I learned a lot about bread in Turkey. It is probably the most respected edible item in the entire country, and for good reason. Before I went, I was actually avoiding all bread because of the gluten issues we face in the United States, as well as my own personal frustrations with finding good quality affordable breads. Once I arrived in Turkey, I was back on board with finding my daily bread because it’s just so good, and just so necessary to eat with all the wonderful Turkish dishes that you’ll need to soak up with this cultural staple.
Like many other parts of the world, bread is seen as a basic right that every human should have to fill their stomachs. People simply cannot bring themselves to throw it away or waste it, not even the crumbs. Even the street animals and the fish are fed pieces of bread if there is nothing else for them to eat. Any traveler will notice bags of bread hanging on virtually every street somewhere, whether it’s a gate, a bus stop, a street corner. Basically, the message is that it’s available for anyone who needs it, so that hunger is always averted. There is even the concept of paying it forward at bakeries so that any person in need can request a loaf of bread with dignity.
There are many Turkish sayings around bread, and one of my favorites is “Ekmek aslanin ağzinda“, which means “Bread is in the mouth of the lion”, which implies that it’s a struggle to make your daily bread, or to make a living. Considering the hard-working nature of the majority of Turkish people, this sums up what I experienced quite well: a respect for bread, the stuff of life, and no shying away from hard work to earn one’s daily bread. You can read more about that here.
When I returned to the U.S., I was missing the smell of the firin, the local bakery. I miss so many things about Turkey, but the smell of bread and the sound of the adhan (call to prayer) are the two I miss the most. They made me feel grounded- what is more important than daily prayers and daily bread?
So upon returning, I decided to be more judicious about making bread myself, but I needed something simple that I could do every day or every other day. I happened to find a recipe for an 18th century bread that ironically came from Illinois. It was similar to the recipe I’m sharing here, except it didn’t have salt or olive oil in it, but I absolutely need those two ingredients. The oil smoothes out the dough and the salt just adds the flavor I need.
Here’s how it’s made (recipe below with links to my recommended baking ingredients). Afiyet olsun…
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- Pinch sea salt + more for finishing, if desired
- 1 tablespoon honey (not very thick honey)
- 1.5 cups lukewarm water
- 1 tablespoon olive oil + more for finishing
- 2 tablespoons dried rosemary leaves (optional)
- 1 tablespoon cornmeal (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
To a large mixing bowl, add all of the ingredients in the order they are presented. Using your hands, mix all the ingredients together until the dough is completely mixed with the other ingredients and it forms a nice round ball. Drizzle a little more olive oil, only if necessary. Cover with a cotton towel and leave in a warm, dry place for one hour so that it can rise. It should double in size.
To a floured surface, roll out the dough to the size and shape that you want. This is the beauty of the recipe- it really will allow you to form a nice round loaf, if that is what you prefer, or you can make a flat bread and add some sea salt and rosemary flakes to make it similar to a foccacia bread. It really just depends what you are in the mood for and what type of bread you want for that day.
Add cornmeal to a baking sheet to prevent the dough from sticking to the pan, if desired.
Once the dough is in the shape that you want, place it onto the baking sheet and into the hot oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes, watching it carefully in the last 5 minutes to see how well it browns in your oven, as they can differ according to the way they heat up as well as how close the dough is to the heating elements on top. I prefer to keep it on a center rack (which usually means you have to remove one of the racks).
Remove once the bread is baked to your liking and let cool slightly – if you can resist…I pretty much never have that much discipline with freshly baked homemade bread like this.
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