Barbari, Noon Barbari, or Nan Barbari, is a popular traditional Persian flat bread with a crisp crust and light airy texture. Noon, or nan, means bread in Farsi. This bread is best when eaten hot right out of the oven and it is the most favored bread for breakfast (sobhaneh). Some of the special delicacies enjoyed with Noon Barbari are feta cheese (panir) (pictured below) and walnuts (gerdu), clotted cream (sar shir) topped with honey (asal), also butter (kareh) and jam (moraba), or grapes (angur) and cucumbers (khiar), just to mention a few!
Noon Barbari is baked in every part of Iran, but each bakery has its own signature method that creates a different look and a slightly different taste and texture. Most of these bakeries have been around for a long time and are situated inside the old residential neighborhoods, usually in a walking distance from the houses, or in more recent years, the residential high rises.
The aroma of fresh baked Barbari fills the neighborhoods shortly after sunrise. The bakery is called “nanvaii, noonvaii” and the baker, “nanva, noonva!” The bakers have a very early start, before sunrise, to make the sourdough “khamir.” To maintain a steady production of fresh baked Barbari for breakfast, most bakeries have several employees who work different shifts. Each shift may include 3-4 noonva, who are in charge of different tasks. The bakers who start the sourdough in wee hours of the morning sometimes spend the night at the bakery. The others who bake the Barbari inside the special stone ovens (tanoor) arrive closer to the opening time since this bread is sold as soon as it is baked.
The line of customers starts forming in front of the bakeries before 7 a.m. The first batch of soft, perfectly risen dough is divided and formed into identical sized balls and is neatly arranged in rows on a large table. Then the dough is flattened and brushed with the special glaze called “roomal,” that gives the Barbari its crispy golden colored crust. At this point some of the dough is baked plain and some are sprinkled with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, or nigella. Special wooden boards with long handles are used to transfer the loaves one by one inside the special stone ovens called “tanoor.” After about 8-10 minutes the perfectly golden brown Barbari (s) get puled out one by one and placed on the counter for the awaiting customers. The bakeries charge a few extra “toman” for the Barbari garnished with seeds. Today’s price in Tabriz is 1000 toman (28 cents) for plain Barbari, and 1500 toman (43 cents) for the seeded!
This process keeps going for only couple of hours in the morning, and again in the evening. As the first batch of Barbari is baked and sold, a new batch of dough is already rising, because they are sold out pretty quickly. If you’re planning on an early breakfast you hope to be one of the first ones in line, otherwise you might have to be in line for a while longer until the second batch is baked. Each patron can only purchase a limited number of loaves (usually 2-3), to be fair to all those waiting in line. The loaves are certainly too hot to handle, but can’t keep people waiting, so be prepared to pick them up as fast as they hit the counter!
Some bakeries form two lines, one for people who want only one Barbari and the other for those who want more. This whole process might sound slow and unfeasible for our rushed western culture, but that is the price you have to pay for eating one of the best breads in the world. Going to bakeries and standing in line for Barbari with my sister is always one of the most delightful morning activities every time I visit Iran, not to mention devouring one of the steaming hot breads on the way home!
Those of you who also follow me on Facebook, know that I have been working on this recipe for a while!! Yes, it has taken baking and eating several loaves of Barbari to finally come up with the recipe that I’m happy with. This is a delicious Barbari bread that has a crispy golden crust with an airy and light texture inside. The top and bottom layers separate easily without any need for a knife, so you can fill it with your choice of tasty fillings. This Noon Barbari is the closest to what I grew up eating in Iran!
Some points are worth mentioning: *This is a soft, sticky dough and no extra flour should be kneaded into the dough to keep it from sticking. **I recommend using ONLY Bread flour to make this Barbari. ** In one of my experiments I used an all-purpose flour, which resulted in a nice looking loaf with a semi dense texture, but unfortunately lacking that special Barbari flavor. **Another time I used an all-purpose unbleached flour which rose very little and was tough and not acceptable at all. **When this dough was kneaded too much the bread became very dense and tough and not airy like Noon Barbari should be.
I will not bore you with the rest of my Barbari trials, but I highly recommend that you follow my recipe exactly, the first time you bake this, without making any changes. I would really like to read your comments about your experience baking this bread!
The following pictures are to illustrate certain key steps. Please read the entire printable recipe for the detailed instructions!
Add the yeast, sugar and 1 cup lukewarm water to the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir a few times, then cover the bowl tightly with a plastic wrap and then with a large kitchen towel and let it sit for 10 minutes, or until it looks thick and frothy (if the yeast mixture does not get frothy, the yeast has expired and you might need to get fresh yeast). Place a large pizza stone on the middle rack and preheat your oven to 500 F. Follow the recipe below and mix the rest of the dough ingredients, first with a spoon, and then beat for 3 minutes in the mixer to make the dough. Transfer all the sticky dough to a clean large bowl. Cover the bowl tightly with a plastic wrap and then with the large kitchen towel and let it sit at room temperature for 25 minutes. Meanwhile make the roomal (glaze) according to the recipe and heat it until it thickens. You will be able to leave a mark with the back of your spoon on the bottom of the skillet. The warm roomal should be thin and will thicken further as it cools.
The dough is ready and sticky; that is the way it is supposed to be, Do not add any more flour and do not knead more than the recommended time in the mixer. Sprinkle the extra flour over your work surface and flour your hands for the ease of dividing and handling the dough. Divide the dough into 3 parts visually and remove one part with your floured hands and drop it on the work surface. Leave the rest of the dough in the bowl.
Roll the first piece of dough around in the flour to make a ball, while covering only the top surface with flour. Set it aside and repeat this step with the other two portions. Let the balls of dough rest, uncovered, for 10 minutes. On the floured surface slightly flatten one ball of dough into an oval shape.
I have mixed equal amounts of black and white sesame seeds to sprinkle on my bread, you may use nigella or poppy seeds instead. Use the back of a spoon or your fingertips to brush the oval dough with the prepared glaze. With the fingertips of both hands make rows of deep indentations in the dough without tearing into it. Then with your fingertip connect the indentations to make several long deep grooves. Sprinkle 1/3 of the seeds evenly on the dough. Let the dough sit for another 5 minutes.
Meanwhile place a 10 x 15 inch sheet of parchment paper over a narrow cutting board or on the back of a baking sheet, set it aside.
Use a flour covered pastry cutter or a spatula to release the dough from the work surface. With floured hands carefully lift and stretch the dough to the size of the parchment paper and place it on the parchment covered board. Use the board to gently slide the parchment paper and the dough on the hot pizza stone. Now, shape and glaze the second ball of dough the same way that you did for the first ball of dough.
Bake the Barbari for 5 minutes. Open the oven door and turn the parchment and bread half a circle and bake for 5 more minutes. If you see that the bread is getting too dark, reduce the second bake time to 4 minutes. Using oven proof mittens remove the paper and Barbari from the oven and cool on the rack. Bake the second shaped dough and start shaping the 3rd ball of dough. When the Barbari loaves are cool enough to handle brush off any excess flour from the back with a soft brush and use a serrated knife to cut each loaf into several pieces.
Barbari tastes the best when still warm! We enjoyed it with feta cheese, grapes and cucumbers and washed it down with a glass of freshly brewed Persian tea in the backyard!
I hope you will try this recipe and as I mentioned before, please make a comment when you do!
Yields: 3 loaves of Barbari
Prep Time: About 1 hour
Bake Time for each loaf: 10 minutes
You will need a stand mixer with a dough hook, a pizza stone, and a cutting board lined with parchment paper
- For The Dough
- 2 ¼ tsp active dry yeast
- ¾ tsp granulated sugar
- 2 cups water (divided)
- 4 ¼ cups Bread flour for the dough plus ⅓ cup flour for the work surface
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- For The Glaze (roomal)
- 1 tsp flour
- ¼ cup cold water
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- ¼ cup boiling hot water
- 2-3 tsp white or black sesame seeds (I used a combination) for sprinkling over the Barbari
- Measure out 4 ¼ cups of flour into a bowl. Add 2 tsp kosher salt and stir briefly with a spoon to combine. Set aside.
- Remove the mixing bowl from the stand mixer. Add 2 ¼ teaspoon yeast and ¾ teaspoon sugar to the bowl.
- In a microwave safe bowl heat 1 cup water for 25 seconds until lukewarm and add it to the mixing bowl. Use a spoon to gently stir the ingredients in the bowl 3-4 times. Cover the bowl tightly with a plastic wrap first, then cover it with a large kitchen towel and let it rest for 10 minutes.
- At this time place the pizza stone on the middle rack of your oven and preheat to 500 F.
- The yeast mixture will look puffed up on top and will be very frothy; if it does not get frothy, the yeast has expired and it is time to get fresh yeast before proceeding with the rest of the recipe.
- Microwave another 1 cup of water for 25 seconds.
- Add half of the flour to the yeast mixture and use a sturdy spoon to mix it. Add the cup of lukewarm water and the rest of the flour. Keep mixing with the spoon until combined.
- Attach the mixing bowl to the stand mixer and set it up with the dough hook. With the mixer on medium low (it is #4 on my KitchnAid), beat the dough for 3 minutes until well combined and no dry flour is seen. The dough will be very sticky and that is normal, do not add any more flour. No extra kneading is necessary.
- Add all of the dough to a large clean bowl. Cover the bowl tightly with a plastic wrap, then cover the whole thing with the large kitchen towel and let the dough rest for 25 minutes. The dough will rise to about twice the original volume.
- Meanwhile prepare the glaze: In a small nonstick skillet add ¼ cup cold water and 1 tsp flour. Use a spoon to completely break up the flour in the water. When you stop stirring the mixture separates and is not uniform. Add ¼ teaspoon baking soda and the ¼ cup hot water to the skillet and stir to combine. Place the skillet on medium low heat and keep stirring until the liquid gets very hot, and comes to a very slow boil. Continue stirring until the liquid is uniformly cloudy and slightly thickened. When you stop stirring the glaze should not separate. Remove the skillet from heat and set it aside on the counter; the glaze will thicken further as it cools.
- Sprinkle the work space with ⅓ cup flour. This is a very sticky dough and you will be using this flour to dust your hands and the top of the dough, it will Not get kneaded into the risen dough.
- Visually divide the dough inside the bowl into 3, then with floured hands separates one section (will be extremely sticky) and drop it onto the heavily floured surface and flour your hands more if needed. Gently roll the dough on the flour to make a ball that is covered with flour on all sides. Do not knead and don't handle the dough any more than you have to.
- Leave the floured ball of dough on the work space and repeat with the remaining dough and again visually take half of the remaining out and cover it in flour. Without covering, let the balls of dough sit for another 10 minutes on the work surface. The dough will rise further.
- On a floured part of the work surface without handling the dough too much, use your fingers to flatten one of the balls of dough into an oval shape, about 6 x 9 inches.
- Use your fingertips or the back of a spoon to evenly spread about 1 tablespoon of the glaze over the flattened dough.
- With fingers touching make several rows of deep indentations with your fingertips along the length of the dough. Then move your fingertip over the markings and make long deep grooves in the dough without tearing into it.
- Sprinkle ⅓ of the sesame seeds evenly over the dough and let it sit for 5 more minutes.
- Drape a 10 x 15 inch parchment paper over a cutting board or the back of a baking sheet. The dough is going to be very soft and might stick to the work surface, release both ends with a pastry cutter or a thin spatula. Use both hands and carefully lift it and while stretching it to a longer and thinner rectangle (about 6 x 14) transfer it to the parchment paper on the cutting board.
- Slide the dough and parchment paper onto the hot stone. Bake for 5 minutes, turn the parchment paper a half circle and bake for another 5 minutes, until it is golden brown.
- Use oven mittens to remove the Barbari from the oven and cool on a rack.
- While the first Barbari is baking, repeat the same process for shaping the second and later the third ball of dough as explained for the first loaf.
- When the bread is cool enough to handle, brush off the extra flour from the back of the Barbaries and cut them into pieces.
- This bread is at its best flavor and texture right out of the oven. Enjoy it with feta cheese, grapes, sliced cucumbers, walnuts, olives, or sabzi khordan. Don’t forget to brew some fresh Persian tea half hour before the bread is ready!!
- Let the extra pieces cool completely before storing them in a plastic bag.
To Freeze Barbari: Wrap the cooled pieces in a heavy duty aluminum foil and place the foil it in a freezer safe bag. When ready to reheat, place the frozen bread pieces in a 400 F toaster oven for about 5 minutes, or in a preheated 400 F oven until it is heated through.