Kubaneh is Yemeni Jewish bread which tastes almost like croissants and is a tonne easier and more fun to make. Jewish breads are usually excellent but kubaneh, traditionally baked slowly overnight by Yemenite Jews, is outstanding.
In the beginning there was kubaneh. Heavily buttered pieces of dough stretched film-thin and rolled up with more butter to coat the dough. Tucked into a tin snugly, next to one another, so when they rise they lean out of the container like flowers from a pot. Golden and glossy, with freckles of nigella seeds spattered over the buns, so tearable and shareable you can’t resist them.
Only later came the croissants, Danish pastry, laminated this and that, all much more fancy and hardworking: the cold block of butter needs to be ironed between sheets of dough, then folded and folded and folded. Do we need that kind of hassle when all it takes is buttered fingers, buttered worktop and (admittedly) buttered everything else?
Kubaneh is Yemeni Jewish bread. Jewish communities in Yemen who had lived there since ancient times had strong culture and outstanding food, and kubaneh is enough to prove it. But then again it’s no revelation: above all, Jewish people know how to make bread. Bagels, babka, challah, pretzels – if it’s kosher, it’s tasty.
I was curious to make kubaneh but also worried as at first it looks massively complicated; so it spend a long while on my to-do list. I needn’t have been afraid: it’s actually the ideal bread to make with your kids; I bet little paws will be just perfect for rolling loooong thin sausages of dough and what with regards to smearing the whole packet of butter all over the kitchen – I need not say more.
There are two basic rolling techniques as far as I could research: roll up and snail, and fold then roll sideways. I’m relieved to say it doesn’t matter: I tried both and the result was almost identical bar a minor esthetical difference. The fold-then-sideways method is more fiddly (shown below) so go for roll-up-snail.
To be honest what matters the most if the amount of butter you manage to press into the thin film of dough; that’s what makes it deliciously flaky. I’m looking forward to trying out a sweet version and make cinnamon and raisin kubaneh rolls or hide bits of chocolate in each bun’s centre to create a kubaneh de chocolat. Doesn’t it sound like an excellent idea?
kubanehServings: 16 rollsTime: 1 hour 30 plus proving and baking
- 450g (3 1/3 cups) strong white bread flour
- 15g (1 tbsp.) fine salt
- 80g (½ cup) sugar
- 45g (3 tbsp.) fresh yeast or 1 tbsp. instant yeast
- 225g (scant 1 cup) water at room temperature
- 2 eggs (1 for brushing)
- 30g (2 tbsp.) very soft unsalted butter, plus about 100g (1 stick) for shaping and rolling
- 1 tbsp. nigella seeds, for sprinkling
1. Lightly butter a very large, 25-27cm (10-11 inch) round cake tin – if you haven’t got such a big one, two smaller (18cm/7 inch) will work.
2. Place the flour, salt, sugar, yeast, water and 1 egg in the bowl of a standing mixer with dough hook – you can try by hand but this dough is really sticky. Mix at low speed until combined, then at high speed for 10 minutes. With the mixer running, add the 30g butter gradually in little portions. Continue mixing until the dough is smooth, elastic, forms a ball and bounces off the sides of the bowl. Cover the bowl and leave the dough to rest for 30 minutes.
3. Turn it out onto a lightly floured board and cut into 16 pieces, each weighing about 55g. Cover them with a cloth, set aside and butter an area of the work surface where you will be working. Keep the rest of the butter at hand.
4. Smear a piece of dough onto the buttered surface with buttered hands, laminating it generously. Spread it as thinly as you can, till it’s almost transparent, about 30 x 20cm; don’t worry if it tears in places. Next roll it into a long thin log, pushing and scraping the dough towards you with your fingers, and coil it into a snail. Place the roll in the buttered tin and proceed with the next piece.
5. Keep your hands and the dough lavishly buttered all the time. Arrange the rolls next to one another in the tin and when all are ready, cover the tin or tins with cling film and leave to prove in a warm place for about 1 hour, until doubled in volume.
6. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Beat the remaining egg with a tablespoon of water and brush gently the risen rolls. Sprinkle nigella seeds over them and transfer to the oven. Bake for 30 minutes until golden.
7. Remove the kubaneh from the oven, let them cool down in the tin for a few minutes, then unmould, tear and share.