Sheermal / Shirmal ~ Persian Flatbread Flavoured with Saffron & Milk

It's time for another bread this month. After the lovely pizza that I baked a couple of times last month and posted this month it is now time for me to go ahead and explore my love for baking breads. I have joined this lovely baking project called 'We Knead to Bake' where we get to learn a new bread and insights revolving its history every month. I felt that it was a great way to learn to make different kinds of bread especially as I was hesitant to start on my own. For this month's project (We Knead to Bake#22) Aparna Balasubramanian chose a simple and beautiful bread for all of us to try - Sheermal. This lovely bread with subtle flavours apparently has its origins in Persia but is found in various countries of the Asian sub-continent. Sheermal looks like Naan but is slightly more fluffy, mildly sweet and very aromatic.

The term 'sheer' stands for 'milk' and perhaps the name 'sheermal' comes from the fact that the dough is kneaded using milk instead of water and a good amount of ghee helps give it the light, buttery texture and taste. The bread is lightly and delicately flavoured with saffron and rosewater, though saffron is the more dominant flavour of the two. It is a simple bread that is easy to make and can be eaten by itself, along with tea for breakfast or as an accompaniment to your lunch or dinner. It tastes best when eaten with a mutton curry or particularly the mutton Nihari/Nehari. 

Can you see the goodness of the ghee in the picture below? The bread was brushed with melted ghee the moment they were out of the oven and it was immediately absorbed by the bread leaving behind a glistening surface that gave a nice crumbly bite to it leaving the insides nice and fluffy.

While the sheermal is traditionally an unleavened bread it does make use of yeast or baking powder. The recipe given to us makes use of yeast and eggs but you could make an eggless version with baking powder if the smell of yeast puts you off - but trust me, there is hardly any yeasty smell and if there is any it will get offset by the aroma of the saffron and rosewater.

Sheermal / Shirmal ~  Persian Flatbread Flavoured with Saffron & Milk
Prep time: 2-1/2 hours (approx) | Bake time: 15 mins | Yield 4 breads of approx 4" diameter each


1. In a small bowl mix the yeast, lukewarm water and sugar and keep aside till the mixture turns frothy. If it doesn't discard and start all over again with a fresh batch of yeast.
2. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and add the frothy yeast mixture to it and the beaten egg and mix - you can use a food processor or use your hand to knead it. Next, add the ghee in two parts and mix after each addition, rubbing the mixture as you go - you are trying to incorporate the ghee well into the flour here and you should end up with a mixture that looks like fine bread crumbs
3. Now add the milk little by little and the kewra/rose water too. Keep kneading until you get a very soft and slightly sticky dough - don't add extra flour. Don't add all the milk in one go, instead, if required wet your fingers and continue to knead once you have been able to gather the mixture into the form of a dough ball. The dough needs to be soft and elastic or else your bread will turn out tough and chewy.
4. Transfer the dough ball into a well oiled bowl and cover it with a damp cloth and keep undisturbed in a warm place of your kitchen until the dough doubles in volume (it could take anywhere between 1-2 hours depending on the weather).

5. Once the dough has doubled, gently knead it once more and shape into a ball again and place it back into the bowl - this time brush it all over with some ghee. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and let it rise for 15-20 mins
6. Remove the dough out and divide it equally into 4 parts and place one portion on a clean working surface. Use your fingers to flatten the portion out roughly into a round of approximately 4"diameter. For that rustic look avoid using a rolling pin to flatten it out.
7. Place the rounds on a baking tray lined with baking parchment and use a fork to prick holes on the entire surface. Brush them evenly with the saffron-milk solution.
8. Bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees C (350 degrees F) for about 10 to 15 minutes or till they turn a lovely golden on top.
9. Remove from the oven and brush immediately with melted butter or ghee. Serve hot with tea or as a bread with mutton or chicken curry.

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