Monday, 5 May 2014

Moroccan barley bread: Khobz elcha’ir or Mehrache


Barley bread is cherished by my fellow Moroccans and we find it in dairy food shops (called mehlabas locally) as well as mobile carts/stalls in souks but also in fancy market places such as Maarif in Casablanca.

Before getting to the recipe. I think I have to give you an idea about one of the most important businesses in Morocco, the one of opening and running a Mahlaba! 


Mahlabas are in fact small “food shops” you often find in our Moroccan cities and they cater for all ages and all spheres of the society. They sell dairy products such as jben (Moroccan soft white cheese), raib (Moroccan yoghurt), Juices, sodas, sandwiches (hot and cold) and some sweets/desserts…On their own, the Mahlabas represent a version of Moroccan street food.

I ordered this mini-harcha with barley for breakfast at a coffee-shop in Fes

When I was still living in Morocco, I used to stop for a grab-and-go breakfast which consisted of harcha with kirri cheese and hard-boiled eggs (of course seasoned with salt and cumin, Moroccan style) and a juice..The other option if khobz elcha’ir was still available, then I’ll just go for a mini-one because that’s what you get in Casablanca: mostly the puffy mini-ones.

Flat version of the barley bread, pan-fried

Moroccan barley bread can also come flat such as batbout or puffed just like the other version of Moroccan bread with a good hearth (ideal for soaking in a Moroccan marqa or sauce). I did have the flat version in my recent trip to Fes and it was served along with semolina harcha. It was seriously delicious.


Both versions will be flattened in barley semolina before being baked or pan-fried (in the case of flat barley bread).

Beside the shape, the mix of flours or meals used can also be different; due to the nature of barley flour (which by the way is healthier than the normal white flour), we may add other types of flour to have a lighter hearth once the bread is baked. Ideally, we are looking at 50% to 60% barley flour or meal and the rest will be a mix of whole wheat and white bread flour for a nice texture.

Now, being fond of pre-fermentation and old methods of making bread (not that I bake in old-style oven, I live in an apartment!), I have made my version using a 24 h old bread dough which represented 45% of the weight before adding water (I’ll explain later). If you are expert in bread making and like to use starters, please work out your baker’s formula accordingly OR just get into the habit of leaving 20 to 30 % of your bread dough for the next one (assuming you make it at max every 3 days).

The other thing is that I left my dough to rest overnight in an 18 degrees C environment (my kitchen) and I deflated it once after it doubled in size during the first part of the night.

Today I’ll be sharing with you both options: with normal yeast and with a pre-fermented dough or starter. In both cases, the recipe is for approximately. 4 breads of 18 cm diameter and 3 cm thick once baked.

Having a sticky dough and not pricking or scoring the dough will leave nice pockets of air inside.

Moroccan barley bread with normal yeast


Ingredients
Prep: 10 to 20 min- Resting time: 30 min (no leavening)-90 min (with leavening), pan-frying/baking: 4 min-15 min
  • 300g fine barley flour (or barley grits which you will need to pre-soak for at least 4 hours until it softens, then you strain it)
  • 100g soft wheat flour (in Morocco this usually comes with bran)
  • 150g of strong white flour
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 tbsp of pre-toasted cumin seeds (unless you are using Indian or Moroccan)
  • 15g of fresh yeast or 1 ½ tsp of instant dry yeast
  • 2 tbps of olive oil
  • 350- 380ml of water (the dough is sticky and barley absorbs water, use less if you have used soaked barley grits)
  • 1 tbsp of cumin seeds
Finishing and shaping
  • 100g of medium barley grits
  • 1 tbsp of olive oil

Pricking or poking the dough before baking will make the final bread look less puffed than the one left without it.

Preparation

Make the bread following a stretch and fold method or using a KitchenAid (or equivalent). The only thing I want to say here is that the dough will be sticky and it is a bit difficult to handle that sort of dough. To go throught this without pain, I choose to be in control of my dough and not the other way around, so I add enough water to have a ball then I add water bit by bit after complete absorption. Add the cumin seeds (I also added flaxseeds to today's dough).

Once the dough has been kneaded, grease your hands with olive oil (It will stop the dough from sticking) and smear the dough with it. Leave it covered to double in volume in a warm area.

In the process of making dough balls

Generously sprinkle medium barley semolina on the worktop. Oil your hands again and cut the dough in four or more depending on the size you are looking for. Shape each “gorssa” or round-bread with 1 cm thickness (It will double in size later). Make sure you always have enough barley semolina covering your worktop.

Flattening the dough balls

Place the bread in a baking sheet (oiled or covered with baking paper). Cover with 2 kitchen towels and set aside for another 45 min.

This very flat version was pan-fried, which is was it was thin (It doubles in volumes once in contact with the heat)
Preheat the oven at 240 degrees C for 10 min. Score the bread (or not, I like it this way although it should be scored).

These 3 were thicker than the pan-fried version with the intention to be baked in the oven.

Bake at 200 degrees C. I create some steam for all my breads by sprinkling the hot oven with water just before closing its door.

The bread takes approx. 15-20 min to bake..

Enjoy it:
- Warm with butter,
-Or with olive oil and honey,
- Or make a sandwich with kirri/la vache qui rit cheese, hard-boiled egg, salt and cumin just like we love it back there.


Barley bread with a pre-ferment dough 
(illustrated with pictures)


Ingredients
Prep: 10 to 20 min (by hand/by machine)- Proofing time: 16 hours- Panfrying/baking: 4-20 min

Pre-ferment dough
  • 150g of strong bread flour
  • 100g of whole wheat flour 
  • 1/4 tsp of instant dry yeast 
  • 1 tsp of honey or sugar
  • 180-200 ml of water
Main dough
  • 350g fine barley flour (or fine barley grits which you will need to pre-soak until it softens)
  • 250g pre-ferment dough
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 tbsp of pre-toasted cumin seeds (unless you are using Indian or Moroccan)
  • 2 tbps of olive oil
  • 300 ml of water (the dough is sticky)
Finishing and shaping
  • 100g of medium barley semolina
  • 1 tbsp of olive oil


Preparation

Pre-ferment dough

If you have a 1 to 3 days old dough left in the fridge, use 250g.

If you will make one from scratch, mix all ingredients thoroughly and cover. Set over a kitchen counter for 12 hours then place it in the fridge for the rest of the time. You can make it ahead and keep it for 1 to 3 days.

In both cases, allow the cold pre-ferment dough 3 to 4 hours so it comes back to room temperature (covered). Cut it into 4 cm cubes or so then soak it in 1/2 of the water in the recipe.

Make the bread

Mix the flour and salt, make a well, add in the oil and the pre-ferment dough. Knead and add water bit by bit just like in recipe n 1.

The only thing different in this version is that we have to let the dough proof and rise for 2-3 hours. I do deflate it once after I see it doubled it size then I let it proof for at least 10 more hours (basically I make it at 9 pm and shape it the next morning. We hardly used any yeast here so we rely on these little bacteria to eat their way out and produce enough bubbles for us and enhance the final taste.

Follow the same steps mentioned in recipe 1 to shape and bake the barley bread.



Now I have to say that you can make a 100% barley bread which is healthier and yummy with some nice olive oil and honey.

However, you should like dense breads to go that path. Here is one made by my auntie.

A 100% barley bread comes different in colour as well as texture. This one does not need kneading nor proofing. It's easier and healthier although a bit sticky to shape. We rather make lumps of runny dough and flatten it between barley grits 

To get you started on the pre-ferment dough concept the easy way, just follow this recipe and leave one clove of garlic in the pre-ferment mix. Make sure you take it off before using the mix. 




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