I have a favorite bread which I suppose in and of itself is not surprising at all. Maybe what may be surprising is what the bread is. It's not a big tangy sour and it's not an earthy grainy wheaty number. In fact, it's not a loaf at all. My favorite bread hands down that I think I could eat quite contentedly without interruption for the rest of my life is man'oushe.
If you know what man'oushe is and you've made it at home you're most likely in agreement with me. It's a flat bread hailing from Lebanon... well, it's pretty much pita bread baked with za'atar and olive oil on top. I'm guessing you could do this with store bought pita, but I wouldn't advise it. As per usual I recommend the hard way. Sorry folks, but homemade pita kicks regular pita's ass straight to the curb. It has an airy cloud-like texture that I've never tasted replicated by anything in a bag, not even the stuff made at our local Middle Eastern bakery. It's that good.
In all honesty though, it's a little work intensive. Each pita has to be rolled individually. If you're anything like me you get irritated and impatient to eat the damn things and end up with the oddest shapes imaginable. They taste just as good though, so who cares?
Once they're rolled, you slap some za'atar mixed with olive oil on top. I add extra sumac for a little tang too. Throw them into the hottest oven you can find and twiddle your thumbs impatiently for about 5 minutes. When they're ready pull them out and continue twiddling your thumbs because that olive oil is hot. If you burn your tongue then you can't taste all of the goodness in 5 minutes, once it's cooled. I know this because I regularly burn my tongue on hot food. It's a mood killer for sure. So where was I? Oh yeah, five minutes later, stop the thumb twiddling and eat! These are great alone, with thick sour yogurt, hummus or baba ganoush, sandwiching any number of salads, or even dipped in gazpacho. But I have to say, I'm a purist. Why mess with perfection?
Adapted from Advanced Bread and Pastry by Michel Suas
For the sponge
88 g bread flour
68 g water
11 g instant yeast
6 g sugar
Mix the sponge and let ferment at room temperature for 30 mins.
For final dough
495 g bread flour
307 g water
10 g salt
1 g sugar
20 g butter
All of the sponge
Mix the ingredients together. Once combined knead for about 8 mins on medium speed in your mixer or 10 mins by hand.
Let ferment at room temperature for one hour and 30 mins.
Divide the dough into pieces approximately 85 g each. Roll each piece into a loose boule. Let rest for 30 mins at room temperature. To shape simply roll the boules out into flat circles with a rolling pin. If you want this to be plain pita bread you'll want to roll the most perfect circular shape you can. This will allow the pita to split evenly. However if you're making man'oushe this is not as necessary.
1 cup za'atar (I buy pre-mixed za'atar at Middle Eastern markets because I've read the type of thyme grown in the Middle East tastes very different from American varieties)
1 tsp sumac
1-2 cups olive oil
Heat oven to 500 degrees and let heat for approximately 1 hour before baking.
Mix za'atar, sumac and olive oil together. You want to achieve a spreadable paste-like consistency, so just add olive oil until you've reached that point.
Spread za'atar blend on your prepared unbaked flat breads. Place in the oven (two at a time) and bake for about 5 mins. Watch the bread. It will be light in color and may ahve some dark spots. The shorter you bake the lighter and fluffier your man'oushe will be. The longer the bake the crispier more cracker-like consistency you'll achieve. These reheat beautifully. I often keep them frozen for snacks.
You can find other great breads posted weekly at Yeastspotting.