BBBabes are Baking on Hot Stones (BBB August 2021)

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BBB: Let's Keep Baking summary: of course we’re still going wild; revisiting wild Naan Sangak (Persian Pebble Bread); baking on the barbecue; a Bread Baking Babes (BBB) project;

“I can make soup from a stone,” said the man. “You can?” said the woman. “Show me.” -European Folktale

Stone Soup is good. But really, making Stone Soup is so yesterday! This month, we’ve shown that we can make bread with stones….

Bread Baking Babes: Persian Pebble Bread, August 2021

Pebble Bread

Ha. Did I say that Stone Soup was so yesterday? Pebble Bread is even older!

[Y]easted or unleavened flatbreads are eaten alongside most meals in Iran. You can find breads such as barbari, sangak, lavaash or taftoon in speciality Iranian stores.
[…]
Iranian flatbreads are some of the oldest in the world, their popularity spreading across the Levant and into India, where the locals adopted the Farsi word for bread, ‘naan‘. There are bakeries on every street corner in Iran and people buy freshly baked breads daily to eat with every meal. The most popular kinds are yeasted flatbreads such as naan-e barbari or naan-e sangak, which are baked in a tanoor (a traditional clay oven) in huge pieces, up to a metre long. They are tantalisingly soft and fluffy on the inside, with a firm crust.
 
– Yasmin Khan, The Saffron Tales, p.23&59
Sangak (‘pebble’) is the diminutive of sang (‘stone’). This bread is called “pebble-bread” because the bottom of the oven in which it is baked is formed by a sloping bank of pebbles, on which the flat cakes of dough are thrown. it is very pleasant to the taste, and the only objection to it is that sometimes a stray pebble gets incorporated in its substance, to the manifest peril of the teeth of the consumer.
 
– Edward Granville Browne, A Year Amongst the Persians, p.109
Sangyak: […] Top oiled and well-indented with fingertips. Baked in a traditional oven on a bed of hot pebbles, it is a bubbly, crisp flat bread, usually made with wholemeal flour.
 
– Tess Mallos, Iran : Persian Breads, Complete Middle East Cookbook, p295
There’s a kind of reverence surrounding two of the breads of Iran. One is the classic breakfast bread called barbari, with a ridged browned top, and the other is sangak, the chewy, textured “pebble bread” that most often accompanies lunch and supper. […] The traditional oven of a sangak bakery has a tall, narrow opening and inside the cavern of the oven is a wall of gravel sloping upward toward the back. Sang means stone or pebble in Persian, so sangak refers to bread baked on a bed of stones. […] It’s possible to make reasonable versions of [sangak] […] in a home oven if you have […] a supply of small stones […] If you have a starter going, use it rather than the yeast and lengthen the proofing times as necessary.
 
– Naomi Duguid, “Bread in Iran”, Taste of Persia: A Cook’s Travels Through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, and Kurdistan, p.258

Mini River Rocks (2.2 kg) Since getting our river stones last August, we have baked Naan Sangak on our gas barbecue in the summer months, and in the oven over the winter.

Every time, it’s quite thrilling to pour the dough over the hot stones just before baking. It’s also quite thrilling to pull the stones off the baked bread. In fact, it’s a handy way to tell if the bread is fully baked. The stones will NOT release themselves if the bread isn’t quite baked!
 
I posted about our very first effort last August and it was such a revelation that baking bread on hot stones works so wonderfully!

This YouTube video is great: Amir Naser Dabaghian: SANGAK

Last summer, we were so thrilled that we couldn’t stop ourselves from making a video as well:

Here is how things went making this August’s BBB bread:

BBB Persian Pebble Bread diary:

4 June 2021, 09:40 Yay! I’m so glad that 3 BBBabes so far have said yes to Pebble Bread, and hope the rest are in too.

To give an idea of the size of the stones, here is a photo me holding some of the rocks we use.

mini River Rocks

The container we got says it is 5 pounds. The rocks fit into a roughly double layer on the bottom of one of our rimmed cookie sheets. We keep them in the jar they came in, and EVERY time, we are certain that they won’t go back into the jar. But then, hey presto, they do.

From googling, it looks like the rocks are available in garden centres and pet stores (for aquariums…). I guess you just have to make sure they haven’t been dyed a weird colour. And wash wash wash wash them before using them the first time. After being used for the first baking, they don’t really need to be washed.

15 June 2021, 17:29 I suggested to Aparna that perhaps she might be able to pick up stones at the beach. But of course, I was being naive. Even though I suspected there would be advisories against going to the beach for people in India. Just as there are advisories like that here.

We are slowly opening here, with new cases dropping and now about 70% of the province having had their 1st shots (only around 20% have been fully vaccinated; T and I have appointments to get our second shots on Sunday) – but school is still closed, and outdoor gatherings can only contain 5 physically distanced people in the same spot (No indoor gatherings of people from different bubbles are allowed at all).

Alas, the Delta variant is spreading here in Canada too, so much so that it is the only one mentioned these days, even though there are still new cases in Canada of the Alpha (UK), Beta (S.African), and Gamma (Brazilian) variants. It’s all pretty daunting, isn’t it?

7 July 2021, 11:16 I was leafing through our cookbooks and wandering around on the internet, to see what others have to say about pebble bread. Here’s what I found:
[H]ere is my favourite of all Iranian breads, sangak, a large and very thin loaf that is pointed at one end and square at the other mainly because of the way the baker stretches the very wet dough as he lays it on the floor of the oven which is covered with hot pebbles. You often find sangak bakeries attached to restaurants, either dizi or simply kebabs like in this post about such a place in Dubai — there is an important Iranian community in Dubai and as a result great Iranian food. The bakery in my pictures is in Tehran, at the back of a wonderful dizi restaurant where the owner stopped looking at fashion in the late 60’s, early 70’s. He was dressed in a white and black suit with flared trousers and wore a hat. Quite unexpected in a place where everyone looks rather drab (on the street) because the women have to cover their hair and hips and most men are in grey or dark suits.
– Anissa Helou, Anissa’s Blog | Another Classic Iranian Bread
It was in Tehran’s bakeries that I first experienced the legendary hospitality of Iranian cooks. Every time I stopped to watch the baking, I would be offered warm bread to take home. One morning, about a week after I arrived, I became mesmerized watching the bakers at a place near Nasrine’s house. They were making nan-e sangak, a bread that’s baked over hot pebbles lining the bottom of a wood-fired oven, leaving charred indentations on the loaf. One baker shaped some incredibly wet dough into a long oval, which he flopped onto a peel that another baker then slipped into the oven, depositing the unbaked loaf and then swiftly removing a baked one. The cooling oblong breads hung against a wall on something like a coat rack to keep them from getting soggy with steam. […] [S]angak is eaten with everything from stews to kebabs
– Anissa Helou, SAVEUR No.145 (March 2012) | Iran: The Land of Bread and Spice
In Morocco, this bread is baked on hot pebbles, some of which usually get baked into the bread and have to be shaken out.
– Julia Child, “Baking with Julia” by Dorie Greenspan, p.152 (with thanks to the internet archive’s library service)
Since a large portion of our diet consisted of bread, we came to know the different types of Moroccan bread fairly quickly. Here were our favorites:
     “Pebble Bread”: a deliciously crisp on the outside/soft on the inside type of bread, which we ate dipped into honey or argan oil. We termed it “pebble bread”, because when the bubbly bread was taken out of the oven, a few pebbles from the stone oven would stay stuck onto it.
– Sandra, The WANDERLUSTers | Moroccan Meals: Tea & Tagines
The name of this bread comes from how it is cooked, which — as you may have guessed — is on hot pebbles. The most commont method is to line the base of a wood-burning oven with large, smooth pebbles (you can put them in a tray so they are easier to insert and remove from the oven) and leave them to heat up with the fire before popping the dough on top. […] If you are making this on a BBQ or fire, you will need to create a makeshift oven using an upturned wok or large metal bowl over a cast-iron tray or pan containing the stones. The pebbles give the bread little crisp edges and crusts, and create a funky-looking flat loaf, but be very careful when removing the bread, in case any have embedded themselves in the dough, as they will be very hot.
– Sarit Packer, Itamar Srulovich of Honey & Co, ‘Pebble Bread’, Chasing Smoke: Cooking over Fire Around the Levant (thanks to Google Books for the preview)

Of course, it shouldn’t be at all surprising that pebble bread is made in other places than Iran. In fact, I really don’t know why I am even remotely surprised.

I’m very excited that our library has a copy of “Chasing Smoke”. I love that the chapter on bread is entitled “Bread & Unmissables”. I am now hold No.13 for 4 copies of the book. (Apparently, it should arrive sometime near the end of August.)

12 July 2021, 13:57 I cannot believe it. I am just about finished reading Thomas Keller’s book “Bouchon Bakery”, and look what he suggests that people have: river rocks! (Alas, he doesn’t include a recipe for naan sangak, nor does he even talk about it.)

GREAT CRUST AT HOME
Bread baked in a professional deck oven with steam injection will have an excellent crust if the baker knows how to use his or her steam […]
    You can create a similar effect in a home oven with a little effort. What you need is sufficient thermal mass […] By thermal mass, I mean heat stored in stone and metal, here in the form of rocks and metal (we use chain) in a hotel pan or sheet pan that’s allowed to heat thoroughly in the oven. […] Place all the stones and the chain in your pan and set the pan on the bottom of your oven, if the oven doesn’t have a heating element there, or on the lowest oven rack. Position a rack above the pan, making sure there’s enough room that you’ll be able to hit the rocks and chain with the water, and put the baking stone on this rack. […]
    Can you bake bread without going to all this trouble? Of course. But we guarantee you will get an excellent crust if you follow the method described here. It may seem hyper rigid, but in fact it’s simply highly organized, and because it’s organized, it’s actually very easy.
[…]
STEAM-GENERATING KIT
Hotel pan
| 13 x 21 x 3 inches
[…]
River Rocks | 9-10 pounds | Rocks can be purchased at stone yards, landscape or garden supply stores, and even Home Depot. Get golf-ball-sized or smaller for maximum surface area relative to the weight. Do not use sedimentary rocks, which can break apart or even explode with the rapid change of temperature.
 
– excerpt from “Bouchon Bakery” by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel with Susie Heller, Matthew McDonald, Michael Ruhlman, and Amy Vogler

!!! It makes me wonder how many other times have I read about using insanely hot rocks to bake bread.

5 August 2021, 12:24 We’re making pebble bread tonight on the barbecue. I’m evilly considering not quite following my own recipe (below), by adding olive oil but zero yoghurt to the dough. (I used the dough recipe below the other night to make The. Best. Pita. Bread… remind me to rave more about the pita we’ve been making.)

6 August 2021, 06:34 A word of warning: one or two of the rocks might shatter the first time they are baked. As I recall now from LAST August, a couple of our rocks did break in half…. (Did we test them in advance? Of course not. But we heard a few loud cracks the first time we baked bread on the rocks, and noticed that a couple of the rocks were split in half.)

I will add Omid Roustaei (The Caspian Chef) note about testing pebbles to the notes on the BBB recipe.

We baked pebble bread on the barbecue last night – omitting the yoghurt in the dough. I loved the bread. But T was less than pleased. He said that there was too much dough for the stones on the tray. But I still think the bread looked and tasted wonderful. And it slipped beautifully off the make-shift peel.

The bread was delicious with butter chicken and Swiss Chard from the garden and pickled beets. (Shhhhh!! don’t blab that we served Persian Pebble Bread with Indian food!)

Since last August, we’ve used several different variations of bread dough. The dough that we like best for our Naan Sangak is essentially a very slack naan dough – made with yoghurt and olive oil instead of butter (but butter works too – of course it does).

Mini River Rocks from the Garden Centre
Shaping Pebble Bread
1.) Wet hands in cool water; 2.) Liberally slather water all over the bottom (upside down) of a rimmed cookie sheet; 3.) Pour risen dough onto the wet surface; 4-7.) Always with wet hands, lift and stretch the dough gently, plopping it down, until it covers the surface of the cookie sheet; always makes sure that the dough is NOT sticking; 8.) Dip your fingertips into the water; 9.) Dimple the surface.
Baking Pebble Bread in a gas barbecue
Rest the edge of the cookie sheet on the stones then pull away so that the dough stretches out evenly over the hot stones. Don’t freak out when it seems like there is too much dough so that it folds over on itself at the end.
Pebble Bread
Every barbecue has hot spots so it’s important to turn the tray around, and to check the bottom of the bread to see if it is ready to release the stones. (The bread isn’t done if all the stones really stick tight.)
Pebble Bread

Below is the BBB recipe for August. But please use whatever bread dough you prefer – wild or commercial yeast. (Ha. Did I follow the recipe below to make the bread in the photos? :-) …you must be joking.)

For whatever recipe you use, just make sure that the dough is quite slack so that it can be poured onto the hot stones for baking.

And of course, if you don’t have to use a barbecue to bake the bread. You can use your oven. Just be sure to use a bed of hot hot hot stones. Because it’s too much fun.

Wild Naan Sangak (Persian Pebble Bread)
adapted from our recipe for Wild Naan for Sourdough September, and the recipe for Persian Pebble Bread in “Taste of Persia” by Naomi Duguid

makes one long bread

Equipment

  • two rimmed cookie sheets
  • enough clean river stones to fill one of the cookie sheets
  • oven or barbecue

Leavener

  • dessert spoonful culture (whole wheat 100% hydration starter) from the fridge (about 40 grams)
  • 50 grams (50ml) room temperature water
  • 50 grams (100ml, or approx. 1/3 cup + 4 tsp) ‘no-additives’ 100% whole wheat flour

Leavener, continued (optional for hot weather baking)

  • all of the above
  • 15 grams (15ml, or 1 Tbsp) room temperature water
  • 15 grams (30ml, or 2 Tbsp)’no-additives’ 100% whole wheat flour

Actual Dough

  • 320 grams (2.5 cups + 1 Tbsp) unbleached ‘no-additives’ all-purpose flour
  • 5 grams (2 tsp) wheat germ
  • 180 grams (180ml, or 3/4 cup + 1/2 tsp) room temperature water
  • 1 dessert-spoon (about 25 grams) plain yoghurt
  • 15 grams (1 Tbsp) olive oil
  • All of the leavener, when it floats – showing that it’s as strong as it can be
  • 8 grams salt + 5 grams water (1.33 tsp table salt + 1 tsp water)

Shaping

  • one of the flat bottomed cookie sheet
  • water

Topping, optional

  • sesame seeds
  1. Leavener Late in the evening on the day before you will be making naan sangak, put a spoonful of culture from the fridge into a small bowl. Stir in 50 grams water and 50 grams whole wheat flour. Cover with a plate and put into the cold oven (if the night temperatures are cool, turn the oven light on) to leave overnight.
  2. Leavener, continued In the morning of the day you will be making naan sangak, particularly if the weather is warm, take a small spoonful of the leavener and see if it floats in a bowl of cool water. If the starter is quite bubbly but that little amount sinks, stir 15 grams water and 15 grams whole wheat flour into the bowl from the previous night. Cover with a plate and leave until about noon. If the kitchen is cool, omit this step and proceed to the next one.
  3. Actual Dough On the day you will be making naan sangak, check to see if the leavener floats in a small bowl of cool water. If the leavener is domed but it doesn’t float, wait for 30 minutes or so and try again. If the leavener is bubbly but flat or concave on the surface, stir in about 5 grams each of whole wheat flour and water. Cover with a plate and leave it on the counter out of draughts. Check again again for floating about 20-30 minutes later. It will probably float. Proceed with making the actual dough.
  4. Using a bowl that is large enough for the dough to triple, sift flour in. Whisk in wheat germ. Add 180 grams water, yoghurt, olive oil, and all of the leavener. Using a dough whisk or wooden spoon, stir just enough to mix it together. Cover with a plate and leave on counter for about 20 minutes.
  5. Kneading and adding the salt: Whisk salt and 5 grams water into a small bowl and pour on top of the dough. Wash your hands and leave one hand wet. With the back of your hand against the side of the bowl, reach down into the bowl to the bottom of the dough and pull it up to the fold it over the top. Turn the bowl with your other hand and repeat 4 or 5 times. Cover the bowl with a plate and set aside on the counter for about 20 minutes.
  6. Repeat the previous step 2 or 3 times more. You’ll notice that the dough is smooth and silky to the touch. It may also be quite slack. Don’t be overly concerned. Slack is good.
  7. Proofing: Cover with a plate and leave on the counter. (Check the dough from time to time as the afternoon progresses into evening. Wet your hands and gently fold it whenever it has doubled.
  8. Preheating the Stones: Around dinnertime on the day you will be baking the bread, put the cookie tray of stones into
    • the barbecue on a pizza stone over direct heat, close the lid, and turn it to high.
    • the oven on the middle shelf of the oven set at 450F.
  9. Shaping: While the stones are preheating, use the palms of you hands to slather water over the bottom of another cookie tray. Turn the risen dough onto the tray (the dough will still be pretty slack). Wet your hands again and gently guide and flatten the dough into a rectangle, making sure that one end of the rectangle is very close to the narrow side of the tray. Gently lift the bread up and down again to make sure it is not stuck to the pan. Evenly scatter sesame seeds (if using) on top.
  10. Baking: When the stones are hot hot hot, carry the tray of dough and tip it at the back edge of the tray of hot stones. DO NOT TOUCH THE STONES WITH YOUR HANDS! The dough should begin to slide off the back of the wet tray. If it does not, gently nudge any part that is sticking with a thumb or finger. Gently pull the dough tray back towards the front of the barbecue to stretch the dough onto the hot stones. Once the dough is on the stones, it WILL stick for the first part of baking. Don’t even imagine you can rearrange the dough.
    Slowly tip the plate so that the dough begins sliding off of the wet plate onto the pebbles. Gently pull the plate back in a smooth slow motion as the rest of the dough slides and lands on the pebbles. Help it along the way but make sure you don’t touch the hot pebbles! Once the dough is on the pebbles do not attempt to rearrange it, as it will already be stuck to the stones.
     
    – Omid Roustaei, The Caspian Chef | Naan Sangak – Persian flatbread

    Close the lid of the barbecue if using. (Use direct and indirect heat on the barbecue.)
     
    If you are using the oven, put the tray back onto the middle shelf of the oven still turned to high heat (450F).
     
    It takes 5-10 minutes to bake the bread. Turn the tray around from time to time to account for uneven heat in the barbecue and oven. USE OVEN MITTS!!
     
    To check to see if the bread is done, use blunt-nosed tongs to gently lift the bread from the stones. Some of the stones may stick to the bread. Don’t worry about that. Enough of the stones will fall off onto the tray to let you check for doneness.
  11. cooling slightly: When the bread is done, bring it inside on its tray of hot stones. Some of the stones will remain attached to the bread. Once the bread cools for about 5 minutes, the stones can be dislodged relatively easily with oven mitts or a spoon. BE CAREFUL!! THE STONES ARE STILL VERY HOT!
    Pebble Bread
    50% of our household likes to use a knife to pry the hot stones free from the bread.
    Pebble Bread
    50% of our household likes to use a heavy cotton serviette to pry the hot stones free from the bread.

    If the stones are extremely reluctant to release themselves, it seems to indicate that the bread has not quite finished baking; simply bake it a little longer and try again.

Use a pizza wheel to cut the de-stoned bread and serve it immediately with Persian stews, Indian-style curries, chili con carne, soup…. It’s good with grilled vegetables too.

Notes:

:: Measuring units: It’s significantly easier to measure ingredients by weight – less clean up and less frantic rummaging through drawers and cupboards in search of cups and spoons. A digital scale is ideal, but a spring scale also works. If you do not have a scale, please look at this excellent online resource from Gourmet Sleuth: Cooking Conversions Calculator
There are so many variables present every time you begin a recipe: the heat of the kitchen, the ingredients, the calibration of your oven, to name just a few. Weighing rather than measuring by volume is a simple way of eliminating one big variable. […] When you measure by volume, the weight of an ingredient can differ each time. Once you get a scale, you can see for yourself how wide a range of weights a cup of flour can be, depending on how it is spooned or scooped or packed; it can vary in volume by as much as 50 percent depending on who’s doing the measuring, how the flour was stored and measured, and the humidity. […] Another example is salt — different salts are not equal in weight when measured by volume. A tablespoon of Diamond Crystal kosher salt (used in these recipes), for example, weighs only 60 percent of what a tablespoon of Morton kosher salt weighs.
 
– Susie Heller and Amy Vogler, ‘Throw Out Your Measuring Cups’, Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel

:: Salt: As seen from above, there’s a very good reason to weigh the salt, rather than use volume measures. According to Jennifer L Duque (RevelKitchen), one teaspoon of table salt weighs 6 grams, but depending on the brand, one teaspoon of Kosher salt weighs 3, 3.5, or 4 grams. One teaspoon of salt flakes (depending on the size of the flakes) weight 2.5 grams.
Salt has such a profound impact on heightening the flavor of food and does so in droves before ever tasting too salty. It is the most basic and most humbling seasoning — it enhances rather than adds additional flavors to foods, but its misapplication can easily bite any of us, from the most novice cook to world-renowned Top Chef Masters competitors. Salt can take the form of tiny grains, hefty crumbs, thin crystalline flakes, and many other shapes and densities. […] After using the same salt for a while, we acquire a sense for how salty these rudimentary measures will make food taste and can go along our merry way without fussing with measuring spoons. Switch up the salt, however, and you can get vastly different results.
 
– Jennifer L Duque, Revel Kitchen | How “salt” can be the kiss of life (or death) in cooking

For more raving about this, please see Salt is salt, right?

:: amount of water: The amount of water used in Naan Sangak appears to vary from recipe to recipe. However, all of the recipes we looked at are quite sloppy, with baker’s percentage hydration anywhere between 75 and 85%.

:: stones: To prepare the stones before the first baking, wash them really well with dish detergent and water – to remove oils and/or dirt. After several rinsings, once the rinsing water is clear, they will be almost ready to go. (Our stones were filthy when we first got them – it took about 10 washings with dish soap and hot water before the water ran clear on the rinses.) Just to be sure, boil the stones in a pot of clean water. (Elle suggested hand-washing them at least a couple of times before putting them into the dishwasher. We don’t happen to have a dishwasher – or rather, we do, but that dishwasher is me…. So use your dishwasher if you want, but rest assured that boiling the stones does the trick.)

Finally, after draining the stones, dump them onto a rimmed cookie sheet to dry. Once dry, preheat them until they are hot hot hot before pouring (that’s right – pouring) risen bread dough onto the hot stones for baking. Sometimes after baking, there are bits of bread stuck to one or two stones. To remove bits of baked-on bread from the stones, soak them in clean water. The bread will come right off. When not using them for baking, we cool them, make sure they’re dry, and keep them in the jar they came in. EVERY time, we are certain that they won’t go back into the jar. But then, hey presto, they shift a little and all of them fit.

A word of warning: one or two of the rocks might shatter the first time they are baked. As I recall now, a couple of our rocks did break in half last year…. (We didn’t test them in advance, but heard a few loud cracks the first time we baked bread on them.)
I purchased my pebbles from a Home and Garden store, washed them thoroughly, and tested them in the oven to make sure that they were suitable for this purpose. To test them, I laid out the pebbles on a baking sheet, put another baking sheet on top and baked them at 520°F for 30 minutes to ensure that they can withstand the heat and not crack or shatter.
 
– Omid Roustaei, The Caspian Chef | Naan Sangak – Persian flatbread

:: to oil, or not to oil: Several online recipes call for oiling the stones and/or transfer plate. This doesn’t make sense to us – the oil on the stones could become rancid and have to be replaced. Omid Roustaei’s recipe calls for oil in the dough itself. Naomi Duguid’s recipe calls for zero oil, as do almost all the other Sangak recipes or descriptions of the bread that we found on the internet. We have made the bread both ways, and now prefer the oiled version (but not the transfer plate or the stones).

:: starter (aka culture): Our starter is a 100% hydration, liquid levain. It takes about 5 days to create. (Please see our take on Jane Mason’s Natural Starter made with Wheat Flour.) Of course, if you don’t have a wild starter going, you can always alter the recipe to use commercial yeast. Please see the following for how: converting recipe for wild yeast to one with domestic yeast (and vice versa)

:: leavener and the float test: In the summer, our leavener can be quite active. We find that with the extra warmth in the kitchen, dough made with it tends to rise very quickly. Therefore, we feed it late at night and again in the morning.

wild starter floating

Many people state categorically that the float test is unreliable, useless, and/or “bogus”. I have been tricked when merely looking at our starter – it appears to have doubled and be quite aerated. But it does NOT float. I feed it with a small amount of flour and check it about an hour or so later. The starter then has a slightly domed shape and DOES pass the float test, indicating that it is at its peak.

Here are three reasons that I am a diehard float tester:
1.)
[It] might be the case that your starter is rising, but you’re not there to see it. If you feed at night, it might be rising up while you’re asleep, and by morning it has fallen again, so it looks the same.
 
– Donna Currie, Serious Eats
| Sourdough Starter Frequently Asked Questions

2.)
The best time to mix your starter into your dough is when it’s achieved its maximum rise and is just starting to fall, because that’s when the yeast activity is going to be at its maximum.
 
– the Regular Chef, YouTube: 5 Ways To Get A Better Oven Spring | Sourdough Bread Tips
3.)
The most reliable indication that your leaven is ready is if it floats in water, a result of the carbon dioxide gas produced by wild yeast activity. To test the readiness of your leaven, drop a spoonful of it into a bowl of moderate room-temperature water. If it sinks, it is not ready to use and needs more time to ferment and ripen. You can expedite the fermentation by putting the leaven in a warm place and checking again after half an hour. Or you can [feed] the leaven […] [to give] it fresh resources to ferment and ripen. Let the new mixture ferment until it passes the float test.
 
– Chad Robertson, Tartine Bread, p45-47

I am in complete awe of all the intuitive sourdough bakers out there who are producing brilliant bread after brilliant bread without doing the float test. But for me, it is an important step to ensure that our bread rises rather than becoming a doorstop destined for immediately becoming bread crumbs. Or worse, compost.

 

As for what we serve the bread with, it has been mostly stew-like things: Indian-style curries, Persian stews. It’s good with grilled vegetables too. I think it would work well with chili con carne. Pretty much anything you want.

Pebble Bread
Pebble Bread

Dishes of ‘ájil‘ (pistachio nuts and the like) are handed round or placed near the guests; and from time to time a spit of kebábs (pieces of broiled meat) enveloped in a folded sheet of the flat bread called nán-i-sangak, is brought in. […] [The host] gives the signal for supper, which is served either in the same or in another room. A cloth is laid on the floor, round which are arranged the long flat cakes of ‘pebble-bread’ which do double duty as food and plates.
 
– Edward Granville Browne, A Year Amongst the Persians (1893), p.109-110

Pebble Bread
Non dar nondonu, kaldash dar osmon.
(The bread is in the basket, the key in heaven.)
– Tajik proverb

Bread Baking Babes BBB: Let's Keep Baking

Do you have your river stones yet? And have you washed them very very well? I hope so. I hope so.

As you know, I am hosting August 2021’s Bread Baking Babes’ project.

And we know that you can’t wait to heat up those river stones on a tray so you can make Naan Sangak too! To receive a Baking Buddy Badge to display on your site, post about your Persian Pebble Bread adventure in the next couple of weeks (we love to see how your bread turns out AND hear what you think about it – what you didn’t like and/or what you liked) before the 29 August 2021.

Here’s how to let us know:

  • email me
    » Remember to include your name and a link to your post
    » Please type “BBB August 2021 bread” in the subject heading

Please note that it’s not enough to post about your bread in the Facebook group. Because of the ephemeral nature of Facebook’s posts, your FB post may be lost in the shuffle. Please email if you want to be included.

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 toasted oats bread can be included in the roundup too.

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

Please take a look at the other BBBabes’ August 2021 Pebble Bread Adventures.

 

Pebble Bread

The bazaars open shortly after sunrise and do not close until sunset […] Beyond a rough grouping of industries there is little order or arrangement in the distribution of the booths. Here may be a fruit-stall with a rich supply of melons, which are kept on sale even in winter; there an Armenian silversmith doing fine filigree-work by hand; on this side a cap-maker busy with finishing a lambskin hat or a black Persian fez; yonder a baker flapping huge sheets of dough against the sides of an earthen oven (tandür). The oven itself is simply a hollow scooped in the earth and lined on the sides with pebbles, which absorb the heat and bake the giant flap-jack. but impart to the bread a peculiar pitted apperacne and often a gritty tate. We can well understand why this bread is called ‘pabble-bread’ (nãn-i sangak).)
 
A.V. Williams Jackson, Persia Past and Present: a book of travel and research (1906), p.45-46

5 responses to “BBBabes are Baking on Hot Stones (BBB August 2021)

  1. Cathy (Bread Experience)

    Thanks for the challenge Elizabeth! I can tell you have this process down. You achieved such a lovely brown color. I really need to try baking this on the grill.

    edit 18 August 2021, 18:10: You do, Cathy, you do. The baking is significantly faster on the barbecue than in the oven. (Ha. If you had heard us when we were transferring the sloppy dough to the hot stones the last time we made this bread, you wouldn’t think we had the process down at all. :lalala:) – Elizabeth

    Reply
  2. Karen (Karen's Kitchen Stories)

    Thanks for the great fun Elizabeth! Your bread is such a gorgeous color too. Clearly you’ve perfected the method.

    edit 18 August 2021, 18:12: I’m really glad you enjoyed it, Karen! – Elizabeth

    Reply
  3. Kelly (A Messy Kitchen)

    Hubby and daughter agree this would be great with any type of stew or soup!

    edit 18 August 2021, 18:13: It’s great as the base for open-face tomato sandwiches too, Kelly. (Our cherry tomatoes are ripening at last!) – Elizabeth

    Reply
  4. Katie Zeller (Thyme for Cooking)

    Of course you made bread with river rocks….. Why wouldn’t you? When I first glanced at the photos I thought the rocks were IN the dough…. So relieved to see the bread was baked on top.
    My dentist was relieved, too.
    Seriously, I love that you bake this on the grill. I’m sending this to my bread baking nephew – he’ll love it!

    edit 18 August 2021, 18:19: Ha. It does look like the rocks are right in the dough, doesn’t it, Katie? That would be a very mean thing to serve though, and possibly expensive in this litigious society. I can’t wait for the report from your nephew. Make sure to tell him to wash wash wash wash wash the river stones first though. Baking them alone first – with a lid on top of them – is probably a good idea too. There might be a couple that break and explode. – Elizabeth

    Reply

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