A trip down forest paths

A 10th Century Tortilla part 2

This is a continuation of my initial post on medieval Baghdadi thin bread but also a digression into the idea of authenticity.

I picked the title of this (and the last) post for the alliteration. It sounds good. In the context of the US 2023 I can assume that most people know what a tortilla should look and feel like. Ruqaq (which I can’t even reasonably type as I do not have the proper accent mark over the a) is not so well known especially as the 10th century Baghdadi version is baked in a dome shaped oven as found all over Asia while the modern Arabic bread is more of a crispy crepe cooked over a hot griddle. Perhaps naan is a better term but it doesn’t alliterate and, from the translation I am working from, the ruqaq sounds like it should be thinner than a naan. Lavash? Dosa except that they are made with completely different flours? For all I know the ruqaq is the ancestor of the tortilla by way of al-Andalus.

So I’ve started out inauthentically. Some might even say that I’m engaged in a clear case of cultural appropriation as I take the idea of an Arabic or Iraqi food and remake verbally into a completely different food. The teacher in me thinks that I am engaged in scaffolding, building new understanding and knowledge by relating it back to already existing knowledge. The experimentalist in me says that no matter what you call it we are just mixing flour, water, salt, leavening, and heat.

The experimentalist is also still interested in the sourdough and borax questions. I need to start saving some sourdough discards to play around with. If I use discards they will have little to no leavening and mostly serve to change the digestibility of the flour and the taste. There are many recipes for such flatbreads with and without leavening. Again, I don’t claim authenticity but it would be a viable product of a medieval Middle Eastern kitchen. Perhaps more research on sourdough in the Middle East is needed! If I use a fresh, active sourdough it will provide some leavening especially as the dough is to be left for a short period of time. Again not authentic but a viable product. In one sense I feel that my playing around with the recipe I am moving beyond museum authenticity. Certainly I have moved from mere copying into evaluating or creating so Bloom would be proud.

One odd tangent that I haven’t investigated is that I have seem references to hard or dry sourdough. Mostly this has been in the context of desem bread based on covering a small lump of dough in a flour. It works by maintaining a culture of wild yeast in the old dough fed by the flour around it with everything going much slower than a traditional sourdough because there is little to no liquid and stirring to allow for more contact of culture and new flour. 2g of dry starter per 100g of new flour sounds like a small amount but the Baghdadi recipe is clearly not made for working with 100g units so it might well be a viable route.

Finally, I have picked up but not tried the potassium carbonate. I knew it was hydrophilic but I underestimated how much. Storage feels like it might be a problem. As mentioned earlier the cookbook refers to baker’s borax but I don’t think the translation means literally borax. Really the entire family of pot ash, pearl ash, soda ash, natron, baking soda, and baking powder needs it’s own post so I’ll keep this shorter and make it part three.

#SCA #cooking