Barbari Bread: hand-kneading fun (BBB June 2013)

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BBB: Let's Get Baking summary: recipe for Nan e Barbari (Persian flatbread); a Bread Baking Babes project; submission for YeastSpotting; (click on images to see larger views and more photos)

Bread Baking Babes (BBB) June 2013

Last month, Ilva whipped us back to basics. This month we’re plunging back even further and making the bread with our hands.

nan e barberi Some weeks ago, when we got anardana, I wandered around the internet to find what people made with it. In my wanderings, I discovered a Persian-style kebab. And along with the kebab, I learned about the most wonderful looking ridged golden flatbread, nan e barbari.

We HAD to make both! And as soon as we did, I knew what bread the BBBabes HAD to make this month. Out of the several similar internet versions of recipes for this bread, I chose Lida’s recipe. She wrote:

Perhaps the most famous and widely used bread in Iran, Barbari is a part of Iranian culture. A piece of Barbari with some feta cheese and a cup of tea form the traditional breakfast in Iran. The secret behind the golden color of Barbari and its unique smell is in the small amount of baking soda mixed with some water and used to brush Barbari before baking. This mix is called Romal.

– Lida, 1001 Recipes, Barbari Bread

I love the shape. I love the colour. Let’s face it. I love this bread.

Initially, nan-e-Barbari seems not unlike Indian naan (please note that both “nan” and “naan” simply mean “bread”). There are two primary differences between the Indian and Persian naan:

  1. shaping: To shape the bread, one first forms a ball and then after a resting period, puts in ridges with the fingers.
  2. sauce (Romal): Apparently, the real secret to success is to brush the bread with a baking soda (bicarbonate of soda), flour and water wash just before baking it – although there is some controversy amongst the BBBabes about the baking soda. Omit the baking soda, if you find that it seems to add a chemical flavour to your bread. You’ll still have really great bread; it just won’t be quite as aromatic.
  3. butter – or lack thereof: (Hey!! That’s three!) Unlike Indian naan, this Persian bread dough has no butter, milk or yoghurt in it.

BBB Persian Bread diary:

4 May 2013, 17:46 Ha! You should have heard me earlier today when I was kneading the dough and screaming that it was looser than the croc. In fact, it wasn’t dough at all. It was batter.

nan e barberi Why? Because I’m an idiot. I reduced the recipe by half and then cleverly added the full amount of water with the reduced amounts of everything else.

Luckily, I remembered before letting myself haphazardly dump in more flour. Instead, I threw the correct amount of flour and some extra salt onto the board and kneaded it all in. The dough is still pretty loose but it feels great!

nan e barberi 16:17 Whoa! That’s loosey goosey. But, in spite of my fears, stretching each ball into long thin discs wasn’t tricky at all.

18:17 After slathering the shaped breads with sauce (Romal), I ALMOST threw on sesame seeds. I even had the sesame seed jar open. And then at the last minute, I suddenly switched to nigella seeds.

5 May 2013, 02:17 This bread is amazing! I love the flavour that the sauce adds. In fact, we’re thinking we should use this sauce on all bread. It’s slightly sweet (I guess from the baking soda) and incredibly aromatic.

4 June 2013, 11:38 I plunged in once more to make the Barberi bread. And this time, I measured the flour correctly. (I’m so proud of myself.)

As I was hand-kneading the dough, alternately scraping & folding over, Bertinet lifting & plopping down, or wringing and twisting, I was looking out the window and admiring all the green leaves shining in the morning sun and listening to the birds sing. (I love a good run-on sentence, don’t you?) It was lovely, in spite of the fact that my hands were covered with dough.

I love the sound of the dough slapping down on Richard Bertinet’s ‘lift, flip, plop’. There is just a nice satisfying *plop* as the dough hits the board. Today, I made sure to really stretch the dough towards me before folding it back onto itself and then scrabbling it up to lift, flip and plop down once more.

If you haven’t already watched the video we made of this hand-kneading, please, turn on your speakers and take a listen so you can hear what I hear: hand-kneading slack dough (with sound!!)

And I got to thinking. If I’m not afraid to mix this 87% dough by hand, why am I so afraid of the croc? It can’t be this high in hydration can it?

I just looked at the recipe and see that I’m right. The croc can’t be that high in hydration. It’s even higher! It’s 97% hydration!!

97%!! Eeeeek. No wonder I was afraid of the croc. I’m still afraid. However, I might just be crazy enough to try it one more time. But later. When the barbecue isn’t calling to us to make Persian style kebabs with mint (and maybe some anardana too??), lentils, grilled eggplant, salad and Nan-e-barberi.

6 June 2013 15:12

[T]he baking soda on top made my bread taste slightly chemical.
-Ilva, BBB June bread discussion

I confess that we didn’t notice any chemical flavour at all. I wonder if it’s a difference in what kind of baking powder and/or baking soda we get in Canada.

I too wondered about the baking powder but simply included it obediently because the recipe I was using called for it.

Commercial baking powder preparations often contain undesirable ingredients (such as aluminum compounds)., How to Make Baking Powder

I suspect the baking powder could be left out and nothing bad would happen. But. I wouldn’t leave out the baking soda/flour/water wash. I think the baking soda makes a huge difference. But maybe it would be safe to cut back on the amount of baking soda?

15 June 2013 08:35 As an experiment, I slathered last night’s fougasse with sauce made with just flour and water. It made the bread a lovely colour but the amazing aroma wasn’t there. That clinches it for me. Whenever I make this Persian Flatbread, I will definitely include the baking soda in the sauce.

Here is the BBB June 2013 Nan-e-Barbari (Persian Flatbread) recipe:

Nan e Barbari (Persian flatbread)
based on Lida’s recipe for Barbari Bread at

This is a same day bread. In our 20C kitchen, I mixed and kneaded the dough at around noon. It was ready to shape at about 18:00.


  • 5 gm (~1.5 tsp) active dry yeast
  • 360 gm (1.5 c) water, at 90F ¹
  • 60 gm (~0.5 c) 100% whole wheat flour
  • 360 gm (~2.75 c) unbleached all purpose flour
  • 2 gm (~0.5 tsp) baking powder ²
  • 6 gm (1 tsp) salt
  • nigella seeds (and/or sesame (black, blonde or brown) or poppy seeds)

Romal (Sauce)

  • 0.5 tsp flour
  • 0.5 tsp baking soda ²
  • 80 gm (1/3 c) water
  1. Mixing the dough ³ Pour the water into a largish bowl. Whisk in the yeast.
  2. Add the flours, baking powder and salt and stir with a wooden spoon until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
  3. Kneading Turn the dough out onto an UNfloured board. Wash and dry the mixing bowl. Please do not be tempted to skip this step.
  4. Using both hands on either side of the dough and thumbs resting on the top in the center, lift it up and flip it over in the air before plopping it back down on the board. Fold the dough in half away from you as you plop the dough down. Keep repeating until the dough is smooth. Every so often, use the dough scraper to clean the board. Stretching the dough is desired on the turns. But this won’t start happening right away. (Please look at this video for clarification.)
  5. When the dough is smooth, place it in the clean mixing bowl (there is no need to oil the bowl). Cover the bowl with a plate and leave in a draft-free area to rise to double.
  6. Prepare the sauce Whisk flour, baking soda and water in a small pot. Bring it to a boil. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
  7. pre-shaping Pre Shaping Line a cookie sheets with parchment paper. Scatter a light dusting of flour on the board and gently remove the risen dough onto it. Cut the dough in half. Form each piece into a ball and place well apart on the cookie sheet. Cover with a clean tea towel followed by a plastic grocery bag and allow to rise to double in a draft-free area. (about an hour)
  8. Final Shaping Brush each round with the sauce.
  9. Dip your fingers in the sauce and dimple the rounds down to form two ovals with lengthwise furrows.
  10. Brush ovals with the sauce once more and sprinkle with nigella seeds. Allow the ovals to stand for about 45 min.
  11. baking 4 Put a stone into the barbecue and preheat it to high. Before putting them onto the stone, pull each oval with your hands to lengthen it. Wet your hands so they won’t stick to the ovals and pull the dough from the bottom with your palms facing downwards.
  12. pre-baking Put the lengthened ovals onto the hot stone (include the parchment paper). Move the stone over to cook the bread on indirect heat. Close the barbecue lid. Every so often turn the bread around to account for uneven heat in the barbecue. (Remove the paper if it’s convenient.) Cook the bread until it is golden (about 15 minutes).

turn breadremove parchment paperbaking


1.) Water: Please do not use water from the hot water tap. Instead, heat the water in a kettle or microwave (to create lukewarm water, add cold water until it is the correct temperature of 90F (32C). If you are allergic to using a thermometer, you can do the baby bottle test on the back of your wrist.) Please note that before the yeast is added, the water temperature must be BELOW 120F (49C) because yeast begins to die when the temperature is higher than 120F.

2.) Baking Powder and Baking Soda: Some of the other BBBabes said they detected a chemical flavour from the baking powder and/or the baking soda. If you’re worried about it, it’s probably safe to omit them entirely to let the yeast do all the leavening and the flour and water in the sauce (Romal) do all the caramelizing. However, the baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) really does add a wonderful aromatic dimension to the bread.

3.) Mixing: I always mix by hand, because we don’t have an electric stand mixer. If you usually use your stand mixer to mix and knead, go to town and do so. But bear in mind that making this bread by hand is not only traditional, but it’s dead-easy and may well add flavour. Lida notes that if you are using a bread machine, you should add the main ingredients in the order suggested by your bread machine manual and continue to follow the manual instructions for mixing and kneading the dough. Then skip to step 6. If you are determined to get your money’s worth out of your electric stand mixer, I suspect that at least one of the other BBBabes has left instructions on her site about how to mix and knead using the machine.

4.) Baking: If you do not have a barbecue, this bread can be baked in a conventional oven. Lida suggests baking it in a preheated 375F (190C) oven for about 30 minutes until golden brown.

Nan e Barbari (Persian Flatbread) - BBB June 2013

We could not believe how fabulous this smelled as T pulled it out of the barbecue! We had the most amazing dinner of stir-fried cabbage, dahl, Persian-style chapli kebabs made with anardana, all garnished with coriander leaf and hot hot hot red chillies.

We vowed that we would be making this bread all the time. And then it got cold and rainy again until early June when we made the bread again. It was easily as fabulous as the time before.

Yes, indeed it’s worth the effort to go back to basics. This bread is a keeper. I hope you like it as much as we do!


Bread Baking Babes
Barbari Bread: hand-kneading fun (BBB June 2013)

I have the honour of hosting June 2013’s Bread Baking Babes’ project. And I hope that you too would like to join us this month by plunging your hands into the dough to make this wonderful Persian bread!

We’re having the Persian kabobs tonight on the barbecue and to go with them I’m planning to make Nan e Barbari. […] This bread seems like a perfect June Babe Bread! […]

Last month, Ilva talked about going back to basics. Okay, BBBabes, let’s really go back to basics. Put your KAs, mix masters and bread machines away. I urge you to make the June bread by hand. It’s dead-easy. Really it is. And after all, this bread has been made by hand for eons.

It tastes better that way. :-)

To receive a Baking Buddy Badge to display on your site: clean off your board, wash your hands to make Nan e Barbari (Persian Flatbread) in the next couple of weeks and post about it – we love to see how your bread turned out AND hear what you think about it: what you didn’t like and/or what you liked – before the 28 June 2013. If you do not have a blog, no problem; you can also post your picture(s) to Flickr (or any other photo sharing site) and record your thoughts about the bread there. Please remember to contact the Kitchen of the Month (hey! that’s me!!) to say that your post is up.

Here’s how to let us know:



  • leave a comment on this post that you have baked the bread, leaving a link back to your post.

If you don’t have a blog or flickr-like account, no problem; we still want to see and hear about your bread! Please email me with the details, so your Nan e Barberi can be included in the roundup too.

For complete details about this month’s recipe, the BBB and how to become a BBBuddy, please read:

Please take a look at the other BBBabes’ Kuchen:

Yeastspotting - every Friday ( image)

Each week, Susan (Wild Yeast) compiles a list of many bread-specific recipes from across the web. For complete details on how to be included in the YeastSpotting round up, please read the following:


edit 30 June: Take a look at the line up of BBBuddies’ Nan e Barbari. They’re beautiful!

Nan e Barbari (BBB)



This entry was posted in baking, BBBabes, bread - yeasted & unyeasted, bread recipe, food & drink, posts with recipes on by . Hand Kneading slack dough

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13 responses to “Barbari Bread: hand-kneading fun (BBB June 2013)

  1. Heather @girlichef

    Okay, while I liked this bread…I don’t know how often I’ll be making it going forward. I know I at least want to try it once more – using the barbecue. Mine definitely didn’t get the beautiful golden color that yours did. I do appreciate the different technique it took to make the loaves, though. Thanks for the challenge, Elizabeth. :)

    Thanks for being such a good sport to make the bread by hand, Heather! It will be interesting to hear if it works out better for you if you use your breadmaker to mix the bread. -Elizabeth
    edit a few moments later… Ohhh, I see that you DID use the breadmaker to mix the bread. Perhaps if you do it by hand and forget the breadmaker, it will work out better. :-)

  2. Lien

    My dough was quite wet, so these “stripes” were not really visible, but they were nice breads just the same, I used black sesameseeds for the topping, love that! A BBQ-version would be amazing I think. Thanks for the challenge.

    Lucky you that you got hold of black sesame seeds, Lien. I’d love to try those! Still, nigella seeds were really good on the bread. -Elizabeth

  3. Elle

    This was fun to make and next time I will do the kneading by hand…and bake it in the BBQ. Will be making bruchetta today with the loaf I saved from the table…with a plum/balsamic topping, a sprinkle of blue chees and toasted walnuts. Thanks for the challenge!

    Do try the hand-kneading, Elle. It’s really very satisfying, once you get past the first few times of scrabbling up the wet dough. And it’s especially easier if you add the correct amount of flour at the outset (Duhhh). Your plum, blue cheese, walnut bruschetta sound fabulous! -Elizabeth

  4. Katie

    I tried asking this before (my comment didn’t work ;-(() What’s wrong with hot tap water? Back when I was baking bread weekly (because we couldn’t get decent bread – not here in France) I always kneaded by hand. Love the idea of cooking on the barbecue – flavor must have been wonderful!

    So sorry that my comment form was giving you grief, Katie. How very annoying of it to do that. (Rats! I thought I’d fixed it!!)
    So that means that you kneaded the croc by hand? If so, I bow down to you in awe. And yes, we LOVE the flavour of bread baked in the barbecue. It’s wonderful! -Elizabeth (I commented in an actual comment about not using water from the hot water tap)

  5. ejm Post author

    Katie, this is why I won’t use hot water from the tap:

    Water from the hot water tap sits festering in your hot water tank, leaching copper, lead, zinc, solder, etc. etc from the tank walls… the higher temperature causes faster corrosion. Of course, saying that it is unsafe to use water from the hot water tap might be an urban myth, but why tempt fate?

    -me, breadmaking notes (

    Lead is rarely found in source water, but can enter it through corroded plumbing. The Environmental Protection Agency says that older homes are more likely to have lead pipes and fixtures, but that even newer plumbing advertised as “lead-free” can still contain as much as 8 percent lead. A study published in The Journal of Environmental Health in 2002 found that tap water represented 14 to 20 percent of total lead exposure.

    Scientists emphasize that the risk is small. But to minimize it, the E.P.A. says cold tap water should always be used for preparing baby formula, cooking and drinking. It also warns that boiling water does not remove lead but can actually increase its concentration.

    -Anahad O’Connor, “The Claim: Never Drink Hot Water From the Tap”, New York Times, January 29, 2008, (

    We also use filtered water – think of all the unused pills that people simply flush down the toilet….

  6. Katie

    Non, Non, Non…. It was the last time you commented about the hot water that the form was giving me grief – it’s been working like a little trooper recently.

    I will admit, when I lived in the US I never used hot tap water… Here I always do – but, then, this is France and the French are much less fussy about some things – although the new plumbing and hot water heaters are all very safe = and ours is all new. Plus our hot water heater is much smaller than typically found in North America also – less chance of it sitting, (Also less chance of 3 successful showers in a row LOL – Like everything else here, one learns to pace….)

    1. ejm Post author

      Katie, it’s not just the metals that might be in hot water tanks. It’s bacteria as well.

      Water tanks particularly, collect sediments overtime and are breeding grounds for bacteria. You might be thinking that bacteria cannot survive in hot water, but you need water above 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill most bacteria. That’s why your meat thermometer recommends you cook chicken until that internal temperature is reached.

      -Chad Upton, “You Shouldn’t Drink Hot Water From Your”, Tap Broken Secrets (

      On its website, the Department of Energy notes that, “Although some manufacturers set water heater thermostats at 140 ºF, most households usually only require them set at 120 ºF.” For each 10º drop in temperature, consumers can expect to see a three to five percent savings on energy use. Moreover, DOE points out, setting that thermostat to 120º could extend the heater’s lifetime by slowing the buildup of minerals and corrosion within it.

      What DOE and other energy-conservation sites don’t point out is that 140 ºF will kill a number of potentially lethal waterborne organisms, like the ones responsible for Legionnaire’s disease and NTM, short for nontuberculous mycobacterial infections. In contrast, 120º provides a nurturing environment for such toxic microbes

      -Janet Raloff, The Case for Very Hot Water, Science News

      In 2000, the Walkerton disaster had sent a wake-up call about the safety of Canada’s drinking water. While standards for domestic hot water must consider scald prevention, they must also address the broad spectrum of public health and safety issues. To minimize bacteria contamination, water must be stored at 60 C or higher.

      For example, temperatures under 50 C may increase the risk of Legionnaires’ disease, a form of pneumonia, due to bacterial growth in the tank.

      – Canada Safety Council (

      It might seem alarmist to insist on heating cold water from the tap, rather than to use hot water but I would rather take the tiny bit of extra time to heat cold water in a kettle.


  7. Sandie

    I notice that in your recipe you have three rise times (steps 5, 7 & 10) compared to the original, which has two. I was wondering if you tried it first with just two and decided it needed more time. Just curious… (I’m on the second rise right now) Thanks, Sandie

    The rise times were all by design, Sandie. I was following what had been recommended in Lida’s recipe: 1.) dough rising in the bowl, 2.) pre-shaped balls rising 3.) final shaped ovals with ridges rising. You might be able to get away with pre-shaping and letting each ball rest for a brief time before poking the ridges in but I’m guessing the really nice loft on the hills of the bread is due to allowing the pre-shaped balls to proof fully. -Elizabeth

  8. Dewi

    Thanks for choosing this delicious flat bread Elizabeth. I really enjoy eating it :).

    It was my pleasure, Dewi! Thank YOU for making it. I’m so glad that you like it. -Elizabeth

  9. MyKitchenInHalfCups

    How late am I to say a big thank you for this one?
    We really really enjoyed this one. Soon as we’re around a BBQ grill I really want to try it out.
    And have a more traditional dinner with it rather than sandwiches; although we were super happy with the sandwiches it made.

    It’s not too late at all, Tanna. I’m so glad that you liked the bread so much. It is phenomenally good, isn’t it? No wonder it has been made for centuries! -Elizabeth

  10. Louise Persson

    This is my third month to Buddy bake with the Babes. Thank you, Elizabeth, for an interesting recipe that definitely gave me some new experiences. After reading the comments, I used my KA, and then decided to try kneading by hand. Glad I did! I could really feel the gluten adding structure as I continued to knead. I was then able to form two balls. Thanks for another great learning opportunity–and some interesting fun for my husband, as he tried this totally new (for us) bread. I have a photo, but couldn’t attach it here.

    Whoohhooooo! How thrilling that you set your KA aside this time and hand-kneaded, Louise! And I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed the unplugged experience. Next time, I urge you to hand-knead the whole time. :-) -Elizabeth

  11. Sandie

    We LOVED this bread! My husband keeps asking me to make it again. Next time I will knead it by hand (I admit I am a lazy bread baker) though just for the thrill of it. Love the sound of baking it on the BBQ….

    It really is good, isn’t it, Sandie? I’m so happy that you and your husband like it too. And do report back after you’ve hand-kneaded. I’ll be interested to hear whether you think it is the equal amount of work (considering that you have to clean out the electric mixer). -Elizabeth


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