I have been baking with the Bread Baking Babes (a.k.a BBBs) for a little while now and much longer, on and off, as a buddy. This month I also have the honour of being the “kitchen of the Month”, which means that I get to choose what bread all of us bake for November. Given that the BBBs have been baking for a while and baked their way through a variety of breads from across the world, choosing a bread wasn’t exactly easy. That was until it struck me that I could look for a bread that was from the Asian subcontinent.
After a lot of searching, I found a bread that I hoped would be different, challenging and fun for all of us to bake. May I present the Bakharkahni, a layered and very rich bread, made somewhat in the manner of puff pastry?
Bakarkhani (also called Baqeerkahni, Bakharkhoni or Bakorkhani) are flatbreads that came into the Asian sub-continent with the tandoor and other breads of Turkish and Mughal traders and invaders sometime in the eighteenth century. It is quite popular in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. In India, The Bakharkhani is typically found in areas where history, food and culture are influenced by the Mughal rule like Lucknow, Hyderabad and Kashmir.
Bakharkhani , seems to be different in different parts of the world where it exists. It can be a savoury or slightly sweet, leavened or unleavened, soft or crisp, eaten for breakfast or served with tea, and even like a paratha (Sylheti Bakharkhani from Bangladesh). The softer leavened versions of Bakharkhani are usually served with kebabs and meat curries.
There is a tragic love story that is supposedly behind the origin of the name of this flatbread – that of an army general named Aga Bakar and a beautiful dancer Khani Begum.
According to the book “Kingbadantir Dhaka” written by one Nazir Hossain, during Nabab Siraj-ud-daulah’s reign in the 1800s, there was a general called Aga Bakar in Chittagong. He apparently fell in love with a beautiful dancer called Khani Begum. Unfortunately, another official in the army called Jainul Khan, was equally enamoured by her and decided to kidnap her. Aga Bakar got to know of this plan and rescued her from her kidnapper. Now Jainul Khan managed to escape in the skirmish. He however got his revenge going into hiding and then floating a rumour that Aga Bakar had killed him and hidden his dead body!
So Aga Bakar was arrested for murder, and sentenced to death. He was put in a cage with a hungry tiger, but Aga Bakar managed to kill the tiger and escape. In the meanwhile, Jainul Khan managed to find Khani Begum and then killed her. I’m not sure what happened to Jainul Khan after that, but it seems that Aga Bakar went on to live a little longer, got married and had children. He never forgot Khani Begum though.
It is said that Aga Bakar immortalized his love for Khani Begum by naming this bread “Bakar-Khani”. I have heard of men immortalizing their love for women throughout history in various ways like Shah Jahan who built the Taj Mahal for Mumtaz Mahal, or the Bibi ka Maqbara that the Mughal emperor Aurangazeb built for his wife Dilras Banu Begum, Kellie’s Castle in Malaysia that William Kellie Smith bult for his wife Agnes, Prasat Hin Phimai in Thailand by Orapima in the memory of her husand to be, etc. Bread seems a little tame in comparison but perhaps it reinforces the thought the way to true love is through the stomach.
While making the bread in my kitchen, it struck me just how rich (in fat and calories) this bread actually is. The fat in Bakharkhani comes mostly from two ingredients, ghee (clarified butter) and mawa (caramelized milk solids) both of which were probably beyond the reach of the average man on the streets in Aga Bakar’s time, but very common in the kitchens of the Mughal nobles.
So perhaps it made sense that Aga Bakar dedicated such a bread to the memory of his beloved. The grandeur of the Taj Mahal might not be visited by everyone or even mean anything to many, but food is something that everyone can relate to so maybe Aga Bakar knew something that Shah Jehan didn’t.
I recently came across an article (forgot to mark it so I don’t have the link) where it that the Bakharkhani was abread which was actually created by someone in Delhi during the time of Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. Apparently the local cooks were required to obtain a license from the Red Fort if they wanted to make it!
The Bakharkhani in the recipe below is the Dhakai version (from Dhaka in Bangladesh) and is meant to be firm and somewhat crisp and is served with tea. Sprinkling sesame seeds on this flatbread is not traditional, and just an option.
Making this Bakharkhani involves rolling out the dough very thin, and then repeatedly spreading the surface with melted ghee and then a sprinkling of flour and then folding it, to create a layered dough. Yet, this layering doesn’t seem to be about having layers in the finished bread like in croissants or Danishes, but more about allowing the layering to produce lift (as there is no leavening agent in this dough), texture and softness in the finished bread.
Dhakai Bakharkhani/ Baqeerkhani (Crisp Flatbreads from Dhaka, Bangladesh)
(Adapted from Honest Cooking)
Dhakai Bakharkhani/ Baqeerkhani (Crisp Flatbreads from Dhaka, Bangladesh)
- 2 cups flour , (plus a little more for rolling it out the dough)
- 1/4 cup mawa *
- 1/4 cup ghee ** (plus a little more for spreading on the dough while rolling it out)
- 3/4 tsp salt teaspoon
- 3 tsps sugar
- 2/3 cups water (a little less or more if needed)
- Sesame seeds , to sprinkle (optional)
- Melt 500gm of unsalted butter and let it cook until the milk solids in the butter start turning golden brown (do not burn them) and the liquid fat is a golden colour. You should get a rich aroma from it.
- Let it cool to room temperature and then decant or strain the golden liquid into an airtight jar. This keeps for ages.
- In a large bowl, put the flour, salt and sugar into a large bowl. Crumble the mawa into it and mix in. Then add the ghee and use your fingers to rub it into the flour. Add the water, a little at a time, and knead well until you have a smooth and elastic dough that can be rolled out very thin.
- Cover the bowl with cling wrap or a damp kitchen towel to prevent it from drying. Let it rest for about 30 minutes to an hour. Then lightly coat the dough with a little ghee and then let it rest for another 10 to 15 minutes.
- Also lightly coat your rolling pin and board (or your working surface) with some ghee (or oil).
- Now divide the dough into two portions, working with one portion at a time. (I just oiled the surface of my dining table and rolled out the dough in one piece rather dividing the dough into two and going through the whole process twice!) Roll out one portion of the dough as thin as possible into a rectangle, without adding any flour. It should be thin enough for you to see your work surface through the rolled out dough!
- If your ghee has solidified, then melt it by placing the ghee container in a shallow bowl of hot water. Brush some ghee (not too much) all over the surface of the rolled out dough with your fingers. Sprinkle some flour evenly over this, enough so that the ghee is absorbed when spread out. The flour layer should be thin. Brush some more ghee, again, over this and then sprinkle some flour over this like previously.
- Fold the dough into half and once again repeat the process of brushing the ghee and sprinkling the flour over this twice, as before. Fold the dough for the second time (see the video) and repeat the brushing with ghee and flouring, twice.
- Now roll up the dough into a long cylinder and let it rest for about 10 minutes. Pinch off lime (or golf ball) sized balls and roll each one into a small, round flatbread about 1/8u201d thick. Sprinkle sesame seeds (optional) and lightly press into the dough using your rolling pin. Make three centred lengthwise cuts on each flatbread using a knife.
- Place on parchment lined baking sheets and bake 170C (325F). for about 20 to 25 minutes or until theyu2019re light brown on top. Do not over bake. Let them cool and serve with coffee or tea.