institute of Standards gives priority to the use of sourdough over baker’s yeast. In my assessment, each has its own unique merits.

§4. Barbari Flour

The type of white wheat flour used in making barbari dough in Iran is known as ard-e setareh, which literally means "star flour". The flour typically has the following parameters:

  • Extraction rate: 82%
  • Protein (minimum amount in the dry matter): 10%
  • Wet gluten (minimum): 25%
  • Moisture (maximum): 14.2%
  • Ash in the dry matter (maximum): 0.581-0.70%
  • Insoluble ash in acid (maximum): 0.50%
  • pH: 6.5-5.6

The above parameters were emailed to me by the Department of Agriculture of University of Shiraz in Shiraz, Iran. I was also sent the average sizes of the flour particles which I did not list above. I will do so if you are interested. So far, I have had satisfactory results with using medium strength flours such as all-purpose flours. I personally would avoid strong or high gluten flours for making barbari dough.

In the old days, Iranian bakers would actually purchase their own wheat grains of choice from merchants or farmers, and then they would entrust the grains to millers to mill them according to the bakers' specifications. Some bakers would actually take on the task of milling the grains themselves. Such practices are still extant in some remote villages in Iran.  

§5. Barbari Preparation

According to some professional barbari bakers in Iran, barbari dough is prepared as a “straight dough”, applying moderate amount of mixing and using the “double-rise” or "indirect" method at room temperature, never inside a refrigerator. Nonetheless, some professional bakers do not use the straight dough method; they mix water, flour, and salt (or no salt), and let the mixture sit for about 1 to 3 hours inside the mixer bowl before adding the fermentative agent (and salt if it was omitted earlier), followed by overnight bulk fermentation and, thereafter, fermentation in balls. There are other variations and methods, such as the "direct" method, which may include using preferments. Regardless of what procedure is employed, barbari dough must never undergo cold fermentation. A competent baker formulates her or his dough in a way that it can be adapted to the ambient temperature and atmospheric conditions.

In the old days, it was a commonplace for barbari bakers to formulate their doughs to withstand long fermentation time for the sake of better keeping qualities, digestibility, and flavor. However, many of them have cut back on the fermentation time because of the pressures and complexities of modern life, or simply because of lack of education in re dough bio-chemistry. Some bakeries take no more than 4 hours to prepare their doughs before baking. This kind of inauspicious cutback on fermentation time is one of the reasons that such bakers often resort to using baking soda/powder in order to chemically hasten dough leavening, which actually dawdles or jeopardizes biological fermentation by micro-organisms and curtails the bread aroma, producing breads of debased qualities.

To demonstrate how I prepare barbari breads at home (which, as you can imagine, is different than a commercial environment and has certain limitations), I am going to use the pictures of a bake session I had about four weeks ago. In my attempt to prepare barbari dough for the session, I employed the formula hereunder, in addition to using the straight dough method and double-rise (indirect) method.

  • Setareh Flour: 2200 gr. (Datum Point)
  • Water: 1496 gr. (68%) I wished I had used about 70% of hydration
  • Sea Salt: 44 gr. (2%)
  • Fresh Yeast: 1.47 gr. (0.067%) 

Per the tradition and for practical reasons, water is always the first ingredient to enter the mixer bowl. Then, all the salt is dissolved in the water. Next, the fresh yeast or sourdough culture is dissolved therein. And, at last, the flour is added. Using my Santos fork mixer (84 RPM), I mixed the ingredients for 5 minutes and 49 seconds whereby the dough reached my desired rheological qualities. (In Iran, fork mixers are often referred to as the “barbari mixers” since they are the mixers of choice for preparing barbari dough. The commercial fork mixers used in Iran for the purpose of preparing traditional barbari dough have fork speeds of about 25 to 35 RPM—because the dough needs to develop slowly and without heating up during mixing.) After mixing was over, I let the dough mass rest for about 20 minutes inside the mixer bowl. (See the picture below.)

Thereafter, I took the dough mass out of the mixer bowl and placed it on the countertop, whereupon I shaped it into a ball after re-examining it for the following physical properties: degrees of dough extensibility, elasticity, and consistency. (See the pictures below.)

Next, I placed the dough inside a container to undergo the initial fermentation at room temperature. (See the picture below.)

After about 11 hours of initial fermentation, I took the dough mass out of the container and gently formed my dough balls (about 300 grams each), which were placed inside a dough tray, wherein the final fermentation took place. (See the pictures below.) Generally, dough trays are not used in barbari bakeries. Instead, they use large wooden tables on which the dough balls are placed, covered with tightly knitted burlaps or other suitable materials. However, if there is a lack of workspace, they may resort to using wooden dough trays. Barbari bakeries in Iran normally measure each dough ball (which is technically known as chāneh or chaaneh) at about 650 to 700 grams. However, 700- to 900-gram dough balls are not out of norm in some provinces. The more tightly the dough balls are formed, the longer they take to reach maturation.

I let the dough balls undergo about 5 hours of final fermentation at room temperature until they were ripe enough to be prepared for baking. (See the picture below.)

About an hour before I began to bake the breads, I prepared the barbari sauce, known as roo-maal, which is composed of water and flour only. See the picture below. (On special occasions, minute amount of saffron, the Sovereign of all Persian spices, can be added to the sauce; and, sometimes, the dough is stuffed, after the conclusion of initial fermentation and before making dough balls, with small, skinned chunks of fresh, meaty rotab dates.) I will describe how to prepare the sauce in my next post.

After the dough balls reached maturation, I took them out of the pizza tray and placed them on a worktable covered with pure, coarse, wheat bran. (See the picture below.) I should have used wheat bran composed of much, much finer particles, which is what barbari bakers traditionally use in Iran. My local supermarket only had the coarse wheat bran, so I used it. This was the first time I ever used coarse bran, which fortunately did not negatively affect the bottoms of the breads. Notwithstanding, I think whole wheat flour makes a better substitute if you can not find fine wheat bran.

I covered my dough balls with a plastic sheet, and let them rest for about 15 to 20 minutes on the worktable. At the end, the dough balls should be relaxed and almost effortlessly extensible while possessing enough strength to physically uphold themselves.

Meanwhile, I made sure that my wood-fired oven, fueled with propane gas, maintained the right temperature, about 480 to 550°F on the floor. (See the picture below.) Because of the small size of my oven (25 inches in internal floor diameter), I am faced with some limitations, such as not being able to use live wood-fire for baking my breads. The traditional barbari ovens of Iran, which are masonry, brick-domed, wood-fired ovens (never sunken or tandoor ovens) with a circular hearth, are very large, making it easy to use wood-fire and/or dry shrubs. A traditional barbari oven usually has an internal floor diameter of 300 centimeters (118 inches) and internal dome height of 60 centimeters (23.6 inches). Because of governmental regulations and insufficient supply of firewood, the big-city bakeries currently use fossil fuel, such as gas, in order to heat up their ovens.

Devout barbari bakers of Iran are quite adamant in using the traditional barbari ovens in producing barbari breads. Besides the usual “conduction heat” (from the oven floor) and “convection heat” (from the internal oven atmosphere), baking barbari breads, akin to baking Neapolitan pizzas, by tradition requires “radiation heat” (principally from the light of live flames). Hence, baking barbari breads is an interactive activity rather than loading all the dough loaves inside a dark oven and shutting the oven door until the breads are ready to be taken out. Of course, if a home baker does not have a wood-fired oven, it does not mean that she or he can’t use a conventional gas/electric oven to bake barbaris. I have known individuals who procure good results in baking barbaris inside their conventional ovens. 

After the 15 to 20 minutes of rest period, I poured about 1.5 teaspoon of the barbari sauce on the first three dough balls. (See the picture below.) I can bake only three mini-barbaris at a time inside my oven.

Using my fingers, I evenly spread the barbari sauce, without applying undue pressure, over the faces of the dough balls. Then, I impressed parallel ribs or grooves on the dough balls by using the fingertips of my both hands. (See the picture below.)

Traditionally, no other tools other than the fingertips should be employed to make the grooves. In doing so, the dough should not be scarred or punctured. It is important not to use undue force in handling and shaping the dough. When the dough has the right physical constitution, making the grooves goes smoothly, without difficulties. Manually impressing the grooves is a critical part of the operation. If they are not properly impressed on the face of dough, the oven spring can be negatively impacted, which may have concomitant effects on the texture and flavor of the final product. If the dough loses its buoyancy or collapses unto itself after being grooved, then it does not have the right physical constitution. If possible, avoid re-grooving the grooves that have already been made. If the dough has the right rheological constitution and the grooves are properly made at the first try, there will be no need to reinforce the grooves by re-grooving them, which may unduly toughen the crumb and diminish its fluffy texture. The method of grooving barbari dough is demonstrated in the following videos:





After I grooved my dough balls, I sprinkled raw, not roasted, sesame seeds on them. (See the picture below.) Alternatively, black caraway seeds (Nigella sativa) or both sesame and black caraway seeds can be used, or no seeds at all. For your information, black caraway seeds are also known as “black cumin seeds” in the US. From my perspective, sesame seeds can add a delightful dimension to the flavor of the bread. Some orthodox barbari bakers prefer to forgo addition of any seeds in order to appreciate the innate flavors of the bread by itself. Traditional barbari bakers advise us not to sprinkle excessive amount of seeds on the dough loaves, for the seeds are there to accentuatenot dominatethe subtle flavors of the bread.

So, after I sauced, grooved, and seeded my three barbari dough balls, I inserted my open-hands (either palms up or down) under the first dough, lifted it up, and stretched it in opposite directions along the grooves while placing it on the wooden peel (technically known as pāru or paaroo). (See the picture below.)

Please, note that if the dough balls resist being stretched and keep springing back more or less to their initial shapes, then they do not have the required rheological constitution. (For good reasons, rolling pins ought not to be used in any stages of barbari production.)

At this point, if the dough does not have the right physical constitution (i.e., not having the right degrees of dough elasticity and extensibility), it can stubbornly fight back in being stretched. Almost all barbari beginners go through this frustrating experience, which can negatively impact the texture, hence the flavor, of the final product. Sometimes the opposite can happen, that is, when the dough is excessively relaxed or over-ripe. Consequently, the dough elasticity and extensibility need to be in the right relation to one another.

Below is a video demonstrating the stretch method. Please, notice how relaxed, pliable, and formable the dough balls in the video are. A baker who is in charge of stretching, loading, and baking barbari dough is known as shāter (literally meaning "agile"), which is an honorable title to bear in Iran.




 

After I stretched and positioned the first three dough loaves, one by one, on the wooden peel, I launched them on the oven floor to bake. (See the pictures below.) The traditional barbari ovens in Iran maintain a temperature of about 450 to 550°F, and barbaris bake in them in about 8 to 12 minutes. As I mentioned before, barbari ovens in the old days were fully fueled by firewood, which resulted, according to the traditionalists, in much better bake results than using gas.

§6. Customary Division of Labor in Bakeries

Bread production on commercial scale is of vital importance in Iran. Since time immemorial, bread has been a main part of the Iranian diet. In Iran, the four principal types of breads, all of which are flatbreads, are: (1) sangak, (2) barbari, (3) taftan, and (4) lavash. Additionally there are two popular types of sweet flatbreads: naan-e ghandi, naan-e shirmal, and naan-e roghani. (The word naan or nān—which simply means “bread” without specifying any type thereof in Iran, India, and some other nations—is a Persian word derived from the Old Persian word nagna. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, 5th edition, nagna means, “naked, bare [probably from being baked uncovered in an oven rather than covered in hot ash].”) Consumption of bread reportedly constitutes, on average, 70% of the daily caloric intake in Iran. Accordingly, standing in long bakery lines is part of the daily routines of Iranians. Therefore, to facilitate the daily production of massive number of bread loaves, a customary division of labor has been in place since the distant past. Per the customs, the division of labor in barbari bakeries is as follows:

  1. Khamir-gir (i.e., the “dough preparer”, who is sometimes referred to as the “caliph”)
  2. Vardast (i.e., the “assistant” to the dough preparer and dough-ball preparer)
  3. Chāneh-gir (i.e., the “dough-ball preparer”, who is also in charge of saucing, grooving, and seeding the dough balls)
  4. Shāter (i.e., the “oven-tender”, who is in charge of the task of oven management before and during baking. In addition, she or he is responsible for stretching the dough balls, launching them on the oven floor, and baking them.)

There used to be an hour-long documentary video, professionally made by a French baker, on barbari and sangak (which is the irrefutable queen of all Iranian breads). The documentary, which was titled "Bread and Civilization" is unfortunately no longer available on Youtube. I hope the video resurface.

Any of your questions that were not addressed above, I will answer in my future posts. Have a great day!

Omid

dsadowsk's picture
dsadowsk

Amid, this is an impressive, well researched piece. You really should start a blog here, you have so much to contribute.

Among the many fascinating areas you touch on is the decline in standards in bread baking, a phenomenon repeated in many places around the world in response to economIc pressures. Is there an artisan bread movement in Iran? To sustain an artisan bakery there needs to be customers able and willing to pay the higher prices for bread baked with care. I don't know whether such a customer base exists, in light of worldwide economic conditions and of the effects of sanctions. I also wonder, given what I understand are significant cultural and political differences between rural and urban populations in Iran, whether the traditional breadmaking values that you tell us persist in some village bakeries are appreciated among the comparatively more well-off urban middle class persons who might have more income to buy artisan breads. 

Always more questions, but I hope that providing the answers doesn't interfere with the actual baking!

Don

Omid's picture
Omid

Dear Don, you asked, “Is there an artisan bread movement in Iran?” I do not know. Frankly, I am not even sure what is meant by the term “artisan” as a culinary movement. The term is ubiquitously heard in the culinary circles in the US. Is there an actual, organized artisan bread movement here in the US? Good day!

Omid

breadsong's picture
breadsong

Hello Omid,
Thank you for sharing the not only the history of this bread, but so many helpful details about making it.
I will come back to that mixer - it does an amazing job - so many air bubbles evident in the dough, after mixing and the 20-minute rest. After baking, your bread has the most beautifully- textured, open crumb!
I hope you don't mind a couple of questions. Do you ever take the dough's temperature after mixing?; and,
When examining the dough after mixing for extensibility and elasticity, are you looking for a moderately, or well-developed dough?
Thank you so much for what you've shared regarding this bread!
:^) breadsong

Omid's picture
Omid

Dear Breadsong, in regard to your first question ("Do you ever take the dough's temperature after mixing?"), the answer is "yes", particularly under precarious circumstances. You also asked, "When examining the dough after mixing for extensibility and elasticity, are you looking for a moderately, or well-developed dough?" Under normal circumstances, I look for a moderate or a bit more attenuated degree of gluten development in the dough unless the flour type, ambient temperature, and/or other variables require a different measure. Have a great day!

Omid

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Absolutely fascinating!  

Just found this post and so glad you shared, Omid. Using 8% sourdough starter is right up my alley, long rise time and so much crust!  I just love crust!  Although I can't do this bread justice in a wood oven, I 'm certainly going to try it for it looks like a lot of fun!  (Why do I smell garlic?)  (Garlic and roasting sesame!)  

Welcome to TFL!  

Mini Oven

ElPanadero's picture
ElPanadero

Thanks for this Omid, a very comprehensive and intriguing article.  There is something so much more wholesome and satisfying in seeing and reading about the background, national relevance and cultural aspects of a bread instead of simply being presented with a recipe and photo of the finished product.  This is an excellent contribution and I trust (and hope !) there is more to come, not least a similar breakdown of the other 3 principle breads mentioned (sangak, taftan, and lavash) :-)

I'll have a go a making a home version of this as I am sure others will too.

Many thx

Omid's picture
Omid

As promised, here is my post on the sauce. The traditional barbari sauce (known as roo-maal, literally meaning "top-rub") is composed of only water and flour. That is all, if one desires to strictly adhere to the tradition*. The Institute of Standards of Republic of Iran also endorses water and flour as the sole ingredients for preparing the sauce. Nevertheless, there are many recipes, either in print or online, that call for addition of baking soda/powder, salt, sugar, honey, butter, milk, malted milk, yogurt, egg yoke, corn flour, rice flour, malt, date or grape syrup, rose water, brewed dark tea, et cetera. Actually, some of the aforementioned ingredients are used as the sauce for barbari-like breads produced in certain regions of Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Turkey. For instance, yogurt or egg yoke alone serves as the sauce in parts of Turkey. On the other hand, in certain regions of the nations, no sauce is used at all or just pure water.

As far as I know, only in Iran the sauce is normatively prepared with only water and flour. I should point out that some bakeries, both inside and outside of Iran, sometimes add extra ingredients (some of which are enumerated in the first paragraph above) primarily for the purpose of cosmetically concealing the defects in their breads, in addition to making them look inviting.

Professional barbari bakers strongly advise against using baking soda/powder in making the sauce. Although baking soda/powder can cosmetically improve the coloration of the top crust (which expediently comes in handy when the dough is ill-fermented), it can simultaneously have adverse effect on formation of the top crust, in addition to vitiating the aroma and flavor. Baking soda/powder can make the top crust undesirably dry, brittle, and flaky. My supervising baker once remarked, “The alphabet of barbari is only four things: flour, water, fermenter, and salt. Adding extra stuff to the dough and sauce won’t make up for lack of artistry.”

In the production of barbari, the sauce, to various degrees, plays consequential roles in: 

  • How the bread bakes,
  • Formation and texture of the top crust,
  • Coloration of the top crust, and
  • Formation of the crumb below the top crust

Some barbari bakers compare the sauce to the varnish used in finishing a fine violin. To them, just as a bad varnish negatively impacts the sound of a fine violin, a bad sauce can likewise ruin a good barbari dough. Therefore, preparation of the sauce should not be taken lightly at all.

There are really no fixed recipes for the sauce; it is all based on the feel and experience. There are different ways of preparing the sauce, using water and flour only. Below are two common methods:

Method 1:

According to the Institute of Standards, the sauce is made by, first, making a very wet dough, using water and flour only. Next, place the dough in a metal pot and add some boiling water. Place the pot on a stove burner, low heat, and continuously stir the mixture until the dough becomes gelatinized in the water. Avoid formation of lumps in the mixture. Once the mixture reaches the proper consistency (translucent and, unlike a typical maple syrup, lightly viscous and sticky), remove the pot from the heat, and immediately take out any remaining dough clumps. Let the sauce cool down before using it.

Cautionary Notes: As the sauce cools down, it gradually becomes thicker and thicker in consistency. Hence, do not let the consistency of the sauce—before cooling down—trick you into thinking that you have reached the final consistency. The final consistency of the sauce—after it is cooled down—should not be thick, syrupy, overly sticky, and heavily gelatinized. The sauce should be prepared about an hour prior to baking your breads. However, if you prepare a large volume of the sauce, then it may take more than an hour to fully cool down. It takes some experimentations to get the sauce right. By the way, how thick or thin the layer of sauce is applied on the surface of the dough matters. Generally, the sauce is applied in moderate amount; it should not overwhelm the dough. Using too much sauce will have negative impacts on how the dough bakes. An unreasonably thick layer of the sauce negatively affects the formation of the top crust and crumb below it. When excessive amount of sauce is applied, it amasses inside the grooves—causing the dough not to bake and/or brown uniformly.

The visual attributes of a baked barbari bread (caused by the sauce and how the dough is grooved and shaped) is the signature of the bakery that produced it. Perceptive barbari aficionados in Iran can often recognize which bakery in their neighborhoods produced a barbari bread—just by looking at it. 

Method 2:

Bring a volume of water to the boiling point and then turn the heat very low. Using your fingers, start sprinkling flour a little at a time while continuously stirring the mixture with a whisk. Avoid formation of lumps in the mixture. Continue this process until the mixture reaches the desired consistency (translucent, thin, and slightly gelatinous and sticky). At last, let the sauce fully cool down in room temperature. The cautionary notes, above, equally apply here.

Some barbari bakers use the first method, but instead of using a freshly prepared dough out of water and flour, they use a piece of the leavened barbari dough of the day. I have never tried this, so I do not know what results it may produce. Those who like to be innovative can experiment with ingredients such as: honey, butter, milk, malted milk, yogurt, egg yoke, corn flour, rice flour, malt, date or grape syrup, and diluted Dutch crunch sauce. Good day! 

Omid

 

* By using the term “tradition” or “traditional”, I do not mean to convey that which is “superior” and render the non-traditional as “inferior”. By the term “tradition” I simply mean a mode of orientation and fundamental frame of reference. More specifically, I view tradition as a system of thought and behavior shared by a group of people. In addition, the system of thought and behavior gives the group a mode of commitment, i.e., an object of devotion (an ideal) to strive toward.

ElPanadero's picture
ElPanadero

Ok, having a crack at this.  Omid's explanation is very comprehensive so success lies in my ability to follow it and maintain the right dough consistency.  I've scaled down the quantities significantly as I only want to make a couple of these initially using my home oven.  The oven is going to restrict how long I can stretch them too so slightly apprehensive.  So far my dough is made and is now staring its 11 hour rest.  I've used:

366g Flour,  250g water, 7g Salt and somewhere between 0 and 1g of yeast (my scales don't do less then 1g)

Followed your method with water first then salt then yeast then flour.  Kneaded by hand for 5 mins.  Dough was sticky but not overly so.

What slightly intrigues me about this Barbari bread is that the base ingredients are the same as any other bread, flour, water, yeast and salt so what is going to make it taste significantly different?  Coating the underside in wheat bran might well be a big contributor as well as the sesame seeds on top.  The "sauce" being itself flour and water equally intrigues me.  Will the taste of this element surprise me ?

Roll on tomorrow !  :-)

Omid's picture
Omid

Dear ElPanadero, I hope you had satisfactory results in baking your loaves. Please, feel free to share pictures of your breads. Good day!

Omid

ElPanadero's picture
ElPanadero

Many thanks for all this Omid.   My Barbari's came out beautifully.  Rather than extend your excellent post here with more and more photos (which really slows down loading times), I have created my first blog with the photos.  I would welcome your views on what I produced.

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/36601/omids-iranian-barbari-bread

Once again, many thanks for the comprehensive instructions and background

El Panadero

ElPanadero's picture
ElPanadero

st

Just love this crumb.  Only made 2 Barbari's but they've already been demolished !  16 hrs+ work, gone in less than 1hr.  Will just have to make more !  :-)

 

Omid's picture
Omid

Dear El Panadero, you have done a great job as someone new to the world of barbari bread. I am truly surprised at how well you executed this. You are a fast learner! Perchance, it was your pre-established knowledge and skills that made the bread easy for you to make. I have known newbies who are still having difficulties in preparing barbari breads after months of trials. You are officially a barbarian. Welcome to the tribe!

Omid

ElPanadero's picture
ElPanadero

It's kind of you to say but I'm no expert, just an enthusiastic amateur who will spend the rest of his life learning.  Your recipe and instructions were very comprehensive, so hard to go wrong.  That said, when you look through YouTube clips for Barbari breads there's a lot of process "dilution" and the finished breads don't have anything like your crumb.  It's all in the fermentation I reckon, and a decent flour.

My wife loved this so much she now wants me to make a version that she can take to work for sandwiches.  Slight problem there as the "grooving" of Barbari means it doesn't lend well to slicing horizontally.  However without the grooves this would balloon up into a dome with probably big air holes.  Any ideas here?   Maybe I can just form into round rolls and flatten them before baking?   Or is one of your other 3 Persian breads more suitable for a sandwich?

Omid's picture
Omid

Dear Dsadowsk, you asked, “How are these loaves traditionally eaten?”

Iran is a bread culture, i.e., bread is culturally considered “necessary nourishment”, besides being a sacred symbol. Bread has been of fundamental value in the Persian culinary culture. Hence, Iranians would tell you: if there are no breads on our tables, we still feel unfulfilled after satiating our appetites with other types of foods.

Barbari bread is eaten with all sorts of comestibles: beef, pork, chicken, fish, eggs, vegetables, herbs, butter, cheese, yogurt, rice, cured meats, deli meats, dips, salads, soups, pasta, stews, and many more. Barbari is widely encountered on breakfast, lunch, and dinner tables, particularly in northern Iran.

Barbari finds its most routine and traditional use in what is the most classic Iranian breakfast. The breakfast is known as "noon chaie panir”, meaning, “bread, tea, cheese”. (“Noon” is a non-formal way of writing “naan”, which simply means "bread" without specifying the type.) The breakfast, in its most basic form, consists of: 

  • Freshly brewed dark tea (served hot and preferably sweetened with sugar or honey)
  • Barbari bread
  • Iranian cheese, which is identical to feta cheese (the soft/creamy type is preferable)
  • Unsalted butter
  • Optional: Jams or honey

Basically, some butter and cheese is stuffed in a piece of barbari, which you eat as you drink some tea over it. By the way, Iranian or feta cheese is the most basic type of cheese that has been produced since ancient times in various regions of West Asia, including Afghanistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Turkey. In Iran, cheese and barbari are considered gastronomic allies.

Barbari is also used in a traditional Iranian appetizer known as “noon panir sabzi”, meaning “bread, cheese, herbs”. The appetizer consists of:

  • Barbari bread
  • Iranian/Feta cheese
  • Mint, green onion, tarragon, basil, radish
  • Walnuts
  • Optional: Iranian style yogurt (either plain or with shallots)
  • Optional: Regular or Persian cucumbers (available at Trader Joe’s, Ralphs, and Iranian supermarkets)
  • Optional: Raisons 

Basically, some cheese, herb(s), and walnut is stuffed in a piece of barbari, and I believe you can imagine the rest. Some people would limit this appetizer to only barbari, cheese, and walnuts. You may like to add some icy tequila! By the way, barbari along with Iranian/feta cheese and watermelon/cantaloupe is considered a snack in Iran. Have a great weekend!

Omid

Omid's picture
Omid

Dear Mirko, you asked, “Could you please explain what you mean sourdough starter (8%)? You just used 176gr starter or sourdough fermented 12-16h?”

I am not sure if I fully understand your questions. So, let me approach them as follows. First, by “sourdough culture” (or “sourdough starter”) I mean a mixture of only water and flour in which two classes of fermentative micro-organisms are cultivated: wild yeasts (not baker’s yeast or Saccharomyces cerevisiae) and beneficial bacteria. On regular basis, I revitalize the culture by discarding a portion thereof, followed by incorporating certain amounts of water and flour to the remaining portion.

When the culture reaches a certain level of activity, I use a percentage of it (based on the weight of the flour) in order to inoculate my barbari dough. So, when I prepared the dough in my initial post above, I took 8% (176 gr.) of my sourdough culture and dissolved it in the water (1518 gr.) in which I had already dissolved the salt (44 gr.). Thereafter, I added the flour (2200 gr.) and began mixing. The resulting dough was fermented for about 10 hours in bulk plus 4 hours in balls at room temperature.

I hope the above satisfied your questions. Good day!

Omid

Omid's picture
Omid

Dear Derek (Yozzause), here is some information about the torch and the torching procedure I use. I hope they are helpful. My propane torch was purchased for about $50 US dollars at Home Depot. Here is a link:

Lincoln Electric Inferno Propane Torch Kit

It is a powerful torch. Its maximum output is 500,000 BTU. Therefore, one has to be very cautious in using it. Misusing the torch may result in serious bodily injury and/or property damage, including the oven. I must point out that the builder of my oven warned me against using the torch for fear of causing damages to the oven. So, I have been using it very cautiously and attentively. So far, after about 2 years, I have not noticed any visible damages.

Since my oven is of small size (25 inches of internal floor diameter) and thermal mass (about 550 pounds), the torch has been very practical in heating up my oven. I do not know how practical it may prove to be in your oven.

The way I heat up my oven with the torch, for the purpose of baking barbari breads, is as follows. The day before I bake my breads, I preheat my oven by torching the dome—using a fraction of the output of the torch—for about 4 hours or until the inner walls of the oven reach about 800°F.

Then, I shut the chimney hole and put on the two oven doors, positioned before and after the chimney hole. By the way, when I torch my oven, I use an aluminum plate to minimize the opening of the oven door in order to minimize heat loss. The main reason I preheat the oven is to give it a chance to be saturated with the thermal energy as much as possible. As I am sure you know, thermal saturation of takes time. 

Next day, about two hours before I bake my breads, I torch the oven for about 1 or 2 hours (depending on how hot it is) until the floor reaches about 550°F. To procure good bake results, oven management is quite critical. Have a great day!

Omid

farmcook's picture
farmcook

This is a great post.  Would you mind outlining the basic process for making "Iranian/feta cheese"?  I'd like to see if it's similar to a type of cheese that I often make.

Omid's picture
Omid

Dear Farmcook, unfortunately I do not know how to make the cheese. I wished I knew. As far as I know, the cheese, which is a brined cheese, can be made either out of sheep milk or caw milk. The village of Lighvan in East Azerbaijan Province of Iran is known for making it out of sheep milk. It is known as panir-e Lighvan or panir-e Tabriz. (Panir, sometimes spelled paneer, means "cheese".) There are other villages that produce the same type of cheese, but with a much softer and creamier texture, akin to fior di latte. Unfortunately, I do not remember the proper name of the product, which is usually named after the village producing it. I will inform you if I find out. Good day!

Omid

Omid's picture
Omid

Yesterday, I had a bake session, trying to improve my skills in effectively shaping barbari dough into a flat rectangular plane with the grooves and bulges. As with any other bread dough that I know of, if the shaping and handling is poorly executed, then the aesthetics, texture, and flavor of the bread will suffer to a lesser or greater degree.

Here are some of the details:

  • King Arthur organic all-purpose flour: 2200 gr. (datum point)
  • Water: 1540 gr. (70%)
  • Salt: 55 gr. (2.5%)
  • Sourdough culture: 110 gr. (5%)
  • Mixer: Santos Fork Mixer (84 RPM)
  • Straight Dough: Water → Sea Salt → Sourdough → Flour (about 1/3rd of the flour was added gradually)
  • Mix Time: 6 Minutes & 13 Seconds
  • Rest Time (After Mixing): 20 Min
  • Duration of initial fermentation: About 12 hours at room temperature
  • Duration of final fermentation: About 5 hours at room temperature
  • Weight of Each Dough Loaf: About 300 gr.
  • Oven: Forno Piccolo brick oven by Forno Classico
  • Floor temperature: 470 to 500˚F
  • Fuel: Propane Gas
  • Bake Mode: Interactive
  • Bake Time: About 10 to 12 minutes each

Yesterday, to my surprise, the temperature in my patio, where I bake my breads, went up to 86°F while the indoor temperature was around 80°F. That was unexpected. Good day!

Omid's picture
Omid

ElPanadero's picture
ElPanadero

Hi Omid, you said :

"Yesterday, I had a bake session, trying to improve my skills in effectively shaping barbari dough into a flat rectangular plane with the grooves and bulges"

Having made these Barbari's following your clear instructions with a good deal of success I would make the following comment.  Typically, when we want to create a rectangular shaped piece of dough we pre-shape accordingly.  In your method you are pre-shaping your dough portions into small boules which in hindsight now seems a little odd.  A boule pre-shape lends itself to creating a flat circle or plump batard.   If I am making baguettes or say a fougasse I am looking for a rectangular shape to work with so I pre-shape accordingly.  For this I simply flatten and stretch the dough portion out into a rough rectangle and then "letter fold" left to right and again top to bottom (if the dough size and elasticity permits this).  This creates a plump loaf shape with good straight edges along all sides.  After this is left to relax it flattens easily into a rectangle.  With the Barbari's I believe you're looking for straight long edges but curved ends so perhaps for this a pre-shape with a single letter fold top to bottom would be best.

If you go back and look at the 2nd of the 2 video clips your provided (Omid's Barbari Video.wmv) you will see in the first few frames the baker is pre-shaping the dough portions.  He's doing it very quickly, making it look effortless, but I believe he is basically folding the dough underneath and producing not a boule but rather a  batard with straighter long sides and rounded ends.  It's hard to see exactly in the video but it's definitely not a boule.

Hope this helps. 

EP

p.s.  I noted also in your method that you shape the main dough mass into a boule before it gets it's 11 hr fermentation.  Is there a reason for this?  Does it aid the prooving?

Omid's picture
Omid

Dear El Panadero, I thank you for the suggestion. You brought up a point worthy of consideration in re pre-shaping leavened dough pieces into a rectangular configuration akin to pre-shaping a French baguette or batard dough. What you wrote makes perfect sense, but that is not how it is traditionally done in barbari bakeries in Iran (neither in barbari-like bakeries in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Turkey). Iranian bakers view the French method superfluous when it comes to shaping barbari dough, for baguettes or batards are fundamentally different—structurally and texturally—than barbari breads. (I do understand that you did not mean to literally treat the barbari dough exactly like a baguette or batard dough.) If a ripened round barbari dough ball (which I believe is easier and faster to make than its French counterpart) has the right physical constitution, shaping or pre-shaping it into a quadrilateral configuration will not pose any problems at all under skillful hands. So, it is within this framework that I would like to improve my skills.

Yet, this does not mean that barbari bakeries do no pre-shape their doughs. In fact, many barbari bakeries pre-shape their leavened dough balls into a more or less quadrilateral or oval configuration after the balls have reached maturation and a while prior to applying the sauce, not when the dough balls are formed upon conclusion of the initial fermentation. And, as I mentioned above, the pre-shaping is done not the way a baguette or batard dough is pre-shaped; there is no “letter folding” because it may unduly tighten the gluten matrix and lengthen the dough maturation time. The same is also true with respect to Afghani, Azerbaijani, Armenian, and Turkish bakeries that produce barbari-like breads (such as naan-e tandoor, təndir çörəyi, bahrbahree, and pide, respectively), which are shaped into a more or less rectangular, rhombus, or oval configuration right before being baked. Sometimes, they are just round.

To further explore this subject, allow me to briefly outline the process of preparing barbari dough per standard #5809 of the Institute of Standards (ISIRI), which is, more or less, the standard operating procedure in barbari bakeries in Iran:

  • Stage 1: Barbari dough is prepared by mixing water, salt, sourdough (or commercial yeast), and flour.

  • Stage 2: After a short rest period, the dough is taken out of the mixer bowl and placed inside a proper container to undergo the initial fermentation.
  • Stage 3: The dough is cut and weighed into about 650-gram portions, and then they are formed into “chānehaye khamir gerd”, meaning, “round dough balls”.

  • Stage 4: The dough balls undergo final fermentation.
  • Stage 5: The dough balls are placed on a worktable that is covered with wheat bran. Next, one tablespoon of the sauce (roo-maal) is poured on top of each dough ball; [the sauce is smeared evenly]; and the dough balls are manually shaped and spread about 1.5 centimeter thick. (Notice that the ISIRI document is silent on quadrilateral or oval pre-shaping which is, notwithstanding, commonly done after the dough balls have reached maturation and a while prior to applying the sauce.)

The pictures used above are not part of the ISIRI document; nonetheless, I included them for the sake of illustration. The pictures were sourced from an Iranian web page that is no longer available.

Considering the above, I make the assumption that the baker, in the video you referred to in your post, performed “stage 3” in the initial frames (0:00 to 0:11); that is, he had already cut the dough mass into equal portions, and, in those frames, he formed each portion into a round dough ball. Notice that there is an old-fashion scale on the right side of the table in the pertinent part of the video. I assume that he used the scale to weigh each dough portion before balling them.




Based on my observations and judging by what is visible in the video frames, I conclude that the baker formed round, not quadrilateral, dough balls by folding the rough edges under the doughs as he rotated and slammed them on the table, which is a method commonly employed in barbari bakeries.

I have never pre-shaped my barbari dough akin to the way French baguette dough is pre-shaped, that is, by letter-folding the dough. I will give it a try, but I will do so right after the conclusion of the initial fermentation so that the dough will have enough time to gain buoyancy.

For whatever it is worth, I am attaching two videos below. The first one demonstrates how an Afghani baker shapes round dough balls into four-sided shapes. And, the second video demonstrates almost the same in a Turkish bakery.







Out of curiosity, are you from Spain (El Panadero)? Have a great day!

Regards,

Omid

ElPanadero's picture
ElPanadero

Hi Omid.   Interesting follow up there and nice to watch those videos.  I was quite fascinated by the variations in patterns achieved by the differeing finger grooving.

I've tried pre-shaping with standard letter folds (as I seem to be making these Barbari's at least twice a week now !!!) and it has worked quite well for me.  That's mostly because I've been adapting the method for a domestic oven which of course can't cope with anything of the length of Barbari's shown in your video clips.   I've also been trying to gain a little extra height in them at the request of my wife so making them shorter tends to achieve this.

If I were a commercial baker and wanted to make these in the UK, my thoughts are that the shaping would need to be different, unless my audience was comprised of Persian oriented customers who are already used to Barbari's.  For the UK, there is something a little "wild" and unfinished about these breads, some come out longer than others, some wider and so on.  I would want to make a more finished and consistent version I think (though I appreciate that wouldn't be as traditional).   I've laterly been baking these in small rectangular baking trays so they come out the same size and shape and height and that has worked well.  A perfect round shape might also look good too, though again untraditional.   Am I on a dark path here ?  lol

Btw, no I am not Spanish, I'm English but I've been learning Spanish for the past 4 years :-)

fornographer's picture
fornographer

I thought that name looked familiar! Great to see you here, Omid! :)

Omid's picture
Omid

Good to see you, pizza comrade!

Regards

Omid

Omid's picture
Omid

Here are some interesting pictures of a barbari bakery run by father and son in Tehran, Iran. The pictures, which can silently communicate more than what words can convey, are chronologically ordered.

Omid's picture
Omid

Omid's picture
Omid

Preparing barbari breads in non-commercial environments naturally imposes many limitations. So, we home-bakers do what we can to get by.

Round barbaris are not as uncommon as one might think, although majority of Iranians prefer the traditional configuration. Some Iranian bakeries produce both round and quadrilateral barbaris. The same goes with many barbari-like bakeries in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Turkey. I am going to post, below, some pictures of barbari-like breads of the aforementioned countries, starting with Afghanistan. Good day!

Regards,

Omid

 

Omid's picture
Omid

The picture of the Afghani baker, below, was shot by a Frenchman in 1969 in Kabul. Priceless! 

The picture below depicts three Hazara bakers in Afghanistan. (As mentioned before, they are known as "barbars" in Iran.) They bear the Mongolian physiognomy on their faces. Magnificent!

The picture below depicts another Hazara baker in Afghanistan.

Omid's picture
Omid

In Azerbaijan, the task of preparing breads is often delegated to females.

Omid's picture
Omid

Omid's picture
Omid

ElPanadero's picture
ElPanadero

A lot of creativity there Omid, quite inspiring.

Question for you. Have you made Barbari's without using the traditional "star" flour and instead using European flours like French T55, American AP flour, std strong bread flour and so on? If so, how different is the taste? The Barbari's I made look the part but I wonder if someone from the East were to taste them, whether they would deem them "normal" ?

Omid's picture
Omid

Dear El Panadero, thank you! Please, forgive my delayed response. I have never used French T55 flour (which is difficult to find in the US); however, I have used American all-purpose flour with satisfactory results. In my assessment, not all all-purpose flours yield satisfactory results.

Also, I have used strong bread flours, which I found too strong for the purpose of making barbari breads. In terms of flavor, setareh/star flour is generally different than the all-purpose flours and bread flours that I have used so far. To me, the difference is very distinct, but I do not believe most Iranians would be able to discern that. Have a great day!

Omid

mightypizzaoven's picture
mightypizzaoven

Omid, beautiful collection of photos. 

 

Bert

Omid's picture
Omid

Dear Bert, good to see you here! I hope to see you again at the next pizza summit. Good day!

Omid

mightypizzaoven's picture
mightypizzaoven

Hi Omid, it was fun last year, it will be nice to see every one again. Have a great day

 

Bert

tea berries's picture
tea berries

I was delighted to see this bread here, and wanted to reach out to you as a Westerner who loves Iran, and owns a home with my husband in Shiraz. I have been to Tehran, and adore this bread! I do wish we had the privilege of a wonderful oven as yours to make such wonderful bread, but I think perhaps it is achievable in a conventional oven with the right conditions. Thank you for posting this - if I can pull it off, my husband will be amazed! :) Khodahafez

Omid's picture
Omid

Salam! I am delighted to see you here. I hope there is enough information here to enable you to successfully prepare barbari breads for your family. If it is no trouble, please share your results with us here, with pictures. Are there any barbari bakeries where you live? How about sangak bakeries?

Long time ago, back in early 70s, I traveled to Shiraz as a young boy. I remember it was a beautiful city with hospitable people. And, I remember the sangak bakeries there, but I do not recall seeing any barbari bakeries. To the best of your knowledge, is barbari bread popular in Shiraz? Have you or your husband seen any barbari bakeries there?

Let me know if you run into problems in making barbari breads. I do not know how experienced you are in making breads, especially when it comes to using sourdough culture. If you are a beginner, I recommend using baker's yeast (preferably fresh/cake yeast) instead of sourdough culture. Good day!

Omid

tea berries's picture
tea berries

Walaikum Asalam waramatullah wabarakatu, and merci… I sure hope I can make some of these delicious breads also! My husband was drooling at your photos. Yes, they have barbari breads in Shiraz… but more sangak breads which are cooked on the pebbles. Both are equally delicious in my opinion, though there are some differences in each of them. I do have a sourdough culture going, and will be baking with it soon. I would love to master this bread for my family, however do not have the privilege of a wonderful stone oven such as you have! It's very lovely, afarin! 

I will certainly show pictures of my bread, up until now I've only been asking questions and posting general start-up photos, no bread as of yet… but getting started and knowing your procedure is a process that I'm realizing is a bit more thoughtful than for the breads I've made in the past which had zero flavour and dense crumb. I'm learning, and excited for my results! :)

Tea

Omid's picture
Omid

Below are some barbari breads I baked a couple of weeks ago. For this experiment, I used Caputo '00' Extra flour and used the direct method, that is, I let the dough bulk rest for one hour after mixing and before forming dough balls, which fermented for about 14 hours at room temperature. If I remember correctly the dough was hydrated at bout 68% and I used fresh baker's yeast.

Omid's picture
Omid

adri's picture
adri

They look very nice!

Just a view weeks ago I bough nigella sativa seeds (my dictionary gives me "black caraway"?) with the intention to make a similar bread. I thought I needed them before reading your posts.

But now I think I'll follow your basic recipe.

Thank you very much for sharing.

ElPanadero's picture
ElPanadero

This thread has become far too long with all the pictures, many of which are repeated.  Maybe consider cutting some out?  It takes ages for the thread to open (on my laptop anyway !)  :-)

tea berries's picture
tea berries

Would make for a wonderful blog along with the recipe. The thread is quite long, but I can't in good conscience ask him to delete any of the photos… it took so much work and they are very interesting! :)

honorbread's picture
honorbread

This is the most amazing post. Thank you for sharing all your knowledge. I can't wait to try it.