When I studies abroad in Tel Aviv, there was no food that I ate more than shawarma wrapped in laffa. Prior to my time in Israel, I never had a shawarma not served in pita, but once I experienced laffa, I never went back to pita until I had no choice. Laffa is a similarly chewy bread like pita, but it's larger and pocketless, so when getting a sandwich in a laffa, it's more along burrito lines. I've been continually improving my shawarma recipe and deiced to try out a technique that worked great for more authentic-style pork gyros with my shawarma seasoning, but I didn't think the sandwich would ever feel totally right to me if it were not in a laffa, so first I needed to learn how to make this bread.
Laffa is Iraqi in origin, being brought to Israel by immigrating Iraqi Jews. In Iraq, the actual sandwich made of this bread is called laffa, but in Israeli, laffa transformed to be the name of the bread itself. This flatbread is somewhat akin in texture to naan, but with a base that omits dairy, the flavor of laffa is more subdued without the ghee and yogurt that gives naan a lot of its character. Instead, laffa adds sugar and olive oil into the mix with the required flour, water, salt, and yeast.
When doing research on how to make laffa, I was looking for clues to know when I had the hydration level of the dough right and found one recipe that proved most helpful by stating that the dough should be lightly tacky, but should not stick to your hands when quickly touched. The high hydration level that required left the dough sticking to the bottom of the bowl during kneading, and after kneaded for a few minutes, I found I did need to add a couple tablespoons of flour until the dough reach the characteristics I was looking for.
After kneading, I covered the bowl and let it rise. Most recipes stated to let it double in size, about an hour, so I left it undistributed for that amount of time and came back to find it had risen almost one and half times the size. I wasn't deterred by that since some recipes went even longer on the rising time, so I assumed some variability and flexibility is probably common here.
At this point I divided the ball into eight equal pieces and covered those with a damp cloth and let the dough rise again. I was looking for about another doubling of volume and began checking how things were going much sooner this time and found it had risen quite nicely after just 30 minutes of resting.
During the second rise I got my fire started so it would be ready to go once I began shaping the dough. Since laffa is a large and thinner bread, I used a rolling pin to work it into rounds roughly 10-inches in diameter, going a bit bigger than that when I could to have sufficiently large laffas for wrapping sandwiches.
Once rolled out, I used two hands to gently lift up the dough and place it over direct high heat on the grill. I sat and watched the dough until I saw it start to bubble up in the places—about 30 seconds. I then peeked at the underside and moved the dough around as necessary for it to brown evenly.
After getting some light browning here and there, I flipped the dough and let it cook until the same thing happened on the other side. Since laffa needs to be pliable for wrapping, I wanted only light browning so there wasn't any overly crisp and crunchy bits that might crack and break when rolled. I also piled the laffas on top of each other as each was done, and this stacking steams them a bit, increasing their softness and flexibility.
There's nothing quite like hot fresh bread off the grill, so I couldn't help myself from eating one of these very soon after it was finished. Like so many grilled breads, it was pleasure to eat, but it definitely was also a bit understated compared to other flatbreads and naans I've done before. I realized I've never had laffa just plain like that—it's always been made into a sandwich, topped with oil and za'atar, or used as fodder for dip. So I grabbed some spicy hummus and dunked the still hot laffa in and that completed the experience for me nicely. It only became fully realized though once I used the bread for the shawarma sandwiches where the laffa was really at its best and brought me back to those frequent days sitting in the food court at the Ramat Aviv Mall a couple blocks from my dorm, chowing down on my shawarma in laffa for the meal the defined my time in Israel.
- Yield 8 servings
- Prep 15 Minutes
- Inactive 1 Hour 20 Minutes
- Cook 2 Minutes
- Total 1 Hour 37 Minutes
- 360 grams all-purpose flour (about 3 cups), plus more as needed
- 120 grams bread flour (about 1 cup)
- 8 grams sugar (about 2 teaspoons)
- 8 grams kosher salt (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
- 6 grams instant yeast (about 2 teaspoons)
- 350 grams warm water (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 30 grams extra-virgin olive oil (about 2 tablespoons)
- Whisk together all-purpose flour, bread flour, sugar, salt, and yeast in the workbowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add in water and olive oil and mix at low speed until dough just comes together. Increase speed to medium and continue to knead until dough looks smooth and is tacky, but does not stick to hands when lightly touched. If dough is too sticky, add additional flour 1 tablespoon at a time and continue to knead until incorporated. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
- Turn dough out onto a floured work surface and cut into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and place on a baking sheet or floured surface, cover with plastic wrap or damp cloth, and let rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, 20-30 minutes more.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange coals evenly across charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill, and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil grilling grate. On a floured surface, roll one piece of dough into a circle roughly 10-inches in diameter and about 1/8-inch thick. Place dough on grill and cook until puffed and lightly charred in spots. Flip bread and continue to cook until second side only very lightly browns in spots. Transfer laffa to a plate and cover with a clean dish towel to keep warm. Repeat with remaining dough. Serve immediately.