Along with scrumptious multi-layered pakhlava (baklava) and tender nut-filled shekerbura, spice-infused flaky bread shorgoghal (alternative spelling: shor goghali) is another irresistable edible attribute of Novruz. In fact, the three are a must on a festive goodie-filled tray, khoncha, a centerpiece of the Novruz table. For its shape, the golden crust and the yellowish spice filling it encases, shorgoghal is regarded as the symbol of the sun. There can be as many as 9-12 layers of thinly opened dough in the shorghogal. This recipe yields 9 layers, but you can go as high as 12 if you roll your dough into smaller circles. A common wisdom holds that the more layers in the dough, the flakier the baked breads will be. Usually, shorgoghal is enjoyed with sweetened black tea, the authentic Azerbaijani way.
Happy Spring, Happy Novruz to all of you!
Shorgoghal, or Spice-Filled Flaky Breads
Makes 16 to 18 breads
Note: I like to make my shorgoghal smaller than the usual large size (see pics above). Cut the layered dough into shorter strips to make smaller breads.
For the Dough:
1 package (¼ ounce /2 ¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
6 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup milk, at room temperature
7 ounces unsalted butter, melted and cooled
For the Spice Filling:
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
2 tablespoons anise seeds
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups all-purpose flour
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
For the Butter Spread:
17 ounces unsalted butter
½ teaspoon salt
For the Top:
2 egg yolks, to glaze
About 1 teaspoon Nigella sativa seeds (can substitute poppy seeds)
First, prepare the dough. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let stand until frothy, about 10 minutes. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the salt and mix well. Make a well in the center and add the yeast mixture, milk, egg and butter. Stir with your hands to incorporate the ingredients. Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, and not tight, about 10 minutes. If the dough is still sticky, add more flour and knead but do not overdo with the flour. Put the dough back in the large mixing bowl, cover with a kitchen towel or a plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot, until it doubles in bulk, about 1 ½ hours. The dough will be puffy and soft when poked with a finger.
Meanwhile, prepare the spice filling. Roast the fennel seeds and anise seeds on a hot skillet for about 2 minutes, until their aroma rises. (Roasting will raise their aroma and enhance their flavor, but it is optional. You can also use them as is).
Grind the spices in a spice grinder or using a mortar and pestle. In a medium mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients for the filling except the butter. Stir to mix. Gradually add the melted butter and rub with your fingers, until you obtain fine crumbs. Set aside.
When the dough has risen, prepare the butter spread. Melt the butter. Season with salt and set aside.
Have 2 large baking sheets ready.
You will need a large working area divided into two, to roll and assemble the layers. Shape the risen dough into a log and divide the log into 9 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball. Work with one ball at a time, and cover the rest with a kitchen towel.
Sprinkle some flour onto your working area. Using a thin rolling pin, roll out one ball, into a 20-inch circle, 1/16 inches thick. When you roll the dough, from time to time, sprinkle it with flour and spread all over the circle, to prevent the dough from sticking to the rolling pin and for easier rolling. Wrap the rolled out circle around the rolling pin and unwrap on another side of the working area.
Drizzle 4 tablespoons of the butter spread onto the circle and spread over the circle with your hand. Continue rolling up the remaining dough balls in the same fashion, placing them on top of each other and brushing with butter, except for the last circle, which should not be buttered (You can roll out the subsequent dough ball into smaller circles and place on top of the previous, then stretch in all directions to fit the larger circle). Now, gently pull the sides of the layered circle to stretch, until it is about 24 inches in diameter or as far as it can go (this will thin the rolled out layers yielding flakier breads).
Next, using a sharp knife, cut the circle into 2-inch wide strips, and cut the strips into rectangles, about 12 inches long, leaving the short sides of the circle as is, not cutting them. Beginning from one narrow side of one rectangle, gently roll it into a tight roll-up. Next, proceed with either methods (method 2 yields a flakier pastry) below to stuff the pastry:
Method 1: Take the roll-up in your hand with one end down and with your fingers press in the middle of the other end to hollow it up, all the way to the middle, until you obtain a hollowed cone. Fill the cone as directed in the next step.
Method 2: (for a flakier pastry): Take the roll-up in your hand and holding both ends of it, twist it three times. Press the twisted log between your hand to flatten it slightly. Now, using your fingers push the middle of the disk to the sides to hollow it out (it should look like a mushroom cap). Fill the cone as directed in the next step.
Fill the hole with 1 ½ to 2 tablespoons of the filling, packing it gently. Bring the edges of the open end of the pastry together and seal to close.
Place the pastry just-filled-side down (the other side will be layered and should be on top), on a flat surface and press gently with your hand to flatten it into a 4-inch disk, about 3/8-inches thick.
Continue with the remaining roll-ups in the same manner and place them on the baking sheets, spacing them at least 1 inch apart.
Place the pastry onto the baking sheets.
Preheat the oven to 360ºF.
The next step is optional: With your index finger, gently press in the center of the pastry to make a shallow indentation. Place a pinch of the spice filling in the indentation.
Now, brush the tops of the pastries with the eggs yolks and sprinkle with Nigella seeds. Bake for 40 minutes, or until golden on top, rotating the pans half way through. Remove from the oven. Allow to cool completely before serving. Keep the pastries in a large saucepan covered with lid, or in any other covered container.