If you search the net for Ekmak, your search is most likely to throw up results for Ekmek Kataifi. That is a Greek/ Turkish desert of Kataifi (shredded phyllo) with a custard and cream topping. If you search for Ekmak bread, you’re likely to find a Turkish flatbread recipe. This month’s Bread Baking Babes bread, chosen by Karen is neither. Our Ekmak is a boat shaped Syrian sweet pastry with origins in the city of Raqqa. Similar in shape to the Georgian Khachapuri, here the filling is mildly sweet cheese topped with some fruit preserve.
Karen found this bread in the July/August edition of Bake from Scratch Magazine. The magazine calls Ekmak the Syrian pastry you need to know. Apparently, Ekmak means “sweet bread with cheese” in old Assyrian. This recipe comes from Riyad Al-Kasem, originally from Raqqa. He now owns the restaurant Café Rakka in Hendersonville.
According to the magazine article, this Ekmak comes from his grandmother’s recipe. He says the key to the dough is a lot of resting time. His grandmother would leave the dough to rest, get some chores done before she came back to it. She also made the dough with a culture/ starter.
The cheese traditionally used in Ekmak is called Kaymak and well known across the Middle East. Milk is boiled over very low heat and the top layer is skimmed off every 12 hours over a period of three days. This forms a clotted cream like layered cheese which is a delicacy. This Kaymak would be served as dessert on special occasions.
In the article, Riyad mentions how this bread is connected to memories of Raqqa, before it was destroyed in the war. “I take a bite and I can almost hear my family laughing. When I copy a recipe from my memory, I copy everything with it, the experience that comes with it too. It is more than just food. It is laughter, memories, picture, and the smell of the air…. “
Riyad Al-Kasem gives us a recipe with easier to find ingredient substitutions. The dough uses commercial yeast and apple cider vinegar instead of a starter. It is much like pizza dough, only sweeter. He suggests using ricotta which he says is creamy like Kaymak.
Since Kaymak is a creamy cheese made from full fat milk (60%, I understand). You can try making a version of Kaymak at home. I decided to use home made mascarpone instead of ricotta. Both are not easily available where I live so I would make either one at home anyways. The original recipe calls for blueberries but I used store bought black currant preserves for the fruit preserves. You can use pretty much anything you like or have on hand. I think something sweet and slightly tart would work best. I also added some lime zest to my cheese filling which is not typical. Finally, I chose not to dust my breads with icing sugar or drizzle honey because we prefer less sweet bread.
This bread isn’t very difficult to make. The dough should be soft, almost sticky but easy to work with. Just add more flour by the tablespoon till you reach the desired consistency of dough. Though there is resting time involved, it shouldn’t take longer than about 3 hours in all.
The dough is stretched into oval shapes, the filling put in the middle, and then it is shaped into “boats”. Then the cheese filling is topped with the fruit preserves. Brush the boats with milk (I don’t use egg wash) and bake. Once it’s come out of the oven, you can sprinkle it with confectioner’s sugar and serve it with honey, which is traditional.
The original recipe says it makes nine about 9-inch long breads. I prefer smaller 6-inch breads which are about the size of a large croissant or Danish. This means the recipe is more likely to make about 12 breads. So if halve the recipe if you would like a smaller batch. The recipe below is my version with small tweaks on the original.
Ekmak is best slightly warm and fresh from the oven. Serve it as dessert but make them smaller in size. It is somewhat like a Danish pastry so it makes for a very good breakfast with coffee or tea as well.
For the cheese filling:
- 2 cups mascarpone or full fat ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp lime zest
- 2 eggs
- 4 tsp honey
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp icing sugar optional, for sweeter filling
For the Dough:
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2 tsp active dry or instant yeast
- 1/2 cup lukewarm water
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 to 2 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp sugar
- 55 gm unsalted butter soft at room temperature
- 1 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 3/4 cup blackcurrant preserves or of choice
For Brushing on Dough:
- 1/4 cup cold milk
- Icing sugar
- Honey for serving
The Ekmak Filling:
- Make the filling first so it can chill in the fridge for a couple of hours. Mix all the ingredients together with a fork till creamy and smooth. You can add a little icing sugar for a sweeter filling. I would personally not do so but follow your taste buds. Refrigerate while you are making the dough.
Make the Dough:
- Mix together the 1 tsp sugar, yeast and lukewarm water. Keep aside for 5 to 10 minutes till foamy.
- In the bowl of your kneading machine, mix together the flour, salt, the 3 tbsp sugar, and the butter. Pour in the yeast mixture, apple cider vinegar and enough water and knead until you have a very soft and pliable dough that’s just short of sticky.
- Turn the dough out onto your counter and form it into a ball. Place it into an oiled bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled, about an hour. Line baking sheets with parchment or lightly grease them.
- Deflate the dough and let it rest for 10 minutes. Divide into 12 equal portions, cover loosely and let them rest for 15 minutes. Stretch or roll out each ball into a 4-inch round. Let it rest for 10 minutes. Stretch each round again to about 6-inch long oval/ oblong shape.
- Spoon 1/12th of the filling in the middle of each oval. Fold both sides over forming a “boat” shape (see image above). Make sure to pinch and seal the “boat” well to prevent it opening up while baking. Cover the boats loosely and let them rest for about 10 to 15 minutes.
- Spoon a tablespoon of the blackcurrant preserves in the middle of the cheese mixture. Brush the dough with cold milk.
- Bake the Ekmak at 220C (425F) for about 15 minutes till they’re done and a golden brown in colour. Let them cool on the pan for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve warm with honey. You can also brush them with honey instead of icing sugar.
- Refrigerate leftovers and reheat at 160C (325F) for about 5 to 10 minutes.
The Bread Baking Babes are –