As you are no doubt aware, today is the national day of Yemen. If language were entirely onomatopoeic then I’m sure that ‘yemen’ would be the word for ‘to eat’; saying it makes your mouth move in the same way that it does when it’s savouring something really tasty. And I’d read a recipe for an intriguing-sounding Yemeni honey bread (‘bint al-sahn’) in an intriguing book (Honey I’m Homemade; sweet treats from the beehive across the centuries and around the world by May Berenbaum, Professor of Entomology at the University of Illinois). Invited to brunch this morning I decided that today would be an appropriate day to bake the honey bread.
I was right to bake it, because it’s delicious; I was wrong to try to prepare it for brunch, because it was almost teatime before the bread was ready. It’s a labour-intensive process, which reminded me of cooking the Kosovan dish, fli. Both are built up of layers of carbohydrate, interspersed with butter, and both take hours to make. As Mari, one of my brunch hostesses, said, the processes have to be complicated because otherwise who knows what your women would get up to.
1 packet yeast
0.5 cup warm water
2 tablespoons milk
4 cups flour (I needed 5-6 cups)
0.5 teaspoon salt
1.25 cups butter, melted
1 cup honey
Dissolve yeast in warm water. Mix yeast with eggs and milk. In a separate bowl, mix together flour and salt and form a well in the middle. Pour the yeast mixture into the well and stir into a dough; knead dough adding 0.25 cup melted butter. Knead until a smooth elastic dough results (you may need to add more flour). Cover and allow to rest in a warm place for 1 hour. Divide the dough into 12 balls and place on a floured surface; cover with a damp towel and allow them to rest for another half hour. Roll each ball of dough into an 8 inch round. Place one round into a buttered pie pan and brush with melted butter. Add 5 more rounds, buttering each, and pressing edges to attach rounds. In a second buttered pie pan, repeat with the remaining 6 rounds. Mix the remaining butter with honey and brush the top of each stack with some of the honey-butter mixture. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes or until the top round is golden. Remove from oven and pour remaining butter-honey mixture over both pans. Allow to rest for 20 minutes and then slice into wedges.