The Secret to Perfect Fatayar Dough
Fatayar are traditional Lebanese savory pies–and the secret to perfect fatayar dough is here.
When I first pursued baking fatayar in earnest, I knew there were problems to be solved to make the perfect little pies I enjoyed from the hands of Mom and Sitto. Even some of the Middle Eastern bakery versions were not my guiding lights, because with those the dough can be too thick and puffy. My goal was and remains a thinner pouch, still flavorful and tender but not overwhelming what’s inside. After PhD-style research from books and conversations, and the many batches recipe testing requires in order to reach the holy grail, and swear words I didn’t know I had in me, I discovered the keys to unlock the secrets of great fatayar.
A sticky dough.
A high water-to-flour ratio makes this dough sticky. My definition of sticky here is when fingers touch the dough, it is damp–but the dough does not leave residue on your fingers. A good amount of oil in the dough also contributes to the dough’s stickiness. Why sticky? The stick-factor is essential in shaping the fatayer, so that the “seams” stay closed when the triangle (or squares for sfeha), are baked.
No second rise.
Because want a thin, chewy result, a second rise of the dough is dispensed with. Typically dough like Garlic Butter Glazed Talami require a second rise to re-inflate the dough’s gluten and create the desired crumb (talami is a very open, soft crumb with lots of airy bubbles). Fatayar dough is meant to be flat and thin. The single-rise also allows for a more pliable dough to roll out.
Roll and cut the dough.
Mom did not do this, and neither did Sitto. Maureen does. I love this swift way of creating multiple rounds to be filled for fatayer. There is one drawback here: the scraps need time for the gluten to relax before being re-rolled, and this dough from the second rolling may not be as good as the dough from the first roll. It is less pliable, not quite as sticky as the first. Can you pull of small pieces of dough, roll each one out for the fatayer, and avoid the scraps altogether? Absolutely. This is a traditional method I wouldn’t dream of nay-saying.
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar or honey
- 1 cup cup warm water (80°-90° F)
- 3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup neutral oil, such as safflower or canola, plus more to oil the bowl
- Proof the yeast by dissolving it in ¼ cup of the warm water with the sugar or honey. Set aside for about 10 minutes, or until the mixture looks frothy and creamy.
- Whisk together the flour and salt in a mixer bowl or medium bowl. Create a well in the center and add the oil and proofed yeast mixture. Using a stand mixer fitted with the hook attachment or by hand, slowly work the wet ingredients into the dry, adding 1/2 cup of the water slowly. Add more of the water only as necessary until the dough comes together and is cohesive.
- Knead the dough by hand or with the dough hook in the mixer until the dough is very soft, smooth, and tacky/sticky to the touch (but it should not leave dough on your fingers). Kneading by hand can be awkward at first because the dough is so wet, but as you knead, the dough will firm up a bit and absorb all of the water.
- In a clean bowl at least twice the size of the dough, lightly coat the dough and the sides of the bowl with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and set the dough aside to rise in a warm spot until doubled, not more than 90 minutes. Take care not to overproof the dough.
- Roll half of the dough out on a dry work surface to 1/8-inch thickness. Gently lift the dough from the work surface, working your way around the perimeter of the dough to the center, to allow for contraction. Cut the dough into 4-inch rounds. Knead together the scraps, cover with plastic, and set aside.
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