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The Balkans: Lepinja / Lepinje (Triple-Raised Soft Baked Flatbread)

(For our visitors from the French foodblogging site Esterkitchen.com: Salutations de l'Irlande pluveiuse à nos visiteurs de esterkitchen.com! S'il vous plaît, n'hésitez pas à explorer notre site. Nous avons presque pas de recettes françaises - d'autres l'ont recouvert ce sujet très complètement - mais nous avons beaucoup de recettes irlandaises et de nombreuses recettes de l'intérêt de l'Europe centrale et de ses moins connus cuisines. Vous êtes très bienvenu!)

This popular bread, also known in some regions as somun, is eaten all up and down the eastern side of the Mediterranean (and a long way inland) and is by far the favorite accompaniment for savory meat snacks like cevapcici. The main name for this vaguely pita-like flatbread has many spellings, so we're going to use all of them in this article.

The quality that makes lepinje stand out from other central and eastern European flatbreads is its beautifully tender, spongy, English muffin-like interior, which is due to the dough's three rises, and (optionally, in some recipes) to a small dose of baking powder or baking soda which gives the dough an extra boost when the heat of the oven hits it. This yummy texture makes lepinja the perfect foil for meat snacks like the famous cevapcici. It features in other snacks as well: this YouTube video shows a market stall holder assembling a triple order of lepinja komplet or komplet lepinje with fresh eggs, lard, and kajmak, the local rich, savory unripened cream cheese, before putting them under the grill / broiler. (Warning -- the video's sideways: don't get a crick in your neck watching it.) Unusually for a bread, lepinja komplet has its own Facebook fan page.

Homesick eastern Europeans will usually insist that the lepinje baked in New York or LA can't compare with the ones you would buy on the street from a vendor in Pristina or Belgrade. There's probably a great deal of truth to this, as local flours, yeasts and waters will always contribute significantly to the quality and character of a "small bread" of this kind. Nonetheless, if you're longing for a lepinje, try our recipe and see how it works for you.

Ingredients:

  • 300 grams / approximately 3 US cups) all-purpose flour (bread flour is better if you have it)
  • 2 envelopes dry yeast (or dry quick yeast) or 1 ounce / 30 grams fresh yeast
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 cup / 8 fluid ounces / 250ml lukewarm water or milk and water

Optional:

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda: or, for slightly better results, 1/2 teaspoon double-acting baking powder

If you are using fresh yeast or plain dry yeast, mix them thoroughly with the water or milk-and-water and add the teaspoon of sugar: put aside to proof for 10 to 15 minutes or until a good number of bubbles start forming. (If using fast-acting dry yeast, simply combine with all the dry ingredients.)

Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix or knead well by hand for about seven minutes, or for about five minutes if using the dough hook of an electric mixer. This can be a somewhat sticky dough, depending on your flour; but don't worry -- the bread will still come out all right.

When finished mixing or kneading, put the dough in a warmed bowl, cover with plastic wrap / climg film, and set aside in a warm place to rise until double (usually at least an hour). When risen, stir down or punch down, depending on the wetness of your dough, and cover again. Once more put aside to rise until doubled, usually at least another hour.

After this rising, flour a work surface and turn out the dough. With floured hands, knead the dough again briefly, then divide into between three and six portions, depending on the size of the lepinje you want. Form these pieces into balls, flour them lightly, and allow them to rest for five or ten minutes; then flatten them (using a rolling pin if you like) to about half an inch thick, or a little thicker if making large lepinjas. Place on a floured baking sheet and allow to rise again for another twenty minutes or so.

Preheat the oven to 425°F / 210°C. When ready, put in the baking sheet with the dough rounds. Bake at 425°F / 210°C for five to seven minutes -- the lepinjes should be just turning golden -- and then lower the heat to 300°F / 150°C. Bake for another 10 minutes if the lepinje are small: another 12-15 minutes if they're large. (If you like, and if you have a baking stone, the lepinje can also be baked on this, a couple or a few at a time.)

Remove from the oven and let them rest wrapped in a dishtowel for ten minutes or so to soften the crust. Then split or slice open. Serve hot, and as quickly as possible! And please note that these won't keep much longer than a day before going amazingly stale.

...And now, for a moment of irrational entertainment: Click here to see a little crowd of cevapi fleeing into a lepinje to hide. Good luck with that, guys...

 

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