Hot Bread Kitchen, a bakery in New York City's East Harlem, stands out from the crowd.
Not because the bakers there make outrageous cupcakes, or vie for a review in the Times, or compete to be the next Food Network star.
No, these bakers are far from being bright lights, big city. But the light the bakery creates every day shines into dark corners of urban life that many would prefer to ignore: namely, the lives of low-income immigrant women – the bakers at Hot Bread.
Allegra Ben-Amotz, spokesperson for the bakery, says, "[We're] changing the face of the culinary industry by training immigrant and low-income women in the craft of artisan bread-baking, empowering them with the skills to succeed in the city's top bakeries. The tasty product of this social enterprise is a line of handmade breads based on traditions from around the world, featured in some of New York City's best restaurants, and carried in dozens of stores across the country."
We've written about the bakery before; for a virtual tour of Hot Bread Kitchen, complete with striking photos, see our post Hot Bread Kitchen: Baking a World of Difference.
Today, I simply want to share with you one of the bakery's signature breads: Nan-e Barbari, a traditional Persian flatbread known for its deep-gold crust and wonderful texture. Plus wait until you see what we do with this bread at the end...
Mix together the following:
*Use the smaller amount of water in summer, or when it's humid; the larger amount during the winter, or in a dry climate.
Knead the mixture — using your hands, a stand mixer, or your bread machine set on the dough cycle — until you've made a smooth, fairly soft dough. The dough should barely clean the inside of the bowl, if you're using a stand mixer, perhaps sticking just a bit at the bottom (top right).
Put the dough in a lightly greased large bowl, cover the bowl, and let the dough rise until it's nearly doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Gently deflate the dough, and divide it into two pieces. Shape each piece into a rough log abut 9" long. Tent the logs with lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow them to rest for 30 minutes.
While the dough is resting, measure out 1 teaspoon sesame seeds and 1 teaspoon nigella (black onion) seeds. If you don't have nigella seeds, substitute poppy, or the seeds of your choice. I decided to use our everything bagel topping.
You're also going to make a traditional glaze called roomal. This flour/water paste will be applied to your loaves before baking, and substitutes for adding steam to the oven. The roomal keeps the top of the loaves moist, allowing them to rise fully; and also imparts a satiny sheen.
To make the roomal, stir together the following in a small saucepan:
2 teaspoons King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/3 cup (74g) cool water
Bring to a bare boil, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and coats the spoon; this should take less than a minute. Remove the glaze from the heat, and set it aside.
Preheat the oven to 450°F. If you have a pizza stone, set it on the lowest rack or oven floor.
Once the dough has rested, gently flatten each piece.
Working with one piece of dough at a time, pat/flatten it into a 14" x 5" rectangle. Use your fingers (or the handle of a long wooden spoon) to press five lengthwise grooves into the dough. Press firmly, but don't cut through the bottom of the dough.
Spread half the glaze onto the dough, rubbing it all over. Sprinkle with half the seeds.
Slide the bread onto the stone and bake it for 15 to 18 minutes, until it's golden brown. If you're not using a stone, place the bread on a baking sheet and bake it on your oven's middle rack.
Remove the bread from the oven, and place it on a rack. Repeat with the second piece of dough.
Tear off a warm piece ... heaven.
Traditionally, this bread is served with feta cheese, olives, and cucumbers.
But the heck with tradition; let's make pizza!
Instead of patting the dough into a rectangle, pat it into a 14" circle, or 15" x 10" oval.
Top as you please. Hot Bread Kitchen's Nan-e Barbari Pizza recipe calls for topping each piece of flattened dough with 1 cup of your favorite tomato sauce; 4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, torn into pieces; and sliced marinated artichoke hearts.
Bake the pizza in a preheated 500°F oven for 22 to 25 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the toppings are bubbling.
Grip it and rip it!
Please read, bake, and review our recipe for Hot Bread Kitchen's Nan-E Barbari.
Nan-e Barbari is just one of the many tantalizing recipes in the bakery's new cookbook, The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook: Artisanal Baking from Around the World. To purchase the book, and/or to support Hot Bread Kitchen's mission and help them train more women, visit the bakery's website, hotbreadkitchen.org.