This is a very traditional flat bread common over all parts of the Balkans ruled by the Ottoman Empire – essentially the Balkan pita bread. There are very famous old bakeries in the region, especially in Sarajevo in Bosnia & Herzegovina that have been making somun for centuries. It is especially popular during Ramadan, when it is usually sprinkled with nigella seeds (the “holy seed”). I believe the criss-cross pattern on top of the bread is meant to be a representation of a “mushebak” – which was traditionally a wooden grid over the windows of female rooms in Muslim homes.
One of the legends around this bread was that it was originally created by Ottoman soldiers on campaign in the Balkans – they needed a quick bread which could be filled with a variety of things and was therefore portable.
Usually this bread is eaten with things like cevapi (little kebabs cooked on a grill) but really it is an every day, easy bread (three proves notwithstanding) that goes beautifully with everything, but works especially well with grilled meat or seafood and fresh salads.
250g strong white flour + a little extra for dusting
5g dry fast acting yeast (or 10g fresh yeast)
1 tsp sugar (any) or honey
1 tbsp milk (optional)
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
175ml lukewarm water
1 tbsp nigella, sesame or caraway seeds (for sprinkling, but optional)
- Mix your yeast with the sugar or honey (to re-activate the yeast), the milk and a little of the water. Leave for 15 minutes or until the yeast is bubbling.
- Sift your flour into a bowl and mix the salt with the flour. Make a well in the middle of the flour then add the yeast and start to mix with the flour. Start adding the water little by little bringing it together with your hand or a spatula so there are no lumps. It should be a very wet, soft and sticky dough. Cover with damp cloth and leave to prove in a warm place for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until doubled in size.
- Knock back / fold over the dough, cover with the damp cloth and leave to prove again for another 30 to 45 minutes in a warm place.
- When dough is doubled in size again and bubbly, turn out onto very well floured surface. Using a dough scraper or palette knife, cut the dough into 4 equal pieces (or 2 if you prefer larger breads), then gently knead each and shape into a tight ball pinching together the base if needed.
- Place the dough balls onto a well floured baking sheet/baking paper and let rest (uncovered) in a warm place for another 30-45 minutes.
- After they have rested, flatten them gently with your finger tips into a circle, but take care not to knock all the air and bubbles out. You can make a criss-cross pattern over the top of the dough with the blunt edge of a knife/palette knife but this is optional. If using, sprinkle nigella, sesame and/or caraway seeds over the top.
- Sprinkle tops of the bread with a few drops of water, and bake on highest setting your oven will go to e.g. around 250C / 480F, for 5-10 mins. They will puff up and will sound hollow to the touch when ready.