Experiments & experiences,  Foodie Life

It’s a Turkish Bread Baking Party! 

It’s no secret that I love bread, but admittedly, I love making bread a wee bit more than eating it. There’s so much magic in the way that powdery flour and yeast and eggs and water transforms into that beautifully golden on the outside, soft on the inside creation that we call bread. To me, there’s also something soothing in kneading the dough and forming it into the shape I desire. Which is why when I got an invitation to a bread-baking class sponsored by the Turkish Flour, Yeast, & Ingredients Promotion Group (TYFI) I was more than happy to say yes!

I mean we’re only going to learn about Turkish breads; and Turkey just happens to be one of my bucketlist countries to travel to. No big deal, right?

For this event I asked one of my BFFs Gilbert (his blog is called ItchyToesAdventures) to accompany me once again. I think at this point he qualifies as an honorary staff member of The Tummy Train already! We arrived a little early and so we got the chance to get our hands dirty ahead of everyone else. Guest Chef Emin Aydenir was already working on some dough and he invited us to help out. Apparently we had to pay for our bread today with some muscle.

We were worked like dogs. HAHA! Just kidding! 😛

Gilbert assisted the chef in coating the dough with sesame seeds, and though it may seem like he’s sweating from all the effort, the guy is just a natural sweat-fountain. He says it’s because he’s hot. (Okay…)

Writing this now and looking back at the baking class, I have to say I haven’t had this much fun in a while!

This event was held with the help of the Filipino-Chinese Bakery Association, Inc. (FCBAI), whose teaching kitchen is like a five-minute walk from my house. (I was so shocked to find out too haha!) So I took it as a sign that the fates were aligning in my favour, and I’d be foolish not to grab this chance to learn about Turkish bread since I know pretty much nothing about them.

In preparation for my travel to Turkey in the future? 😛

One of the main staples of Turkish cuisine is bread. In Turkey, bread is served with every meal the same way rice is here in the Philippines. Luckily since Turkey is also one of the foremost wheat-growing and flour-exporting nations in the world they won’t run out of ingredients to make their bread any time soon. One of my goals when I visit any foreign country is to take a stroll down food districts teeming with their local food specialties, and in this case I would love to walk from one Turkish bakery to another just trying to absorb all the beautiful bread (by eyes and mouth of course!) that I possibly can.

Someday… Someday soon I hope. For now, learning about baking Turkish bread from a Turkish Pastry Chef will have to do! 

Once all the “students” were present, Dr. Hamit Köksel took the floor to give us a little introduction to the world of wheat and flour. The information was a welcome addition to what I already know from the book The Breadbaker’s Apprentice (fantastic resource for those who like to bake bread, by the way) because he talked about the pastry scene in Turkey specifically. He also discussed how certain types of flours are best suited for certain types of pastries and baked goods, encouraging us to keep away from the bleached stuff and embrace the less processed flours. I agree.

As someone who bakes regularly, I never gave much thought to which country the flour I use is actually sourced from, and on this day I learned that it could very well be from Turkey. Turkish wheat four is the top export of the country to the Philippines, and since it is of high quality but also affordable, it is locally used to make breads, noodles, and lumpia wrappers. Today we were going to learn how to make Turkish breads, but to prove the point that Turkish flour can be used perfectly well to make Pinoy Tasty Loaf Breads as well, Chef Emin also made a bunch of them.

For the Turkish bread parade, first up Chef Emin demonstrated to us how to make Gözleme. It’s a Turkish flatbread that is filled with sweet or savory flavours and then pan-fried until crisp. For the dough, Chef Emin used Turkish soft flour, salt, sugar, egg, oil, and water. Once formed the dough is divided into rounds and then rested for a bit. It’s always important to let the dough rest (and rise) for about 20 to 30 minutes to relax the gluten. Since this will be rolled out until very thin, if you skip the resting period your dough will keep shrinking back, which will make rolling a pain! 

Once the dough has rested, it’s time to turn it into the popular Turkish street food.

Flatten the dough into a round shape until very thin. Make sure the work surface is floured so the dough does not stick. When thin enough, put some filling on one half of the dough round and fold the other side to cover. Press down the uncooked gözleme to make it as flat as possible for even cooking on the griddle.

Eat it when its freshly cooked as it will be crisp and hot and scrumptious!

Now it was our turn to try a hand at making Gözleme. Look who’s excited?

The team at FCBAI prepared the dough and a slew of fillings for us to choose from. Seasoned mushroom, spinach, shrimp, beef, mashed potatoes, cheese… There was also a container of Choco Loc (Turkish chocolate spread) for those who wanted something sweeter. 

Gilbert went first because we took turns photographing each other haha! He made a lot of gözleme but ate even more, so it didn’t surprise me when he told me that he didn’t eat dinner anymore that night. The fact that the griddle where they cooked the gözleme was ON OUR TABLE also didn’t help. He kept picking up pieces and popping them in his mouth. 

Now it was my turn. Excuse the messy hair haha! By the way, the cute aprons were gifts from TYFI and there is an oven mitt as well that is orange. I so love it!

Ta-dah! Gözleme, anyone?

Up next there was Pogača or Pogacha. It was what Chef Emin was prepping when Gilbert and I arrived. Traditionally this bread is baked in the ashes of a fireplace then moved to a hearth oven, but you can bake it in a regular oven too. A combination of flour, sugar, salt, margarine, eggs, water, and yeast is used to create the dough.

And then once it’s been divided and shaped into slightly flattened rounds, it’s time to add the filling. For this day Chef Emin used olives, Turkish Cashar Cheese, and also mashed potatoes.

The filling is placed at the center of the dough, and once ready to shape, the dough is folded into half first. Using the heel of your hand, gently press the edges of the dough to seal. The bread will look like these oblongish shapes, but you can make them into rounds if that’s what you prefer.

They are then brushed with egg yolks to give them a much darker crust colour once baked, then coated with sesame seeds. Chef Emin likes to decorate the sesame seeds a certain way to mark what filling the bread has.

Baked Pogača are lovely things. Look at the colour on them!

Now the crumb of these is wonderfully soft and buttery-rich in a way that reminds me somewhat of a croissant. While the croissant is more flaky and dry inside, this leans more on soft and moist, plus it is tasty on its own thanks to the filling. 

This was my favourite among all the breads we made that day, especially the ones filled with mashed potatoes!

Chef Emin also made some Paskalya çöreği, which is Turkish “Easter bread” that you can find all year-round in Istanbul bakeries. It reminds me quite a bit of Jewish Braided Challah because of its appearance, but the taste is quite different. The paskalya is much sweeter than challah. This one uses hard four, eggs, equal amounts of margarine and sugar, yeast, and water. 

Chef Emin braided the paskalya using three strands of dough, then brushed with egg yolks once again. You can leave it as is or add nuts or sesame seeds on top for some added flavour and crunch.

The resulting bread is impressively soft. A very nice surprise indeed! I think the perfect combination for this would be jam (fruit jam or bacon jam would be great), but perhaps also some ham and cheese.

The Simit was a lot of fun to make. It’s basically a circular bread that’s encrusted with sesame seeds, and it’s big enough that you can wear it as a bracelet. It’s like a Turkish version of a pretzel, with the main difference being the pretzel is a lot softer.

This recipe uses a lot of flour compared to water, which is why it’s crunchy out of the oven and is a chewy sort of bread, but once cool it’s a bit hard haha! But even if this isn’t a favourite of mine to eat, it was my favourite to make for the afternoon. I was happy I got to try a hand at it though I don’t have pictures.

Basically you take your divided dough and roll it out into a thin rope. Then you twist this rope until it won’t twist anymore. (This is where I made an error because I didn’t twist it enough, so my Simit ended up a little fat.)

And then you take both ends of the rope and make them meet on top. The dough will unwind and twist in on itself on its own. SO COOL.

Now just make the two ends of the twisted bread meet and lock it up. It does literally look like a bracelet. The dough is then dipped into Pekmes Syrup (a molasses-like syrup) to give it a very dark colouring once baked, then the dipped simit is rolled in sesame seeds before letting it rest and then baking.

A version of simit was also made by Chef Emin that has a bit of topping resting in the center. Before adding the cheese and olives, it was also dipped into Pekmes Syrup and drenched in sesame seeds. This reminds me so much of pizza breads.

Now the Simit goes into the oven much to my excitement!

The circular Simit looks uhhh-mazing! I love how the dark crust of the bread contrasts so boldly with the pearly crumb of the bread. My only gripe with this is that it’s a bit tough to chew. Definitely MUST BE EATEN WARM!

The boat-like Simit actually is crunchy on the outside and chewy inside. Maybe because in this form the Simit is less compact, so the resulting bread is not as tough as the bracelet Simit. Also, since this version has cheese and olives on it so it’s more tasty as well.  

The last bread for the day is the Multi-Grain Bread. The flour used for this bread is a dark brown colour (probably unbleached whole wheat) and then there are some seeds inside and oats outside.

I make whole wheat breads often but never the type that’s this dense. And mine don’t taste this healthy haha! These would be great with cheese though, especially of the bread is newly toasted. Must admit the colour of this bread is beautiful though.

Well you’re probably thinking now: Wow you guys made a lot of bread! Did you get to take home any? The answer is a big fat YESSSS! And yes the breads were overflowing this day.

To round up the day of labor and savory bread, we were treated to Turkey’s most popular sweet dessert– BAKLAVA! I’ve made baklava before but the nut filling isn’t as thick and pasty as this one. The Turkish version I find is a lot sweeter than the Greek version.

Gilbert unleashed his chameleon persona even BEFORE he had a bite of baklava. This is not him being hyper. Nope! (And yes, two portions are for him haha!) I swear, I’ve known this guy since we were toddlers but he gets crazier with each passing year.

By the time we were eating baklavas and packing away bread to take home, everybody started comfortably chatting with each other like old friends. Remembrance photos were taken, jokes were cracked with the FCBAI folks, and vacation spots were enumerated to our new Turkish friends from TFYI. I really liked that this was a small group event because it felt warmer and it was easier to interact with others. Small talk isn’t my strong suit. 🙂

Before we were sent home, we were given certificates of participation. Yay! I didn’t expect this at all. Makes it all so official somehow, but hey learning from a real Turkish pastry chef is no joke! 

You can easily tell this is my very happy face. My cheeks are popping out!

You’d think that going home with new kitchen gear, breads, and a certificate signed by Chef Emin would be good enough, but our Turkish friends are quite generous. They sent us home with a box of baklava from Karaköy Güllüoğlu, one of the most famous baklava-making institutions in Turkey! I was pleasantly surprised and exceedingly grateful. 

They also gave us this stunning piece of glassware that’s apparently a collector’s item. The art on the glass depicts the cityscape of Istanbul, and it only makes me want to go to Turkey all the more!

Thank you so so so much to our friends from Turkish Flour, Yeast, & Ingredients Promotion Group (TYFI); Filipino-Chinese Bakery Association, Inc. (FCBAI); and Ms. Daisy Sabangan of CID Communication for this wonderful afternoon of bread and learning! For someone like me who adores making bread it became all the more special because I picked up a lot of new recipes and techniques. I suspect one of the breads will make an appearance up here some time soon!

I’m hoping with all my heart that there’s a next time! 😀

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