Dabo - Ethiopian honey bread
Updated: Fri, 25 September, 2020
Yemarina yewotet dabo is a wonderful bread traditionally baked for Ethiopian festive occasions. I usually bake it for Christmas!
What does 'dabo' mean?
Dabo means ‘wheat bread’ and the full original name of this wonderful loaf is yemarina yewotet dabo: honey and milk bread. That is a beautiful name for a bread. It reminds me of the biblical 'land of milk and honey' so dabo is the promised land bread. It probably originated with the Ethiopian Jews as it seems very much the kind of bread that would be eaten at Shabbat.
Festive ingredients in dabo
This dabo is a rich bread: with egg and butter, milk and honey, and fragrant spices. Honey is apparently plentiful in Ethiopia but the use of it in everyday baking is not common; neither is use of eggs, spices and milk, so this is a truly special, festive product. The dough is sometimes plaited into a loaf redolent of challah - another proof for its Israelite origin.
What is honey and milk dabo like?
In a word - gorgeous. The dough is easy to work with so even if you knead by hand, it won't be back-breaking. The spices come through beautifully: I use cardamom, allspice, cinnamon and ginger, after Vanessa’s recipe from Bakery Bits blog, but I’ve seen coriander and cloves listed as ingredients in other recipes.
The crust is thin and dainty, shiny with salt glaze and studded with bursts of fragrance from the fennel seeds. The crumb is tender and soft, and not quite as sweet as you might think.
How to bake your dabo?
Challah is usually baked straight on a baking tray but dabo turns out better if the shape is contained somewhat. You can use a large cake tin or a roasting dish. If you have one of those clay bread baking domes or cloches - it will be ideal. Dabo will also bake better if it is covered by a clay cloche or a Dutch oven for the first half of the oven stay.
Special or everyday occasion
It is traditionally a festive loaf, and I said I baked it often for Christmas. But there's no reason why you can't bake it and enjoy it more often. It's delicious fresh from the oven, but it makes a great toast as well. And if you reduce the amount of honey, you can happily slice it for sandwiches.
dabo - Ethiopian honey breadServings: one large loafTime: 3 hours
- 30g fresh or 3g instant yeast
- 60ml warm water
- 1 free range egg, beaten
- 125g runny honey
- 1 tsp ground cardamom
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground allspice
- 10g salt
- 250g warm milk
- 75g melted butter
- 525g strong white flour
- For the glaze:
- 1 tbsp. salt mixed with 2 tbsp. water, to glaze
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
1. Mix the yeast with warm water in a small bowl and let it stand for 15 minutes. Beat the honey with the egg, salt and spices in another bowl. Warm up the milk with the melted butter.
2. Place the flour in a large bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer with the dough hook attachment. Add the yeast, the honey mix, the milk and butter and mix it all together to a soft dough.
3. Knead by hand on a floured surface or in the standing mixer – it will take a while as the dough will at first be impossibly sticky. It’s ready when it becomes smooth, stretchy and silky and stops sticking to your hands or bounces off the walls of the bowl in the standing mixer. Cover the bowl and leave it in a warm place to double in volume, for about 90 minutes.
4. When risen, turn it out onto a well-floured surface. It can be shaped into a round loaf and baked just like that, or plaited. To make a plaited loaf, divide the dough into three pieces and shape them into ropes about 25cm long. Bunch them together at one end and plait the lengths, tucking the ends underneath the loaf when finished.
5. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6. Dabo can be baked straight on a baking tray but it helps keep the shape if it’s contained in a round tin or a clay cloche. In either case, place the plaited loaf into a well-floured container, or dip it in flour before transferring into the tin or cloche, otherwise it will stick awfully.
6. Mix the water with salt for the glaze and brush over the top of the loaf, making sure it doesn’t run down the sides and underneath (sticking hazard again). Sprinkle the fennel seeds over the top and let it prove for about 15-20 minutes.
7. Place the bread in the oven (with the cloche lid on, if using, taking if off to let the bread brown after 30 minutes). Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until it’s nicely brown all over. Cool on a wire rack.
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