We Knead To Bake #22 : Sheermal/ Shirmal (Saffron Flavoured Flatbread)
This month's choice for the "We Knead To Bake" group was Sheermal. Sheermal or Shirmal is a saffron-flavored slightly sweet traditional leavened flatbread that is found in various countries on the Asian sub-continent including Iran, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India.
Sheermal is a Naan-like milk bread, apparently of Persian origins, and it is suggested that the name comes from the Persian word for milk which is “sheer”. In India, this “milk” bread is predominantly found in Muslim neighbourhoods (another reason to suppose it came to India with the Mughals) of Kashmir, Lucknow and Hyderabad.
While I haven’t been able to find any decisive or detailed information on the Sheermal, I have discovered that the finished flatbread and when it is served/ how it is eaten, seems to differ slightly depending on where it is made. So you will find that some Sheermal decorated with a lovely pricked rustic pattern on its surface, Lucknowi Sheermal garnished with raisins, others like to use slivered almonds, poppy seeds or sesame seeds to top their Sheermal.
I understand that Sheermal is usually eaten as it is with tea for breakfast, or served slightly warm as part of a meal with a mutton curry called Nihari/ Nehari or spicy kebabs. It can also be served with Khurma/ Korma/ Qorma, vegetable curries, etc.
You will find Sheermal being made with either baking powder or yeast as the leavening agent, and this version uses yeast. The kewra (screw pine extract) gives this bread a unique flavour which can a bit of an acquired taste. Rose water/ essence is also used, and is also somewhat of an acquired flavour. If you can neither (or don’t want ot use either), you can use crushed cardamom instead.
Incorporating the ghee into the dough slowly by adding a little at a time ensures that the fat is dispersed evenly through the dough, and gives a better texture to the Sheermal. Make sure your dough is soft, elastic and well kneaded as this will produce a superior Sheermal. The hallmark of good Sheermal is the glistening finish on the flatbread from brushing it with melted ghee or butter, so do not skimp on that, even though this flatbread is already rich as it is.
The egg gives the dough a little extra richness, texture and flavour, but you can leave it out if you don’t use eggs.
Traditionally, this is a bread that is cooked in a tandoor, but the oven also produces quite good Sheermal. Here are two good videos worth watching before making the Sheermal. One is a video is a film showing how Sheermal is made in smaller commercial bakeries, and the other one gives a good demonstration on how to make/ shape Sheermal
Sheermal/ Shirmal (Saffron Flavoured Flatbread)
- Mix the yeast into the warm water with sugar and set aside for 5 to 10 minutes till it is frothy.
- You may knead by hand or with a machine. Put the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the yeast mixture and the beaten egg and run the processor a couple of times to mix well. Then add the ghee in two lots to this and again pulse a couple of times till it looks like fine crumbs.
- Now add as much milk, and finally the kewra (or rose water) and knead until you have a very soft and slightly sticky dough. Transfer this to an oiled bowl, cover with a moist cloth and let the dough rise till doubled in volume (about 1 to 2 hours).
- Remove the cloth and knead the dough again. Shape into a ball, lightly coat all over with a little ghee, cover with a damp kitchen towel and let it rest for about 15 to 20 minutes.
- Now divide the dough into 4 equal portions and using your fingers, press out each portion into a round of approximately 4” diameter (about 1/8” thick). You can also use your rolling pin, but I found it quite easy to do with my fingers. Place the rounds on a parchment lined or lightly greased baking tray and using a fork, dock (prick holes) the whole surface of the dough rounds.
- Brush them all over, generously, with the saffron-milk solution. Bake at 180C (350F) for about 10 to 15 minutes till they turn a lovely golden brown. Do not over-bake them.
- Take them out of the oven, and immediately brush them lightly with melted butter or more ghee. Serve warm. This recipe makes 4 Sheermals of approximately 4” diameter.