I feel very privileged to be blogging about Turkish food as there is just not enough written about this massive topic. Especially when it comes to the Turkish recipes which one may say are all over and nowhere at the same time. I can rarely find reliable recipes for the Turkish food I want to cook.
Most of the time it looks like this: I have eaten a dish somewhere and I want to recreate it at my kitchen so I’d love to find a recipe. My mother-in-law? Forget it! All the great Turkish home cooks have learned the craft without Western-style measurements and recipes and they are so comfortable carrying on that way. I had baked her poğaça (cheese turnovers) 5 times to develop my recipe for her turnovers until she said, “Yes, this is just like mine“. Turkish cookbooks? I am paging through at least 10 each month and with very few exceptions they are very unreliable as recipes – I suspect – are not subjected to very rigorous testing.
Online I will come across something which everyone calls Greek and cooks a bit differently. Or I will stumble upon the Turkish recipes modified for the cooks outside of Turkey – no offense – beyond recognition at times. Also definitely there will be 1000 and 1 Turkish recipes – all completely different and all with rather general description of the method. Critical bits of the “how” will be often skipped as they are a matter of pride for every cook and hence is reluctantly shared with outsiders. “Knowledge is power” (i.e. keep it to yourself) indeed just like the old Soviet slogan has taught me. So following a Turkish recipe will take you either direction – to a success or a complete failure.
This is why I there is a lot of “re-inventing the wheel” at my kitchen when I am simply trying to translate the flavors I have learned into the recipes that can be shared, replicated and enjoyed. Take this marvelous tahini bread roll..
I first got introduced to one as I lived in Acibadem, close to Kazdal Kardesler – one of the best bakeries in town as far as I am concerned. Their morning pastry comes out at a particular hour which is when you have to be there to get your share: come an hour later and you are at loss. Their tahinli çörek is ready between 10 and 11 am and the days when I could make it were the happiest memories of my life in Acibadem. Since I have moved out I could never quiet find a decent replacement of that glorious tahini bread roll.
I have got to understand that broadly – there are too directions you can pursue with tahini bread (tahinli ekmek): make a galette-like flatty or make a bread roll. I came across the galette type during my first Ramadan in Istanbul when my favorite pide maker in Istanbul turns this specialty. He uses the regular pide dough (read – pizza dough) for his version of tahini bread. He rolls a piece of dough into a thin sheet, pours over tahini and sprinkles sugar, then makes a thin roll and arranges it as a spiral. And afterwards – and here is the main detail – he rolls it again into a thin galette which bakes in minutes in his stone oven. The other direction is to make a bread roll – some may be adding eggs or oil/butter into the dough; the critical bit is when your spiral your ready you don’t flatten it but instead allow is to rise as much as it wishes resulting in a plump tahini bread roll.
I decided to go for the latter. After a few tries I have produced what I think matches that excellent tahini bread roll I used to enjoy at Kazdal Kardesler. Flaky crust turning into soft layers as you deconstruct the roll and peel layer by layer away – right into your mouth. You feel like a child eating it and playing with it at the same time.
I am sharing the recipe below but first some thoughts that have emerged as an outcome of my experiments and I think pretty important for getting this tahini bread roll right:
- Fat: I have found that you need to be rather generous with fat to ensure the characteristic layering. Think of puff pastry in croissant and layers created by butter – this is what tahini does to this roll. What if you don’t like to add so much fat in your pastry? Well, there is an excellent suggestion by Jeffrey Hamelman in his best-selling book “Bread” “… my advice is not to alter properly proportioned formulas, but instead to have a thinner slice of the product“. Note to myself: stop complaining about butter and just eat less.
- Milk: As a matter of preference I make all my breads with milk instead of water because I share my mother-in-law’s opinion that the dough is tastier (and more nutritious) that way. One thing to note: milk-based bread calls for lower baking temperate because of lactose (milk sugar) caramelizes and – similar to egg or sugar present in the dough – darkens the crust quicker.
Enough theory – here comes the recipe.
Tahini bread roll asks for nothing next to it – maybe just a glass of milk. A few minutes later the guilty milk mustache and shameless tahini-flavored flakes around your mouth will be the only reminders you have done some baking.
Prep Time: 20 Min
Cook Time: 50 Min
- 3.5 g dry yeast
- 5 g (1 tsp) sugar
- 129 g (125 ml) whole milk
- 2 g (1/4 tsp) salt
- 24 g (2 tbsp) sunflower oil or extra virgin olive oil, if you prefer
- 260 g (2 cups minus 2 tbsp) all-purpose flour sifted and more for rolling
- 128 g (1/2 cup) tahini paste
- 56 g (1/4 cup) sugar
- Prepare the starter: Whisk warm milk, 1 tsp sugar and yeast in the bowl you will use for proofing your dough later, cover and set aside for 5 minutes until stiff froth appears on the surface of the yeast mixture.
- Make the dough: Add oil, salt and gradually – sifted flour (all but 2 tbsp) as you are mixing the dough. Now use that remaining flour to dust your hands and rub them against each other to clean. With your dry hands sweep the sides of the bowl clean and form a soft ball of dough. Then place your dough to the flour-dusted flat surface and knead it for 10 minutes until silky smooth (I know it brings funny connotation from the Zohan guy but it’s a perfect way to describe a well-knead dough). Put the dough back in your proofing bowl, cover and set to rest until doubles in size. Mine was resting in the switched off oven and doubled in size in about 1 hour.
- Shape the bread rolls: Punch down the dough and divide into two equal balls (now, you can do three medium or four small but I love my tahini bread rolls big and plump). Put one back to the proofing bowl and cover. Place the other piece of dough on the flour-dusted surface and with your (needless to say – dipped in flour) fingertips start to forcefully knock on the dough until you break its resistance and make it into a sheet size of your two palms. Finish rolling with a pin if you wish into 1 mm (1/16 inch – wow, could you visualize 3/32 inch?) roundish sheet, perfectly round is not the purpose. Spread a bit less then a half of tahini paste and less than a half of sugar evenly on the whole surface not forgetting the edges. Now you are ready to shape: push the dough away from you to make a roll. With the roll you want to do two things both being rather critical – roll into a 2.5 cm/1 inch sausage (the thinner the sausage the flatter bread you will get – that makes sense, right?). And now you need to twist it – the more you twist the better defined your layers will be. After twisting arrange your sausage into a spiral. Flatten just a bit from the top and set on a tray to rise. After yoy are done with the second one let them both rise for about 20 min.
- Bake: Preheat the oven to 190C/375F and place a metal tray with water on the bottom of your oven. Now mix well remaining sugar, tahini and a bit of water – to an egg-wash like consistency. With a brush spread the sweet tahini mix on both breads and put them into the oven. Bake for 50-55 minutes until the tops are nicely toasted. Cool well before serving. Best eaten right away, or at least same day.