We, the Bread Baking Babes, are baking Shubak el-Habayeb or Iraqi Lover’s Window Bread this month. Karen of Karen’s Kitchen Stories chose this quaintly named Iraqi bread for us from Jane Mason’s The Book of Buns. At first glance, this little flat bread brings to mind the Fougasse, but it is nothing like it. According to the excerpt that Karen gave us from the book, Jane Mason says, “”.. The Lover’s Window, which kind of makes me want to cry every time I think about it – it’s just lovely! I would love to know who named it and whether they ever found their true love.”
I wasn’t able to find any story or reason for the unusual name this bread goes by, but it seems to me that it perhaps refers to the slits in the bread. Knowing what I do know about Arabic/ Muslim culture (which is not very much), I imagine some time in the past when huge walls separated veiled women from the men. Perhaps these walls had small slit like windows through which women could converse with their lovers and perhaps catch a glimpse of them. Perhaps some romantic soul saw those narrow windows in the slits on this bread, and hence the rather romantic reference in the name Shubak el-Habayeb.
Romantic or not, this is a beautiful bread whether to look at or to eat. It also has a combination of flavours that are a bit unusual but very typically Middle Eastern/ Arabic. Shubak el-Habayeb typically contains orange blossom water, rose water, mahleb (powdered seeds of St.Lucie cherries) and cardamom.
If you’re new to mahlab (also spelt as mahleb or mahlepi), Serious Eats describes the taste of it as “….when mahlab first hits your tongue it tastes a bit like cherries, a bit like roses, and a bit like almonds. There’s a hint of vanilla and something quite floral. Its aftertaste, though, is quite bitter. When cooked, everything changes. It’s fruity and rich, but subtle. It’s a regal spice that adds majesty to sweets, an excellent mystery ingredient that contributes a whole palette of flavors without dominating an end result.”
My Shubak el-Habayeb turned out to be quite an experience. While there was rose water available in plenty in the stores, it turned out to be for cosmetic use and not food grade! I had orange blossom water in the fridge and some mahlab seeds that my good friend and fellow food blogger Nivedita got me a couple of years back. Every Indian kitchen almost always has cardamom, at least mine does.
Then it turned out I had run out of eggs so I made an egg-free version of the bread. I used a corn-starch glaze to brush over the breads. The process for making this bread is pretty straightforward but it would happen that the day I decided to bake it, we had an unannounced day long power outage! So I let the dough do its first rise at room temperature and then had to refrigerate it for almost 18 hours! Still, it all worked out since my breads turned out just great.
Karen suggests that if you cannot find orange blossom water you can just add a bit of orange zest and some vanilla to the dough. I don’t know if rose water has a substitute. It can be a bit of an acquired taste if you’re not used to it and so can possibly leave it out. As for mahleb, various sources on the net suggest “…….ground Chinese almonds, dried apricot kernals, ground fennel seeds or cardamom can all be substituted for mahlab if you can’t get your hands on the real deal. Alternatively, you can use a bit of almond extract or grind together one 2-inch stick of cinnamon with three whole cloves and a bay leaf.”
The original recipe is for 12 rolls (I prefer to call them breads or flatbreads) which is too many for us. I halved the recipe and made adaptations to suit myself and availability of ingredients. Apart from running out of eggs, I don’t use egg wash on my bakes and prefer a cornstarch glaze if there is a seed topping on the bread.
Shubak el-Habayeb is best eaten the day it is made. Leftovers may be wrapped individually and frozen. This bread is great dunked in hot coffee or tea and eaten. Try it with butter, orange marmalade or date syrup.
The Bread Baking Babes are –
Though the Bread Baking Babes (BBB) are a closed group, you’re most welcome to bake with us as a Bread Baking Buddy. Here’s how it works.
The Kitchen of the Month this month is Karen’s and the recipe for this month’s bread is on her blog. Bake the Shubak el-Habayeb or Iraqi Lover’s Window Bread according to that recipe and post it on your blog before the 28th of this month. Make sure you mention the Bread Baking Babes and link to her BBB post in your own post.
Then e-mail Karen with your name and the link to the post, or leave a comment on her blog post with this information. She will do a Buddy round-up for this month on her blog and send you a BBB badge for this bread to add to your post on your blog.