In my baking class recently, along with other traditional and contemporary bakes, we made feseli, a flaky flatbread from Azerbaijan. The recipe, published in “Pomegranates & Saffron,” received raving reviews from class participants and I thought to share it on the blog, too. I have a feeling you will love this flatbread, and so will anyone you treat it to.
The flakiness in feseli is achieved by rolling the dough into a thin circle, brushing it with a generous doze of butter, plain or perfumed with a dozen spices, rolling into a roulade, coiling, then flattening before cooking it on both sides.
Traditionally, feseli is baked outside on a domed cast-iron pan, saj, heated over glowing wood embers, but at home, a regular cast-iron pan or non-stick frying pan work just as well.
In the class, we made two types of feseli – one was laminated with melted clarified butter (ghee), another with clarified butter mixed with a variety of ground spices. Both were good in their own right, but the spiced feseli, laced with a subtle hint of yellow all over, thanks to turmeric, got the most accolades.
The beauty of this bread is that it can be served as a savory meal with salty white cheese crumbled on top, or as a sweet indulgence, with a generous sprinkle of granulated sugar or a drizzle of honey. So good!
Look at this flakiness!
The first step is to make the dough – from scratch, of course. It is a basic dough, made with flour, water, and salt.
Then, we roll out the dough into a very thin circle, using a thin, long rolling pin. The circle gets a nice splash of melted butter, spread all over it.
The butter can be plain or spiced.
The buttered circle is then rolled up into a tight roulade, twisted from both ends, then coiled.
Pretty, isn’t it?
The coiled dough is rolled out into a thin circle again.
Ready to bake!
Ready to eat!
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading and work surface
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup water
- Variation 1: Simple Butter Filling
- 6 tablespoons clarified butter (ghee) or unsalted butter
- Variation 2: Spiced Butter Filling
- 6 tablespoons clarified butter or unsalted butter
- ¼ teaspoon cumin seeds, ground
- ¼ teaspoon coriander seeds, ground
- ¼ teaspoon fennel seeds, ground
- ¼ teaspoon anise seeds, ground
- ¼ teaspoon star anise (badyan) seeds, ground
- ¼ teaspoon saffron threads, ground to a powder with a mortar and pestle
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric
- About 2 tablespoons clarified butter or unsalted butter, for frying
- Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl and make a well in the center. Add the salt and water and stir with your hand until a rough ball forms. Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead about 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. If the dough sticks to your hands, add more flour. Cover with a kitchen cloth and let rest for 10 minutes.
- Divide the dough into two equal parts and shape each into a ball. Work with one ball at a time and keep the other covered with a kitchen cloth.
- Transfer one ball onto a lightly floured surface. Pat it into a disk. Sprinkle some flour on top. Using a thin rolling pin, begin to roll out the dough. Wrap the near edge of the dough around the rolling pin and roll the dough away from you. Flour the circle lightly between each roll. Continue rolling until you obtain a very thin 16-inch circle.
- If you plan to use simple butter filling, melt the butter in a small pan and cool to room temperature. For the spiced butter filling, melt the butter in a small pan and combine it with the spices. Stir to mix and allow to cool to room temperature.
- Using a spoon, spread about 3 tablespoons of the plain melted butter or the spiced butter over the circle, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges. Gently roll the circle into a tight cylinder. Now, gently pull the sides of the cylinder to stretch it as far as it can go (this will thin the layers further). Next, holding one end of the cylinder with one hand, gently twist it (as if twisting a wet cloth) with your other hand a few times (this will yield a flakier bread).
- Now, holding one end of the twisted cylinder with one hand, coil it with your other hand to form a tight spiral. Leave the spiral aside to rest for 10 minutes. Then, using a rolling pin, roll out the spiral into a flat 10-inch circle. Repeat the process for the remaining dough ball.
- In a nonstick frying pan large enough to fit one flatbread, heat 1 tablespoon of butter (do this for each flatbread) over medium-low heat. Cook each flatbread on one side until it is golden, then turn to cook the other side, for a total of 7 to 10 minutes. Another method would be to cook, alternating the sides from time to time, to allow for even cooking, until both sides are nicely golden. Serve immediately.
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