Hot Bread Kitchen: Nan-e Barbari, classic flatbread with an unusual twist

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…

Hot Bread Kitchen via @kingarthurflour

Mix together the following:

1 2/3 to 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water*
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast or instant yeast
4 cups + 3 tablespoons King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt

*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.

Hot Bread Kitchen via @kingarthurflour

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 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.

Hot Bread Kitchen via @kingarthurflour
Once the dough has rested, gently flatten each piece.
Hot Bread Kitchen via @kingarthurflour

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.

Hot Bread Kitchen via @kingarthurflour
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.

Hot Bread Kitchen via @kingarthurflour
Remove the bread from the oven, and place it on a rack. Repeat with the second piece of dough.
Hot Bread Kitchen via @kingarthurflour
Tear off a warm piece… heaven.
Hot Bread Kitchen via @kingarthurflour

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.

Hot Bread Kitchen via @kingarthurflour

Like this.

Hot Bread Kitchen via @kingarthurflour

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.

Hot Bread Kitchen via @kingarthurflour

Grip it and rip it!

Please read, bake, and review our recipe for Hot Bread Kitchen’s Nan-E Barbari.

Print just the recipe.

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.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Karen I Ford

    Love these recipes and the idea behind the bakery. Bread baking is more than just a way to feed the family. There is something so therapeutic in kneading the dough, shaping it, baking it, and then sharing it with family and friends.
    I can”t wait to try the Nan-e Barbari for my family.

    Reply
  2. Persian Mama

    This recipe sounds like a winner. I grew up eating and loving Barbari in Iran, and I am definitely going to try your recipe. Thank you for sharing it

    Reply
  3. Shana Buck

    Two bread baking memories I cherish: going to visit my paternal grandmother on a Saturday, which was her bread baking day – Grandpa would not eat commercial bread so Grandma baked all the bread they used. The whole house smelled so good and there were always big trays of fresh bread buns on the table with dishes of butter so we could just dig in and enjoy Grandma Emma’s bread. Her son, my father, loved to experiment with bread baking, too, and dad made the most delicious loaf of black rye bread ever. he always enjoyed experimenting with new ingredients in his bread and usually came up with some incredibly tasty loaves, although he didn’t always write down exactly what he did so sometimes he couldn’t repeat the recipe.

    Reply
  4. Cahide

    I had purchased this book from Amazon when it was first released and made the Garlic Naan with Green Chile–which was really good, especially with homemade hummus. This post motivated me to try the Nan-e Barbari.

    The recipe in the book calls for 2 cups/450 gr of water to the 4 cups/510 gr of flour. If I’m correct, this would be a hydration rate of 88%. In order to achieve the consistency of dough described in the recipe (“The dough should be cleaning the sides of the bowl”), I had to add 100 gr of flour for a total of 610 gr. That would be approximately 74% hydration, while the hydration presented here ranges from 74% to 78%.

    Since I am partial to preferments, today I used the book’s recipe for pate fermentee and subbed it into the original recipe (continuing to add the additional 100 gr of flour). I also reduced the yeast to one teaspoon in the final dough. With the original dough, I noticed a very good rise on the counter after the initial shaping with decent oven spring. With the pate fermentee version, there was not quite as much rise on the counter after the initial shaping, however there was much better oven spring. The finished pate fermentee loaves ended up significantly puffier. The crumb is a bit more holey and custardy.

    The other change I made today was to preheat the oven for an hour at 500 and then reduce the temperature to 450 when I put the pate fermentee loaves in. I used a fibrament stone both days.

    Now I’m going to have to try a levain in place of all the yeast.

    Either way, this bread was a big hit with everyone, including a couple of teenagers.

    Thanks for the motivation!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Sure thing, Carie. Feel free to brush the top of the bread with some melted butter and sea salt if that is all you have on hand. Let your imagination go wild: Parmesan cheese, fresh herbs, or any type of seeds or nuts you may have in your pantry could also work as toppings. Kye@KAF

    2. Carie

      I made it! And it was very yummy! This is a great munching bread when giving up dairy for a time. I made two loaves: one plain and one sprinkled with Herbs de Provence. They won’t last a day in my house!

      I have a small apartment size oven, so I had to shave off a few minutes of baking time. I think I will move my rack and pizza stone up on shelf in the oven next time. The bottoms got a bit too brown.

      Question: I made my dough in a Zo Virtuoso in the dough cycle. At the end of the cycle the pan was clean and the dough looked soft. But when I handled it, the dough stuck all over me! It was very hard to handle. I added a tiny bit of flour to help me maneuver it. I live in SW Virginia…perhaps I should’ve used less water even though it is winter?

    3. The Baker's Hotline

      Carie, it does sound like there was just a bit too much moisture in this dough, and it seems as though you made the right choice by adding a touch more flour to make it workable. Dough should generally be tacky but not sticky, or at least not so sticky that you can’t handle it. Good judgement call. Bryanna@KAF

  5. Marion

    I am going to try this bread. My husband and I lived in Iran before the revolution. He worked at the American Embassy. It was quite an experience for me as I had never been overseas. The barbari bread there was so wonderful. I have tried to duplicate it at home, but I think the wheat they make into flour must be different. They have a unique way of baking the bread, too. There are beehive shaped ovens that are wood fired and lined with stone. The bakers throw the bread up on the stones, and when it falls off it is done. Occasionally a stone would stick in the bread.

    Reply
  6. Mikelib

    Tonight’s dinner was brisket pot roast with sweet onion gravy, butter noodles and carrots and hot from the oven Nan-e Barbari.

    The naan was warm, tender and a bit chewy, oh so good. This was the first time I ever used a glaze to top a bread a new experience for me. Thanks PJ I will add this to my collection of flat breads.

    Reply
  7. Selby

    Would this dough freeze well before baking? Or perhaps my question should be: Is there a place in this process where the Nan could be frozen with good results?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Selby, for best results I would not recommend freezing this dough. You can certainly freeze the finished bread though. Barb@KAF

  8. Cynthia

    I can almost smell and taste this bread from the pictures! Unfortunately in our family we must bake gluten free, but I may give this a go using a GF recipe, just for the topping!!! Maybe someday soon someone will come up with a bread flour clone that is GF!

    Reply
  9. May

    Someone here recommended Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid’s book; my recommendation would be, don’t waste your money, I’m afraid, if you want to use their books for cooking and not just as coffee-table accoutrements.

    While their books are handsome and full of gorgeous images, the recipes are too frequently neither authentic nor well-tested, and you will, more often than not, bd disappointed with the results of your efforts should you follow their recipes.

    Better to turn to Ottolenghi, or many other better bakers, I’m afraid!

    Reply

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