My family was not into baking so I don’t remember many baked goods at our house growing up. Aside from nan, the Afghan flat bread which most families made every day, most modern Kabul residents purchased their baked goods from the local bakeshops. This was likely because most families didn’t have an oven suitable for baking. The bakeries had mouth-watering displays of cookies, cakes and assortment of sweet delights beckoning innocent by standers to give them a try.
When Katie and I were planning a series of blog posts on baked goods I quickly volunteered to do roht, which is sweet bread that some of my family members indulged frequently when I was growing up. Every afternoon my sisters Nabila and Zohra took a break from whatever they were doing (probably avoiding me) and enjoyed a cup of tea with a piece of roht. They are quite a few years older than me and as a child my ultimate goal was to be part of their world. But that was hard to attain. I was the typical pesky little sister and I was only allowed to join them for the afternoon snack if I went to the corner store and fetched a fresh loaf of roht. The roht was made by the Kabul Silo a national bakery created by the Russians (before they invaded) in Kabul, which made all kinds of baked goods that I adored. The Silo was one of the buildings I readily recognized during my 2006 trip to Kabul.
I loved that roht; it was sweet, thick and soft. It was different from the homemade kind, which was denser and not as sweet. They probably loaded it with yeast, oil and sugar to get that texture. Nevertheless, I happily took the 10 Afghani (20 cents now) to the store and fetched the roht for our special afternoon together. OK, I was told to sit quietly and not to say anything to annoy them but I still remember those afternoons fondly.
The recipe I share with you is from Jeja (my mom) who went through a brief baking stint in the 1980s, but generally doesn’t do much baking. After much cajoling I got her to share this recipe with me. I substituted butter for oil and added a pinch of salt, but most of the recipe is intact. I think I may have set Jeja on a new era of baking.
Afghan Sweet Bread
1 cup all purpose flour
2 cups whole-wheat flower
1 packet rapid rise yeast
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. cardamom
pinch of salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) butter, melted
2 tbsp.full fat plain yogurt
½ cup warm water
1 tsp. nigella seeds*
Thoroughly mix the flour, whole-wheat flour, yeast, sugar, cardamom, and salt in a large bowl. Pour half of the mixture into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a dough blade. Add the melted butter and yogurt. Process the dough until well combined. If the mixture sticks to the sides of the processor, scrape it down and process some more. Add the remainder of the flour mixture to the dough. Begin processing the ingredients again and slowly dribble in the water until the dough comes together. You might have to stop periodically to scrape the dough off the sides. After a few minutes, the dough will come together in one smooth lump and move around the food processor.
Remove the dough from the food processor cup and pat it into a smooth ball. Set it in a large bowl, cover with 2 dishcloths and keep in a warm place for 2 hours. I turn the oven light on and leave the bowl inside the oven. It’s nice and cozy for the dough.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide the dough into two balls and work gently into a circular flat shape, about ½- inch thick. Poke little holes in a circular pattern on top of the dough with a fork, maybe around 20 pokes per loaf. Sprinkle the loaves with nigella seeds.
Bake in the middle rack for 25-30 minutes until the roht is golden brown. Let it cool to room temperature before serving. Roht should be cut like pizza slices and served in a triangular shape. I find eight pieces to a loaf is about the right size. Enjoy with a cup of tea.
Extra roht should be stored in an airtight container or Ziploc bag. I find it tastes even better the next day.
*Nigella seeds are a spice commonly used in Indian or Middle Eastern dishes. They are tiny black roasted seeds that taste like oregano and have bitterness to them like mustard-seeds. They are sold at Middle Eastern or India nmarkets. Check out the list of markets that we have compiled for you.If you can’t find them, use sesame seeds instead.
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