This month’s choice for the “We Knead To Bake” group was Sheermal. Sheermal or Shirmal is a saffron-flavored slightly sweet traditional leavened flatbread that is found in various countries on the Asian sub-continent including Iran, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India.
Sheermal is a Naan-like milk bread, apparently of Persian origins, and it is suggested that the name comes from the Persian word for milk which is “sheer”. In India, this “milk” bread is predominantly found in Muslim neighbourhoods (another reason to suppose it came to India with the Mughals) of Kashmir, Lucknow and Hyderabad.
While I haven’t been able to find any decisive or detailed information on the Sheermal, I have discovered that the finished flatbread and when it is served/ how it is eaten, seems to differ slightly depending on where it is made. So you will find that some Sheermal decorated with a lovely pricked rustic pattern on its surface, Lucknowi Sheermal garnished with raisins, others like to use slivered almonds, poppy seeds or sesame seeds to top their Sheermal.
I understand that Sheermal is usually eaten as it is with tea for breakfast, or served slightly warm as part of a meal with a mutton curry called Nihari/ Nehari or spicy kebabs. It can also be served with Khurma/ Korma/ Qorma, vegetable curries, etc.
You will find Sheermal being made with either baking powder or yeast as the leavening agent, and this version uses yeast. The kewra (screw pine extract) gives this bread a unique flavour which can a bit of an acquired taste. Rose water/ essence is also used, and is also somewhat of an acquired flavour. If you can neither (or don’t want ot use either), you can use crushed cardamom instead.
Incorporating the ghee into the dough slowly by adding a little at a time ensures that the fat is dispersed evenly through the dough, and gives a better texture to the Sheermal. Make sure your dough is soft, elastic and well kneaded as this will produce a superior Sheermal. The hallmark of good Sheermal is the glistening finish on the flatbread from brushing it with melted ghee or butter, so do not skimp on that, even though this flatbread is already rich as it is.
The egg gives the dough a little extra richness, texture and flavour, but you can leave it out if you don’t use eggs.
Traditionally, this is a bread that is cooked in a tandoor, but the oven also produces quite good Sheermal. Here are two good videos worth watching before making the Sheermal. One is a video is a film showing how Sheermal is made in smaller commercial bakeries, and the other one gives a good demonstration on how to make/ shape Sheermal
Sheermal/ Shirmal (Saffron Flavoured Flatbread)