I was inspired to bake the Iranian bread sangak for Persian New Year after reading about it on the Anissa blog. The first step to baking sangak at home is finding small smooth pebbles to bake the bread on. This bread gets its name from the farsi word for little pebbles.
The next step is to make a natural bread starter. To cultivate yeast in a natural starter, you must combine wheat flour and water and allow it to sit at room temperature for a day. Then every day for a week you must feed your starter with more flour and water so the yeast can grow and multiply and create the gas needed to leaven your bread. When the starter becomes active you must continue to feed the starter to keep it alive. Your starter is now ready to use for baking. For more info and guidance on creating a natural bread starter, check out www.sourflour.org. We teach sourdough starter workshops in San Francisco and Chicago.
Sangak dough is wet. A 75% hydration will work beautifully. However, it can be tricky to work with if you are not used to baking with high hydration doughs. The key is to keep your hands and anything that touches the dough wet (bench, dough scrapper/cutter, bowl..). Combine together wheat flour, water, salt and your starter to mix the dough. The water should be 75% of the weight of the flour. Salt is 2.5%, and the amount of starter you add will determine how slow or fast the dough rises and how soon it will be ready to bake. I like to add just a little piece of starter for a slow rise. A slow rise will eliminate the need to knead the dough as much and it will also create a more complex flavor and will produce a superior crumb and crust. Sangak is traditionally made with a natural and slow sourdough leavening method.
After mixing the dough, allow it to rest for a few hours with a few short delicate kneading turns every hour or so. You will need to use wet hands when working with the dough to prevent sticking and tearing. After the final turn, form a tight ball and allow the dough to rest in a cool spot for about two hours. Then after it has proofed and relaxed, coat the dough with a little olive oil (I've heard they use peanut oil in Iran, but I like to use olive oil) and stretch the dough out to a long thin rectangle about 1/2" thick. You actually want it to tear a few holes in the dough in random spots and it is nice if the thickness is a little inconsistant to create diversity of texture when it bakes.
The oven should be preheated to as high as possible. Ideally, a wood burning oven at 700 degrees. But a home oven preheated with a thick baking stone will work. Smooth little pebbles, preferably smoothed out from time spent under the flow of a river, are spread out on the stone and preheated as well. After the dough is stretched out, it is flipped onto the preheated stones. In a home oven, bake until the bottom is golden and crisp then flip and continue baking briefly until the other side gets some color. Be careful, because at such high temperatures, this will happen quickly. In a wood burning oven, there is no need to flip the bread, as the radiant heat from the fire will bake the top as the bottom bakes from the conductive heat of the pebbles.
After removing the sangak from the oven, the pebbles will easily brush off. This bread is best served fresh.
I have made quite a few rounds of sangak this week. It is a wonderful bread.
Oldest mention of Sangak bread dates back to 1651
This tune by Barobax was inspired by Kourosh Yaghmaei's Havar Havar that was also remade in Urdu and the Bollywood tune Pyar Ki Pungi was a remake of this Barobax tune "Soosan Khanoom". Barobax is notorious in Iran for rewriting old Iranian classics and also using old children songs as inspiration. Like many other artists, filmakers and musicians, much of their work is censored and banned in Iran.
I served the sngak with borani-e badamjan (yogurt-eggplant dip) which is basically an Iranian version of baba ganoush. This recipe is adapted from the extraordinary book on Iranian cuisine and culture "New Food of Life" by Najmieh Batmanglij
2 large eggplants
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup labneh, greek yogurt, or thickened strained yogurt (hung curd for my Desis out there)
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
¼ tsp. crushed saffron, soaked in 1 tbsp. hot water
1 T fresh chopped mint
½ cup chopped walnuts or toasted sesame seeds (optional)
~I also added roasted bell pepper strips and lemon juice for my own variation.
Roast the whole eggplants in a 350 degree oven until very soft. Cool and scrape out the flesh, discarding the skin and stem.
Sautee the onion and garlic in the olive oil until soft and fragrant. Allow to cool.
Mash all the ingredients together and enjoy with fresh sangak.