March breACK! 2014: The Kids Make Manakeesh [Manakish] with Cheese or Za’atar

Manakeesh [Manakish] with Cheese or Za'atarIn keeping with the Mediterranean theme of our March breACK! 2014 story, Bearicles, the kids will be making Mediterranean lunches for themselves all week, following the recipes I provide for them on this site.  To that end, I’ll post my pre-tested recipes here in the morning, then update the post with pictures of the results later in the afternoon!

Since the hero of our story hails from Tyre [that’s ancient-speak for Lebanon], today, we’re going Lebanese.

The goal

Today’s Kitchen Goal: The Manakeesh        [Picture snapped from a take-out menu]

The kids’ favourite dish at our local Lebanese and Middle Eastern Hangout, Paramount Fine Foods, is Cheese Manakeesh, a flatbread made in a wood-fired oven. Today the kids will try to recreate their favourite cheesy flatbreads here at home. The dough will be easy enough to recreate. As for the cheese, well, that’s more complicated. Instead of the traditional Akkawi or Kashqwān cheeses, which were not in supply at any of our local cheese shops, we will choose the more readily available Halloumi, grating it as best we can. To spread our net a little wider, we’ll also make a couple of Manakeesh with oil and Za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend of sesame seeds, sumac, oregano and thyme.  You can make your za’atar at home following the list of ingredients below, or you can purchase it at a local spice purveyor. [We found both Sumac and Za’atar in the basement of Toronto’s famous St. Lawrence Market, at Lively Life Fine Foods.]

Rolling out the dough and making bumps
MANAKEESH

INGREDIENTS

Dough
[makes 8]

1 sleeve active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 c water, lukewarm
3 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
4 tbs olive oil + a few more for making the manakeesh golden
parchment paper

Toppings

Za’atar
[for 4 manakeesh]

.3 cup + 1 tbs  za’atar blend
or
.25 c ground sumac
1 tbs [heaping] sesame seeds [raw is fine, they will toast a bit in the oven]
5 tsp dried thyme
5 tsp oregano

to be mixed with
1 tsp salt
.25 c olive oil

Cheese
[for 4 manakeesh]

1.5- 2 cups grated or shredded Halloumi and/or Mozarella
A dash of red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper if desired

METHOD

About 2-3 hours before the meal, in a small cup, mix the yeast, sugar and water and let it sit for 10 minutes.
While you’re waiting, in the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the flour and salt together.
Pour in the olive oil and mix until just combined.
Slowly, add the yeast mixture to the bowl, mixing on medium speed, just until the dough forms a soft sticky ball.
Take a spoonful or two of extra flour from the cupboard and scatter it on a clean, flat countertop.
Plop the dough onto the floured countertop and knead it for 3-5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and stretchy.
Make the dough into a ball.
Take a spoonful of olive oil from the cupboard and pour it into a large bowl.
Use a clean cloth to spread the oil around the bowl, making sure there aren’t huge puddles or drips of oil in there anywhere.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it in a warm, dark place until it puffs up, doubled in size. [This will take about 90 minutes].
Take a break to read and illustrate our book!
Put the pizza stone in the lower middle rack of the oven.
Heat the oven to 400F [or 500F, see below].
Pat the dough down gently in the bowl.
Divide it in two equal halves.
Divide the halves in equal halves again, making 4.
Divide the four in equal halves again, making 8.
Place the balls on a silpat-lined tray and cover them with a cloth for about 10 minutes while you prepare your toppings.
Grate the cheese into a bowl and add pepper flakes or a dash of cayenne if you like.
Measure the dry ingredients of the Za’atar into a second bowl.
Combine them with the salt and oil, stirring gently with a fork.
Get another spoonful or two of flour from the countertop and spread it over a clean countertop.
On that floured surface, flatten out each ball of dough, one at at time.
On a small square of parchment, with your hands and with a rolling pin, form the dough into a thin, rough circle, about 6 or 7 inches wide in any direction – or freestyle it!
Use your fingers to dimple the surface of the dough.
Sprinkle cheese on the circle, or spread a generous spoonful of the Za’atar oil onto the round and spread it towards the edges with a spoon or spatula.
If desired, use a pastry brush to put a bit of olive oil around the edges of the flatbread.
If you are 16 or under: Ask for help with the next steps:
Open the oven.
Use super-duper oven mitts to pull out the hot-hot rack with the pizza-stone on top of it.
Place 3-4 Manakeesh on parchment on top of the hot stone.
Use super-duper oven mitts to push the hot rack with the pizza-stone on top of it back into the oven.
Close the oven.
Bake for two minutes.
Open the oven and have an adult shimmy the parchment away from below the manakeesh.
Close the oven.
Bake the Manakeesh until they are as golden and crispy as you desire, about 8-10 minutes.
[Alternatively, you can bake your Manakeesh for 5-7 minutes at 500F.]
Open the oven.
Use super-duper oven mitts to pull the hot rack with the pizza-stone out a little.
With a heat-proof spatula or pizza peel, remove the Manakeesh from the stone.
Pass the Manakeesh right onto individual plates or a large tray.
Use super-duper oven mitts to push the hot rack with the pizza-stone back into the oven.
If you find that the cheese on the cheese manakeesh has browned too much, simply sprinkle a bit of fresh cheese on top right after the flatbreads have come out of the oven.
Cool slightly.
Enjoy!

za'atar and cheese manakeesh [manakish]

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