Naan Sangak or Persian Pebble Bread is this month’s Bread Baking Babes bread. Quoting Elizabeth, she decreed this after discovering it in a cookbook and now cannot stop eating “Persian-style” dinners! Naan Sangak is a Persian/ Iranian sourdough whole-meal sesame seed topped flatbread mostly served with lunch or dinner. It is more commonly referred to as a Pebble Bread in the Western world. This is because the dough is baked as thin long bread over a bed of hot pebbles. The only negative about this is the occasional pebble embedded in the bread! Sangak is the Farsi word for pebble (from “sang” for stone) and Naan is bread. This flatbread is soft and fluffy with a firm almost crisp crust.
Naan Sangak is baked on the sloping pebbled bottom of traditional clay ovens. Iranians buy freshly baked breads daily from bakeries on street corners. These kinds of flatbreads are rarely baked at home. Typically, Naan Sangak or Naan Barbari are baked in huge pieces almost a metre in length. Naan Sangak can be baked in a home oven or on the grill provided one can find pebbles to bake it on. You can pick them from the beach or better still from the river bank if you have that close by. I bought my pebbles in a garden supply store. You can also find them in places that sell aquariums. Do buy unglazed ones and then clean them really well. Wash them with soap and water and then boil them really well. I pressure cooked the heck out of mine, then washed them again and let them dry.
This flatbread is generally made with a sourdough starter but regular yeast works just fine. I went with a pre-ferment made the previous night using a pinch of dried yeast. That way my Naan Sangak had a nice texture and flavour without the tang of sourdough. I adapted Elizabeth’s recipe to make a smaller Naan Sangak as we’re just two at home now. Yogurt in the dough, regular Naan style, as it adds a softness to the bread. My Naan Sangak is made with a mixture of whole wheat and all-purpose flour. The bread in itself is quite easy to make even more so than regular Naan. This dough is somewhat similar to that of Naan but quite slack, almost 70 to 80% hydrated.
There are some precautions, if taken, which will make this bread making process almost effortless. The first is to ensure that the pebbles are smaller rather than bigger. The dough is less likely to stick to smaller pebbles making the bread easier to remove after baking. Ideally the slack wet dough should release from the stones once it is cooked. I learnt the hard way that this doesn’t always work. I spent the better part of an hour trying to scrape the bread off the pebbles on my first attempt! My pebbles were also on the larger side so this might have contributed as well. So it might help to spray the pebbles with oil as additional insurance to ensure the bread separates from the pebbles easily.
Use a large baking or roasting tray, as large as will fit in your oven. Lay the clean pebbles on it, closely packed as one layer. Also make sure to pre-heat the pebbles in the oven till they’re really hot. This what ensures that the dough cooks well and makes this bread Naan Sangak. The stones will NOT release themselves if the bread isn’t quite baked! Unless, of course, the dough is actually stuck!!
A WORD OF WARNING – one or two of the pebbles might shatter the first time they are baked. So don’t be surprised if you hear a few loud cracks when they’re heating up in the oven.
It is very IMPORTANT to be careful while handling the hot tray of pebbles. I cannot stress this enough. If you can manage to transfer the dough onto the hot tray without taking out of the oven, then that’s the best way to go. Otherwise remember that THE TRAY WILL BE HOT AND THE PEBBLES VERY HOT! I used oven mitts and my husband was around to help me move the tray out of and into the oven. Please watch this to better understand the process of transferring the dough onto the hot pebbles.
Do not despair if you cannot find pebbles to bake this flatbread. You can still make it without the pebbles and you’ll still have a pretty Naan without Sangak. All you need to do is use a pizza stone in the oven. Then generously grease a large baking tray. Press the slack dough out on the baking sheet with wet hands. Use your finger tips, like you would to make Focaccia, to make “bumps” and the occasional “hole” for texture. Then bake in the oven as usual. No pebbles, but you’ll still have pretty good flatbread.
Please see Elizabeth’s post for her original recipe and details on how to cook Naan Sangak on the grill. This naan is traditionally eaten wrapped around kebabs. It goes very well with soups, stews or curries. I personally like it as it is, warm from the oven with a cup of spiced tea. This flatbread is best eaten fresh, on the day it is baked.
Naan Sangak or Persian Pebble Bread
For the Pre-ferment :
- 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/8 tsp dried yeast
For the Dough :
- All of the pre-ferment
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp dried yeast
- 1/8 cup plain yogurt
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup water more if necessary
For Topping :
- 2 tbsp sesame seeds
For Baking :
- One layer clean pebbles in large baking tray
- Mix together all the ingredients for the pre-ferment the night before in a small bowl. Loosely cover and leave on the counter overnight, or at least for about 6 to 8 hours. You can also do this first thing in the morning, if you’re baking the Naan Sangak for dinner.
- The next morning, mix together all the ingredients for the dough except the water in a large bowl. Slowly add as much water as necessary and knead till you have very slack and wett-ish dough. The dough should be slack. You will need to wet your hands to handle the dough without sticking.
- Once it has come together, wet your hands and fold dough on itself, pushing your hand under the dough and pulling up from one side towards the other. Turn the bowl and repeat until you have done this 4 times, rotating the bowl through one full circle. The dough should be reasonably smooth now. Repeat this folding once again after about an hour.
- Cover the bowl loosely and leave the dough to rise till almost three times it volume. This will take between 2 to 3 hours.
- About half an hour before you are ready to bake the Naan Sangak, pre-heat your oven. Set the oven at 330C (450F). Put the baking tray with the pebbles on the middle shelf of the oven so the pebbles get really hot.
- While pebbles are heating, start shaping the dough. Using your palms slather water generously on the back of another large cookie tray or pizza peel. Turn the risen dough out onto the wet tray. It will very slack which is what we want. Wet your hands and gently guide and flatten the dough into a rough rectangle. Make sure that one end of the rectangle is very close to one short side of the tray. Gently lift the bread up and down again to make sure it is not stuck to the pan.
- When the stones are really hot. VERY, VERY CAREFULLY take the hot tray out of the oven. DO NOT TOUCH THE STONES WITH YOUR HANDS! Work quickly. Don’t forget to spray the stones generously with oil so they’re well coated.
- Start at the short edge of the pebble tray that’s away from you. Tip the edge of the tray with the dough at the edge of the pebble tray that’s away from you. 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 dough tray back in a smooth slow motion as the rest of the dough slides and lands on the pebbles. This will stretch the dough out into a thinner rectangle. Let all of the dough slide off onto the pebbles. Help it along the way but make sure you don't touch the hot pebbles! Once the dough is on the stones, it WILL stick for the first part of baking. Do not try to rearrange the dough.
- It takes about 10 minutes or so to bake the bread. Turn the tray around from time to time to ensure even baking. Remember to USE THOSE OVEN MITTS! To check to see if the bread is done, use blunt-nosed tongs to gently lift the bread from the pebbles. The bread will not come off the pebbles until it is cooked so it might need a little longer in the oven. Do not over bake it.
- Some of the pebbles may still stick to the bread even after it is cooked. That’s alright. They will come off once the bread is completely cool. Don’t forget the pebbles will retain heat for a long time. You can turn off the oven once the bread is done and leave the tray of pebbles in it to cool slowly.
The Bread Baking Babes are –