Lebanese Holy Bread Scented with Orange Blossom Water, Rosewater & Mahleb

My kitchen is filled with the aroma of freshly baking bread scented with orange and roses, pine and almonds. It’s like heaven on earth, I’m baking Holy Bread after all. Known as qurban in Lebanon and prosphora in Greeceit’s based on the Christian Orthodox tradition of offering bread to Christ but it is, in fact, eaten throughout the week and not just on holy days. It’s true to say that this recipe calls for several unusual ingredients but they’re all easily available online (please visit my Source page); they’re worth seeking out because the combination of all of them together imparts something really special to a daily staple. I’ve used a traditional Greek seal to decorate my loaves – mine has been in the family for as long as I can remember – these too are available online and it’s worth seeking out a vintage one. I love using tools like this because it brings me close the culture from where a recipe originates. Don’t worry if the pattern isn’t as crisp as it is when you put your loaves in the oven, the breads naturally rise whilst baking and we’re just looking for something that is symbolic here, not perfection.

Holy Bread

Ingredients

7g sachet of dried yeast
100g unrefined granulated sugar, + 2 tsp
400g of plain flour
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp mastic
1 tsp whole mahleb spice
Nutmeg, a little, freshly grated
1 tsp orange blossom water
1 tsp rosewater
350 mls of milk, room temperature

How I make it

In a bowl, combine the dried yeast with 1 tsp of sugar, a tsp of the flour and 80ml of lukewarm water. Mix with a fork and leave to one side for around five minutes.

Grind the mastic and mahleb spice with 1 tsp of sugar until you have a fine powder.

Mix together the flour, remaining sugar, grated nutmeg, ground mastic/mahleb and salt.

Make a well in the middle add the yeast, the milk, the orange water and rosewater and 100 lukewarm water. Bring the dough together and knead for around five minutes – if you knead your dough for too long, it will become tough and unmanageable. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover and allow to rise for at least three hours (I like to leave mine overnight).

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and split it into eight balls, tucking the sides underneath to achieve a smooth finish on top. Cover with a tea towel and leave to prove for 30 minutes. Remove the towel and roll each ball out to a circle with a depth of just over half a cm.

Cover with the towel and leave again for 30 minutes.

Heat an oven to 190C.

Line two baking trays with baking parchment and place a disc of dough on each one. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, then turn the trays around and bake for a further five minutes.

Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool. As the breads are cooling, brush with rosewater.

Repeat this process until all the breads are baked. Once cool, wrap with baking parchment and store in a sealed tin or bread bin.

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