The Khobz Men of Marrakech

As the sun sets over Marrakech, assorted sizes of khobz (Moroccan bread) are speedily pulled out of fiery ovens and placed under blankets.  Old men whisk them away on wooden hand carts.  They pull these handcrafts to their self-designated place in the medina.  The lucky ones have business set up in residential alleys, fulfilling the baking needs of the neighborhood.  The others fight for business among the other bread vendors in the middle of the bustling square.

I prefer my khobz to come from an intersection of two remote alleys in a crumbling part of town.

The ancient vendor is as weathered as the surrounding stone of the old city.  His wrinkled hands speak of decades of exposure to hellish oven heat.   They speak of an ancestral trade, passed down from father and grandfather.  They speak of pride and tradition.  His hands work quickly tMarrakech_Breado complete transactions with hijab-covered housewives and this curious blonde foreigner.

His eyes glimmer as I come back night after night for crusty loves coated in cornmeal. The night I get two, the corner of his mouth twitches almost imperceptibly with a smile. He asks no more than the sum of three dirhams, the equivalent of thirty U.S. cents.

As I walk away, I can’t stop myself from tearing into the loaf.  I can feel the old man’s eyes on my back, hear a tut-tut come from under the veil of a woman walking towards me.  They see me as a starved animal, greedily gnawing away.  I drop my hands from my mouth, returning the bread to its bag until those watching lose interest.  I tear off more bread while walking down lonely alleys.  I sneak bits while navigating vendors in the bazaar.  I even put bread into my purse to be swapped out for the bread served at my riad.  The riad cook catches me doing this one night.  The hurt in her eyes is clear as she looks from her bread to mine.  In that instant, I internally vow to be a bit more sneaky.

Back home in the United States, with no carts to deliver bread and no riad chef to cook for me, I find the bread to be surprisingly easy to recreate.  A blend of flours and a pizza or bread stone are key.

Moroccan Bread (Khobtz)

Ingredients:
2 cups wheat flour (or buckwheat flour)
2 cups white flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
1 tbs yeast
2 tbs olive or argan oil
1.5 cups warm water
Polenta or fine cornmeal for dusting

  • Preheat oven to 435 F.
  • Combine the yeast and sugar with the warm water.  Set aside until foamy.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the flours and salt.
  • Make a well in the center and pour half the yeast mixture into the well.
  • Turn the mixer to a medium speed and pour the remaining half of the yeast mixture and oil into the bowl.
  • When dough is sticky enough to hold form, put on the kneading attachment and knead the dough at speed 4 for roughly 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic.
  • Let dough rest for ten minutes.
  • Meanwhile, coat a pizza stone or baking sheet with a thin layer of polenta or cornmeal.
  • Either shape the loaf into one large circle or divide it into two smaller loaves.  Flatten to about 1 inch if a large loaf and one half inch if smaller loaves.
  • Place onto the prepared baking sheets, cover lightly with a damp towel, and place in a warm location until doubled in size (about one hour).
  • When rising is finished, poke top with fork.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, rotating bread halfway through.  Bread is finished baking when the center sounds hollow when knocked upon.

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