samoon

In the United States, Middle Eastern bread is almost always very flat. Pita and lawash have become so ubiquitous, you can always find one or the other in any major American supermarket. And I would never complain about this flatbread craze, since these breads are undeniably delicious. But all this is enough to make a person think that pita and lawash are the only two kinds of Middle Eastern bread, which is of course not the case. My family eats, bakes, and buys a variety of different Middle Eastern breads, but when anyone in the family asks someone to go buy some "bread" without specifying which type, you can safely assume they mean samoon.

bread dough
samoon dough
samoon dough with sesame seeds

If you've seen my kebab post, you're probably already familiar with samoon. While samoon is primarily known as an Iraqi bread, it's eaten in many different parts of the Middle East and Mediterranean. And with such a broad reach, samoon varies from place to place and doesn't always look and taste exactly the same. The market my family shops at in Chicago carries a version that's very much like this recipe, but you'll also find places with bigger seedless loaves that are cooked at a higher temperature and become slightly charred instead of golden. Some versions of samoon even look almost like flatbread. Each variety is unique and absolutely delicious, but the thing that unites them all is their pointed oval shape. If you're not one of the lucky ones who lives near a samoon bakery, you can use this recipe to make your own. But even if you have a samoon shop near you, nothing beats homemade bread.

Samoon

Makes 12 small rolls

1 1/2 teaspoons dry active yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/3 cups + 3 tablespoons tepid water, measured separately
5 ounces wheat flour (about 1 cup)
14 ounces white flour (about 3 cups)
1 tablespoon yogurt or buttermilk
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/4 c corn meal or semolina flour
Additional water for brushing
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, for sprinkling

  • Proof the active dry yeast with the sugar and 1 1/3 cups of the water until the water looks a little foamy on top (about 5-10 minutes).

  • Add the wheat flour, white flour, yogurt, melted butter, and salt to a bowl (the bowl of a stand mixer, if you plan to knead by machine).

  • Add the water/yeast/sugar mixture and stir until the dough starts to come together. If there is still a lot of flour or if the dough looks dry, gradually add 1 tablespoon of water at a time. The dough should be on the wet side; the dough ball should be a bit sticky, but it should hold together in a ball.

  • Knead until the dough ball passes the window pane test. It should come together into a somewhat sticky elastic ball that has a smooth surface. Kneading should take about 5-15 minutes by machine with a dough hook, or 10-20 minutes by hand. Pay more attention to the dough's consistency than the time you've spent kneading.

  • Place the dough in a bowl, cover it, and let it rise at room temperature for about 1 hour and 30 minutes. It will rise noticeably. If it's a little chilly in your kitchen (e.g., below 67° F), you might need to let it rise for about 15-30 minutes longer.

  • Lightly flour a clean, food-safe work surface, divide the dough into 12 equal pieces, and shape each chunk into a round ball.

  • Roll each ball into an elongated shape, sort of like a long football (see photo above). The ends should be a bit pointy. After you roll it into this shape, slightly flatten the football shaped piece with the heel of your hand. Pinch the ends of the football into points if they've become rounded.

  • Sprinkle 1 or 2 sheet pans with corn meal or semolina and place the shaped loaves on the sheet pans, leaving a couple inches between each one.

  • Brush each loaf with water and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

  • Cover the loaves with plastic wrap and preheat the oven to 475° F.

  • Once the oven has preheated and the loaves have risen for 30 minutes, bake them for 12-18 minutes, until they're cooked all the way through and golden-brown on the outside.

  • Cool on a wire rack.