Egyptian Sun Bread

Homemade Egyptian Bread

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Homemade bread took on a new significance when I tasted the “Sun Bread,” made by the family of an Egyptian farmer, on the West Bank of the Nile in Luxor, last December, a few weeks before the revolution.   

Having run the kitchen and consumer affairs for Fleischmann’s Yeast for years, I’m no stranger to yeast baking.  But here I was, in the land where yeast baking originated 4,000 or so years ago, gazing at round loaves rising in the sunshine and watching the farmer’s mother and wife prepare the fire in the outdoor bread oven.

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Enjoying a cube of the spongy, flavorful loaf along with a cup of fuschia-pink hibiscus tea, the farmer told us about daily life on his farm which included building furniture with date palms, raising pigeons and tending the water buffalo, a source of milk and labor.  Inside the family house, he showed us how his family grinds the wheat by hand on a stone grinder. 

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Packets of dry yeast do not exist in this environment.  When I asked how he leavened the bread he indicated that they use a starter, like a sourdough, and threw his hand backward, in a gesture indicating that his leavening starter had been in use for a long, long time. 

It was time to bake.  The farmer’s mother showed us how to put loaves into the oven, and then offered us the bread peel for a turn sliding loaves into the red-hot oven. 

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

We were all impressed with the famer’s articulate use of English and the pride and love with which he showed us his home and daily farming activities.   It suggested that the beautiful and simple life along the Nile was a choice he had made for himself and his family.

As shown by the bread-making scenes in tombs of Egypt, bread has played a role in the culture for thousands of years.  According to the literature from our guides, bread “Aish” is the most consumed component of the Egyptian diet.  We saw and tasted round flat loaves, such as these, along with soft pitas, pockets and flat cracker breads. 

I created the following recipe in the spirit of the Egyptian Sun Bread we tasted. I don’t have a sourdough starter so I made a simple overnight starter, known as a biga or pre-ferment with some whole wheat and rye flours to build flavor and texture. 

If you are interested in sourdough cultures, Sourdough International,  sells sourdough cultures from around the world, including two Egyptian ones, from the Red Sea and Giza.  I haven’t tried them myself. 

 Egyptian Sun Bread

 To build texture and flavor in this bread without a sourdough starter start a day ahead by making a biga or pre-ferment.  Here the dough is made in a 2-pound bread machine but you can also do it entirely by hand or in a stand mixer with a dough hook. 

 Biga (pre-ferment):

1 cup bread flour

1/2  cup whole wheat flour

1/2  cup rye flour

1/4 teaspoon instant yeast

3/4 cup water

Dough:

1 1/2 to 2  cups bread flour

1/2  cup whole wheat flour

3/4  cup water

3/4  teaspoon instant yeast

1 1/4 teaspoons table salt

To make biga, combine bread, whole wheat and rye flours and yeast in medium bowl.  Slowly stir in water to make a wet dough.  Cover and let rest at room temperature for 8 to 24 hours.   After biga has rested, in 2 lb. capacity bread machine combine 1 1/2 cups bread flour, 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, 3/4 cup water and 3/4 teaspoon yeast.   Mix for a few minutes to make a smooth dough.  Turn machine off and let rest for 30 to 60 minutes to let flour hydrate.  Add biga and salt.  Process on dough cycle (which should include an initial rise); check dough consistency after a few minutes of mixing.  The dough should form a soft ball, rotating around the blade.  If dough is too wet or too dry, add flour or water, 1 tablespoon at a time until the proper dough consistency is reached.  When cycle is finished, remove dough to lightly floured surface.  Divide dough into two pieces.  Form each into a ball and flatten each to a 6-inch circle.   Place loaves, 3 inches apart, on a large baking sheet coated with nonstick spray.  Lightly coat top of loaves with nonstick spray, cover with plastic wrap or a light clean towel and let rise in a warm place 30 minutes or until almost doubled in size.  Preheat oven to 400°.  Uncover loaves and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until done.  Cool on wire rack.  Makes 2 loaves.

Copyright © Lorelle S Del Matto 2011

lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.

Comments

  1. While reading Ed Wood’s Classic Sourdoughs, he indicated not to mix commercial yeast with wild yeast. Do you know the reason for this?

    • Hi Claire:

      Sorry for the delay here! I’ve heard that commercial yeasts are so strong that they essentially gobble up all the food in a dough system and thus wipe out the more delicate wild yeasts. That’s why bread experts don’t recommend mixing them. I haven’t done much with wild yeasts but it is a fascinating topic.

      Lorelle

  2. Thanks for documenting this recipe. I think the Sun Bread is the Ancient Egyptian Shamsi or Maltoot bread (Refer to The Pharaoh’s Kitchen: Recipes from Ancient Egypt’s Enduring Food Traditions). I have been looking for a working recipe for the shamsi sun bread since I read about it in Cairo Kitchen. Very cool and thanks.

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