In Iran, these long, oval loaves with their trademark ridges, called barbari, are often served with a soft cheese similar to feta (hummus, baba ghanoush and the like are also fair game for dipping). What makes this bread so good is that it’s rubbed by hand (very satisfying, I must say) with a cooked paste of flour, oil, and water before baking, which produces a beautiful golden crust.
Makes: 2 large flatbreads
Time: About 3 1/2 hours, largely unattended
3 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose or bread flour, plus more as needed
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 package) instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon neutral oil (like grapeseed or corn) or butter, plus more for greasing
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Semolina or cornmeal for dusting
Sesame or poppy seeds or a combination for sprinkling
1. To mix the dough in a stand mixer, combine 3 1/2 cups of the flour, the yeast, salt, and 1 1/2 cups water in the mixer bowl. With a dough hook, mix on medium-low speed until the ingredients are combined, then on medium speed until the dough is tacky and smooth, 8 to 10 minutes.
2. To mix the dough in a food processor, pulse the dry ingredients together a few times to combine, then, with the machine running, add the water through the feed tube and process until the dough comes together into a fairly wet, sticky mass, about 30 seconds. Turn it out onto a lightly floured counter and knead, adding more flour as necessary to prevent sticking but keeping it to a minimum, until smooth and elastic, 5 to 6 minutes. Grease a large bowl with oil or butter and put the dough in it and turn to coat it. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
3. Press on the dough to deflate it, and turn it out onto a lightly oiled work surface. Divide the dough in half and shape each piece into an oval. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour.
4. Meanwhile, combine the remaining 1 tablespoon flour, the oil or butter, sugar, and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan. Cook the mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it thickens, about 2 minutes. Set aside. Heat the oven to 450°F, setting a baking stone on the lowest rack if you have one.
5. If you’re using a baking stone, generously dust a pizza peel or a flexible cutting board with semolina or cornmeal. Otherwise, line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and dust those. On a lightly floured work surface, press each piece of dough into a long oval roughly 16 × 5 inches. Transfer the dough to the peel or baking sheets. To give the bread its characteristic ridges, dip your fingertips in water and use them to press 5 or 6 deep grooves lengthwise along the dough, stopping just shy of the edges. Then rub the cooked flour paste (you may not use all of it) all over the surface of the dough with your fingers (at this point the dough won’t be sticky anymore, and you can use your fingers to deepen the ridges). Sprinkle lightly with the seeds.
6. Use the peel or cutting board to slide the dough onto the baking stone or put the baking sheets in the oven. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the bread is puffed and golden. Serve warm or cool on racks.
Garlicky Persian Flatbread
When you’re cooking the flour paste in Step 3, add 2 crushed garlic cloves along with the rest of the ingredients. Fish them out right before you rub the paste onto the dough.