Oh my. I love za’atar. You know that, right? And I love baking bread, but I don’t get to do that often enough. My fault, totally. I love flour and sugar and yeast. And I almost forgot the butter. But I think what I really love is the smell. There is nothing like the aroma of fresh bread baking. Think about it. It is one of those smells that says, “I know you want me. So come and get me.” Well, at least that’s what I hear.
My Grandma Fanny always said she’d prefer bread over a piece of cake. Now, I can’t say I would go that far, but I do love bread. Except for rye. I don’t like caraway, no, no no! I think I never really knew what bread was until I started baking it myself. Growing up in Kankakee we really never had real bread. I mean we had Wonder and we had Pepperidge Farm and we had toast. As I got older the Jewel came to town and we had French bread. And every now and then when my parents drove to Chicago I remember them coming home with brown bags of Kaiser rolls and bagels. I loved the Kaiser rolls.
But it wasn’t until my step aunt made real bread with me that I would have ever thought to try yeast. I mean when someone said yeast, I thought infection, not bread. But well, that’s the other kind. Since then, there was no turning back. I love yeast and baking bread. It makes me feel content. And I never found it hard to work with. It just takes a little planning and a little time. Really, shouldn’t we all relax a bit and bake some bread?
In Israel they must have had a bakery on every corner. I loved the smell of the flour, the yeast and the heat that flowed through the doorways. It was a most welcoming smell. It was like our homes should smell. They baked delectable pastries and hearty breads. Gorgeous challahs and babkas. The Arab bakeries also baked incredible pitas and bageles and these za’atar breads. Not to mention kadaifs and baklavas. This is where I became hooked on ma’aneesh. You must make them. And if you don’t have za’atar, just make your own. I admit to smuggling some home and now I have a source here, too!
At the Middle Eastern grocery I discovered on Parker Road, they sell these round za’atar breads. They are the size of pitas but with no pocket, fluffier and covered with olive oil and za’atar. They sell 5 of them for $5.99. That’s no deal to me. But I must admit they are good. But mine are better. Really. They satisfy my craving. I love to eat them plain or drizzled with more olive oil. But I also buy labneh (which I should also make myself) and eat that on the side.
These keep for awhile as long as they are wrapped tightly. I rewarm them by wrapping them in foil and heating them at 350 for about 3 minutes. Then when I unwrap them it is like they are fresh from the oven. Steamy and soft and savory. I like that savory part. They are also called Lebanese pizza. You can find them with cheese or lamb. They all look good, but I love the za’atar. I’m a simple soul, I think.
Now if someone could come over and take away my fear of candy thermometers, that would be appreciated. I also am a bit fearful of canning and don’t even mention a pressure cooker to me. Or boiling jars. But yeast? We are old pals!
Za’atar Ma’aneesh (Chef Mireille’s Global Creations)
1 c warm water
1/2 t sugar
2 1/4 t active dry yeast (Don’t forget to check your dates)
3 c flour (I used all purpose, unbleached)
1 t salt
3 T olive oil
3/4 c olive oil
3/4 c za’atar
Combine water and sugar. Sprinkle yeast on top. Set aside to let proof for about 10 minutes until foamy.
Combine flour, salt and olive oil. Stir well. Make a well and add yeast mixture. Knead 5 minutes. It may seem dry but it will come together. Dough should spring back when pressed with the tip of your index finger. Put in bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for about 45 minutes.
Make za’atar topping by combining the two ingredients.
When risen, punch down dough and knead a minute or so. Divide into eight balls. Place on parchment covered sheet to rest for about 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 with oven rack in center of oven. Use a baking tile if you have one. I just used a turned over black cookie sheet that I preheated in the oven and then placed three rounds of dough on to bake at a time. Roll dough into 7″ rounds and spoon a tablespoon on of za’atar topping. Spread to edges.
Bake at 400 for about 9 minutes. You don’t want to over bake them as they will become too crispy. You want them with slightly browned bottoms. Serve with feta or labneh or olives or everything. I love this bread with soup!