Persian flatbread, or nan-e-barbari has similar ingredients and texture to focaccia bread, with a few differences in herbs and topping, and kneading technique. Traditional Nan-e-barbari uses nigella seeds (also known as black sesame seeds, fennel flower seeds or kalonji), and/or a combination of sesame seeds and anise seeds, and the dough is slit with deep ridges length-wise; while focaccia is historically topped with olives and garlic, and the dough is dimpled using one's fingers.
Another difference is that while it is possible to mix focaccia dough within its mixing bowl, for Persian flatbread, it's best to use a smooth work surface dusted in flour, because there's quite a bit of hand pulling and rolling. The back of the palms is used to flatten and knead the dough into a loose round shape, thrice with 10-second intervals in between kneading, to strengthen the dough and provide it structure before the bench rest. This action will allow the bread to become chewier and denser.
You have probably noticed that most of my baking recipes don't use a stand mixer. You can still opt to do this and cut the prep time, but try as much as possible to use your hands. I try to share recipes that require the least amount of effort and investment for anyone to make at home. So if you don't want to invest in an expensive stand mixer, work those hands and feel the stress and anxiety melting away. At this state, it's just you, the dough, and time acting as a guide to show you how a shaggy lump can turn into fragrant golden loaf.
If you want to make this flatbread the traditional way, you can allot about 5 to 7 minutes in between the dough's resting period to make the roomal, a flour paste used to glaze the bread and apply moisture as it bakes, allowing it to rise beautifully and give the crust a lovely gloss. Or, you can always just use melted butter. Your call, whatever is easiest and comfortable for you. I've attached both options in the recipe below.
This flatbread can be enjoyed on its own, spread with olive oil or butter, for sandwiches, soups, or to mop off stewed sauces.
Prep time: 3 to 3.5 hours
Baking time: 15-18 minutes
Yields: 2 large loaves (about the length of a Macbook)
4 cups or 510 grams all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping
7 grams or 1.25 teaspoon active dry yeast*
500 ml or 2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons salt (you can use grated Himalayan salt, or salt flakes if you have this)
80 ml olive oil
30 grams or 1/4 cup melted butter**
Black sesame seeds or anise seeds
*To activate yeast, stir it with 60 ml or 1/4 cup of warm water, allowing it to sit for up to 10 minutes. It should start turning into liquid foam. If you are using instant yeast, use measurement of 5 grams or 1 teaspoon.
**Ingredients for the roomal:
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/3 cup room-temperature water
1. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour and salt, then make a well at the centre. Pour in warm water, 50 ml of olive oil and the yeast mixture at the centre. Mix with a dough scraper, a rubber spatula, or your hands. If the dough gets too sticky, sprinkle a bit more flour. If it's too powdery and lumpy, add a little water to soften.
2. Sprinkle flour on a clean surface. Using the palm of your hands, knead dough for 5 minutes, then rest for 10 minutes. Repeat kneading and resting twice; however, prior to the third knead, pour the remaining olive oil to the dough surface, then fold dough from all sides into a loose round shape, before tossing back into mixing bowl. Allow bench rest for 1.5 hours.
Feel the dough as it changes texture and turns soft and malleable.
At this stage, it's okay for parts of the dough to break, as it's not strong enough yet. If this happens, toss back into mixing bowl and allow to rest for another hour, until the dough can be stretched and rolled without breaking.
3. Take out ball of dough from the bowl, and roll into a flat rectangular shape with round edges, sprinkling more flour on the surface to smoothen. Repeat until shape expands. Allow to rest for another 30 minutes.
4. Using rolling pin, flatten and stretch both sides until it becomes softer and more elastic. Cut dough in half using a dough scraper. Roll and smooth edges. Create grooves along each loaf lengthwise. Be careful not to cut the bread fully. Allow loaves to rest for another 30 minutes to an hour for final proofing.
5. While dough is resting, preheat oven to 200 Celsius. Melt butter in a small saucepan on a stovetop at low heat. If you want to make the roomal glaze instead, combine 2 teaspoons of flour, half teaspoon of sugar, half teaspoon of oil, and 1/3 cup water in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and coats the spoon, about a minute or two. Remove the glaze from the heat, and set it aside.
Cooked roomal should have the consistency of thickened cornstarch.
6. Use a brush or teaspoon to spread butter or roomal on top of bread. Let it drip on the side. Sprinkle sesame seeds and/or anise seeds on top (I've included both butter glaze with anise seeds and roomal glaze with black sesame seeds, for your reference). Bake for 15 to 18 minutes: 16 minutes will bring a slightly brown yet pale sheen; 18 minutes will result to a golden hue. Let cool and serve.
Flatbread glazed with butter and topped with anise seeds, baked at 18 minutes.
Flatbread glazed with roomal and topped with black sesame seeds, baked at 16 minutes.