It may seem strange to some of you not familiar with the Near East to be eating holy bread as a snack, but here it is sold in grocery stores as well as used in religious service; I am starving, having spent all day driving around; I walked into the grocery store in town, which also doubles as internet café and video rental joint and was stopped dead in my tracks by the sight of bags and bags of this holy bread, the fragrance of rose water and mahlab wafting through and calling me.
I am in Deir el-Qamar, a required stop-over for buses filled with tourists visiting the Chouf mountains and our family’s summer retreat; deir meaning convent and qamar meaning moon (the convent or monastery of the moon).
My cousin Andrew is landing later tonight from London; and I am going to attend a party organized by the local Greek-Catholics of this town; (this small town of about 5000 counts churches of every denomination, mosques and probably a synagogue).
This is a recipe I posted already here.
- 6 cups of flour
- 1 1/2 cups of sugar
- 4 tablespoons of butter, soft (optional)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons of dry yeast, 1 teaspoon of salt
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 6 pebbles of mastic, ground with a teaspoon of sugar in a marble mortar (optional)
- 1 teaspoon mahlab (can substitute ground anise, or cinnamon)
- 1 cup of milk
- 1/8 cup orange blossom water
- 1/8 cup of rose water
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Proof the yeast in 1/4 cup of water warmed at 110F and a dash of sugar.
- Mix the flour with the sugar, mahlab, ground mastic, nutmeg, dash of salt and baking powder.
- Add the rose and blossom water in a small container. Measure the milk and let it sit at room temperature or make sure it is not too cold. Ideally, you want it at 110F.
- Place the flour mixture in a mixing bowl and add the yeast, milk and rose water mixture and mix the dough until smooth. Let it rest one hour.
- Divide the risen dough into small balls. Let them rise 2 hours.
- Shape the balls into flattened disks and let rise one hour.
- Sift a thin layer of flour on the disks and press the mold firmly on each disk.
- With a toothpick, poke each disk 5 times all around to help prevent it swelling up while baking. (5 times to symbolize Christ who was nailed 5 times to the cross)
- Let the disks rest and preheat the oven to 400F or you can also use your gas grill, making sure the disks are placed on a heavy-bottomed sheet.
- Bake the bread for 10 minutes or so until golden.
NOTE: This bread is called qurban in Lebanese, pronounced urbane.