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)