Man’oushe: Za’atar Flatbread

Manoushe zaatar flatbread

I’ve been thinking about man’oushe for years, ever since I went to Lebanon and someone handed me a warm flatbread right out of the wood-fired oven. It was the perfect snack: A warm, slightly supple dough slathered with za’atar, an herbaceous seasoning blend punctuated with sumac and sesame seeds. It has a slightly astringent flavor, due to the tang of sumac and the sharpness of the wild herbs, and I loved it, but never attempted to make man’oushe, the popular street snack.

Manoushe zaatar flatbread

I used to have one of those pizza stones, but I never liked it. It got stained, which didn’t appeal to my OCD nature, and worse, made a horrible screeching noise when dragged across the wire oven rack. So I decided to go out for pizza, even though every once in a while I have the urge to make a pizza or two at home.

Manoushe zaatar flatbread

But my interest was rekindled when I read about baking steels, heavy-duty slabs of metal that promise amazing heat conductivity, and decided to buy one. The one I got was pretty heavy – there goes my baggage allowance! – but I was hopeful that my doughs would have the same crisp, blistered crust that you get when you go out for pizza.

Manoushe zaatar flatbread

My baking steel came with a few caveats. One is that you shouldn’t wash it with soap and water, as that would remove the seasoning. (Of course, as soon as I pulled it out of the box, I washed it with soap and water before I read the notice. #OCD) The other is that they recommend preheating the steel for 45 minutes in the oven before using it, at 500ºF/260ºC, which makes the “green” part of me worry about using energy. But it’s probably less than a trip to Naples, or in this case, Beirut, so I made peace with that.

Manoushe zaatar flatbread

Wanting to recreate what they did in Lebanon, while my steel was heating up, I quickly rolled out dough, smeared it with za’atar, and baked them until the crust was golden brown. In Lebanon, locals would bring their own za’atar to the bakeries, along with their own olive oil from their olive trees, then the bakery would smear the mixture of the two on the dough and baked, to be taken home and enjoyed with the family meal. (I did a specific post on the flatbreads of Lebanon with pictures from the various bakeries because I was so wowed by them.)

Manoushe zaatar flatbread

Some of the man’oushe places in Paris have a machine that rolls out the dough, which is draped over a rounded, dome-like griddle called a saj, then baked. It’s good to get the dough as thin as possible, and my baking steel really did what it promised: It gave the dough a nice lift, with big bubbles baked into the crust, and resulted in a crisp bottom, too. Although the ones in Lebanon are actually slightly supple, so they can be rolled up. You can bake them to whatever degree you like.

Manoushe zaatar flatbread

A few tips on making man’oushe:

-After letting the dough rise, roll the ovals of dough out partially, then let the dough rest about 5 minutes before rolling them out to the final size. The dough is very stretchy and will resist when you first start rolling them out. Letting them rest will relax the dough and make it easier to roll out.

-Don’t worry about making the rolled out dough perfect. Irregularities in flatbread are part of the game.

-Za’atar is pretty strong stuff. When I was in Lebanon, it was sold as a tincture for what ails you, and was so strong, just one drop of the distilled herb elixir made my lips go numb. So don’t overdo it when brushing on the za’atar and olive oil. Spread a thin layer on with a spoon, and some bare spots are fine.

-Before brushing on the za’atar and olive oil, make sure the dough isn’t sticking to the counter. Lift it up, turn it a bit, and perhaps dust a little more flour underneath so it doesn’t stick when you’re ready to lift it up and pop it in the oven.

Manoushe_

When I bought my baking steel, I didn’t order a pizza peel to go with it, a good tool for transporting flatbreads in and out of the oven. And I kind of wish I did. (Although my bulging cabinets and closets, and drawers, and storage containers, are glad that I didn’t.) I did try using two spatulas to transfer the dough to the very hot baking steel, with limited success.

So I ended up using my two hands, lifting the dough after I spread it with the za’atar mixture, stretching the dough slightly as I moved it quickly from the counter to the oven. I worked as fast as I could and ended up with a few minor burns from not being as careful as I should, so you might want to invest in a peel, or be creative and use something else, like the removable bottom of a tart pan.

Manoushe zaatar flatbread

Man’oushe
Six flatbreads

Za’atar can be found at your local Middle Eastern store, Kalustyan’s and on Amazon. You can also make za’atar yourself. Use a good olive oil for the topping. Since there are only two ingredients, you want each to taste good.

With the baking steel, my flatbreads baked fast, and came out with very crisp crusts. Man’oushe is normally eaten just as is, but you can serve it as an appetizer with olives and feta cheese alongside. Or it can be part of a Middle Eastern meal composed of hummus, baba ganoush, eggplant caviar, eggplant jam and cucumber feta salad.

If you don’t have a baking steel, use a baking stone, or bake the flatbreads on parchment-lined baking sheets, perhaps passing them under the broiler during the last-minute or so of baking, to brown them nicely. If using a baking sheet, you’ll likely need to cook them longer than the 7 minutes indicated, so keep an eye on them and remove them from the oven when the crust is golden brown.

Flatbread Dough

  • 1 cup (250ml) tepid water (slightly warmer than room temperature)
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 1/2 cups (350g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt

Za’atar Topping

1/4 cup (40g) za’atar
1/4 cup (60ml) extra-virgin olive oil

1. To make the dough, in a bowl of a stand mixer (if mixing by hand, use a large bowl), sprinkle the yeast over the water along with the sugar and let sit in a warm place until the yeast starts to bubble, about 10 minutes.

2. Stir in the olive oil, flour, and salt. If using a stand mixer, use the dough hook attachment. If mixing by hand, stir with a wood spoon or spatula until it becomes too thick to stir, then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter. Knead the dough in the machine on medium-high speed, or by hand, until the dough forms a smooth ball, but is slightly sticky when you touch it with your finger. It’ll take about 5 minutes and will pull away from the sides of the mixer bowl. Cover the dough in the bowl with a kitchen towel, and let rise in a warm place until the dough doubles in volume, about 1 1/2 hours.

3. To make the flatbreads, preheat the oven to 500ºF/260ºC and move the oven rack to the upper third of the oven. Set a baking steel on the rack. (Check the manufacturer’s instructions for your baking steel or stone.) Otherwise, line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Preheat the baking steel or stone for 45 minutes.

4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured countertop and divide the dough into six pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a small oval, rolling it just until each starts to resist. When each one does, set it aside on the countertop and begin rolling another. Continue to roll each of the six pieces of dough into ovals, stopping when the dough starts stretching back on itself.

5. When ready to bake, take the first oval of dough and roll it out to its final size, adding a bit more flour if necessary to keep it from sticking to the counter or rolling pin, turning it over a few times to ensure it’s not sticking. Roll it until it’s about 12-inch long by 4- or 5-inches wide (30cm by 10- to 12cm).

6. Spread the oval with a layer of the za’atar mixture, about 1 1/2 tablespoons per flatbread leaving, not quite reaching the edge so there’s space for a crust. Don’t worry about any bare spots when smearing on the za’atar: it doesn’t need to be perfect.

(Note: My za’atar was quite fresh, and strong. But if yours isn’t, you can use more of the topping is you wish. If you need more for spreading, mix za’atar and olive oil together in even amounts.)

7. Lift the finished flatbread with your hands, or slide a pizza peel dusted with flour underneath, and transfer the flatbread on the baking steel or stone. Continue rolling and topping the rest of the flatbreads, baking each until the crust is golden brown, about 7 minutes.

(If you don’t have a pizza peel and are worried about transferring the dough, another option is to cut six sheets of parchment paper to a size that will fit under the rolled dough, then transfer the unbaked flatbreads to the parchment paper before smearing them with za’atar. Leave the parchment paper under the flatbreads and lift them, holding the ends of the paper, then bake the man’oushe breads on the parchment paper, setting them directly on the baking steel or stone.)

8. Remove the flatbreads from the oven when the crusts are golden brown and serve warm or at room temperature.

Serving and storage: The flatbreads are best when eaten warm or shortly after baking, preferably within a few hours. You can make the dough in step 2 and chill it, letting it come back to room temperature before letting it rise and rolling it out. I would not freeze these flatbreads.

Related Recipes and Posts

Baba Ganoush

What is za’atar? (Desert Candy)

Saj, Flatbreads and Lebanese Pastries

Flatbread with Za’atar on the Grill (Taste of Beirut)

Marinated Feta

A Visit to Abu Kassem Za’atar Farm

The Baking Steel Delivers (Serious Eats)

Grilled Vegetables with Za’atar Vinaigrette

Lebanese Man’oushe (Rose Water & Orange Blossoms)

Man’oushe: Inside the Street Corner Lebanese Bakery (Amazon)

Hummus

Manoushe zaatar flatbread

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47 comments

  • March 11, 2016 4:14pm

    Now my mouth is really watering.

  • mumimor
    March 11, 2016 5:07pm

    Delicious! I bought a saj when I was in Israel, and the kids love it when I bake the flatbreads instead of buying them, and it is fun – so fast. I’m going to try the Za’atar topping tomorrow, I think.

    Since I bought the saj, I’ve been thinking that one could probably use an upside-down wok over a gas burner instead. For pizzas, I use my cast-iron grill pan upside down. And burn my fingers.

    • PloniAlmoni
      March 11, 2016 9:23pm

      Hi – This is how I make laffa – I bought a cheap wok from Ikea just for this purpose. Flip it over the heat source and let heat to as hot as possible.

  • March 11, 2016 5:11pm

    One of my favourite flat breads. Excellent !

  • Harriet
    March 11, 2016 5:26pm

    I use the wide end of a cookie sheet (the short ends have rims, the wide ones don’t) to remove pizza and breads from a baking stone.

  • PhilipB
    March 11, 2016 5:33pm

    The heat conductivity of the steel affects the speed at which the material will heat up and cool off, not how hot its surface will get. A ceramic pizza stone and a metal plate, each left in a hot oven for 45 minutes will have the same surface temperature, and should cook identically. The metal will heat up and cool down more quickly though – a boon to your “green” concerns, if not a factor in the cooking.

    • March 11, 2016 7:50pm
      David Lebovitz

      Thanks and yes, someone on my Facebook page said that 30 minutes was sufficient to get it to the right temperature. I did link to a post (after the recipe) that Kenji at Serious Eats did comparing the difference in how a baking steel cooks a pizza versus a baking stone that was interesting.

      • PhilipB
        March 11, 2016 8:03pm

        I missed that – thanks!

  • Adele
    March 11, 2016 5:38pm

    Can’t wait to try. And I’m intrigued by the baking steel. I’m with you on the issue of discolored baking stones, but I love my Emile Henry pizza baking stone, which is black…..but I wish I had gotten the rectangular one. Thoughts on whether the .125″ difference between the .25″ and .375″ thicknesses makes a big difference (aside from the $15)?

    • March 11, 2016 7:47pm
      David Lebovitz

      I bought the standard (.25) after doing a little reading about the experience of others. It works fine and I think a thicker one would be really heavy (mine is 16 pounds) and it’s sufficient.

      • Adele
        March 11, 2016 8:45pm

        David, thanks for confirming my initial instinct about the size steel to get. I love all things bread-y and pizza-y and have had great success with the pizza stone, with a pizza screen, bar style pizza w/tortilla in a cast iron pan, grandma style pizza in a sheet pan, and grilled pizza. All things considered, I feel like I got the pizza mojo genes, and it makes up for LOTS of my other deficits :~).

  • Ila
    March 11, 2016 5:58pm

    No need to heat a pizza steel for as long as you would need to heat a pizza stone: steel conducts (accepts) heat much faster! So experiment with half an hour or less!
    If neither stone nor steel are available, improvise with a stack of identical baking sheets??

  • March 11, 2016 6:15pm

    That sounds amazing, luckily I have za’atar at home! Can’t wait to try this.

  • BananaBirkLarsen
    March 11, 2016 6:16pm

    I used to use a large, well-cleaned piece of slate I found out in my yard as a pizza stone, but it eventually broke. Now I just use my cast iron skillet. I either slide in mini pizzas, sort of tossing them off a small plate or, for bigger pizzas, I pre-heat the pan, then pull it out, set it on the stovetop, drop my stretched dough into it and top the pizza as quickly as I possibly can so I can shove it back in the oven before anything cools down too much. I don’t get the blistering that I would if it all happened in the oven, but I get a good rise with some good bubbles. Plus, dripping cheese and rogue toppings stay in the pan, which makes for easy clean-up.

  • Sandy
    March 11, 2016 6:18pm

    The Nerd Chef is the brand name?! Ha!

  • oliver, switzerland
    March 11, 2016 6:18pm

    I highly recommend a very beautiful and excellent book on the subject: «Man’oushé: Inside the Street Corner Lebanese Bakery» by Barbara Abdeni Massaad. The ultimate!

  • Julie
    March 11, 2016 6:42pm

    I have to try making this as I love flatbreads, thanks David! I have a peel and a stone but still haven’t gotten the hang it. I put cornmeal on the peel before I place the pizza dough on it but it still won’t slide into the oven.

  • Dina Thomas
    March 11, 2016 7:01pm

    I always wanted to master really good Italian Pizza in a standard home oven. I purchased everything necessary. I followed the recipe online from Co. Pizza in NYC which is fabulous. The key to my success was the pizza pan with the holes in the bottom. Put the oven on highest oven temperature allowed and place the pan at the lowest rack allowed. Absolutely perfect!

  • susie
    March 11, 2016 7:08pm

    Great (and inspiring) post! Thank you!

    Has anyone ever heard of and/or used this product?

    http://www.bakingsteel.com/shop/baking-steel-griddle

    and David, Q. If you were going to spring for a pizza peel, which one would you recommend?

  • Carolyn in Utah
    March 11, 2016 7:36pm

    This post could not have come at a better time. My favorite restaurant supply store is on my list of errands today & a pizza stone was on my list. My old one finally cracked but I have always been grossed out when touching it and like you say, it screeches horribly. I’ve never heard of a baking steel before, David, but now I’m determined to find one!

    Baking stones don’t have quite the ICK factor that cast iron skillets do, but pretty close. Something that can’t be properly and FULLY cleaned doesn’t belong in the kitchen. Maybe that’s my OCD talking….

    Will be trying the recipe this week; I recently bought za’atar at Penzeys and haven’t had a chance to use it yet. Thanks!

    • Darrin
      April 7, 2016 10:15pm

      I am borderline OCD too but have no issue with the pizza stone or cast iron. When heating these things to cooking temperatures there is not much harmful left on the surface and it is better than some pan that you scrub and get teflon or other crud. We have had a few different za’atar blends. If you have a good middle eastern store near you get some there. Nothing against Penzeys, but there are differences in the blends.

  • Ford Cornell
    March 11, 2016 8:15pm

    Sumac is a favorite of mine. It’s much more versatile then many people think. It can be used far outside traditional Mid-East foods.

    I search out recipes using it so I’m grateful for this recipe and will be trying it very soon. Thank you!

  • March 11, 2016 10:43pm

    I have the opposite concern about cleanliness when it comes to baking pizza… I’m always afraid of setting the smoke alarm off when heating the oven to 500.

  • Gavrielle
    March 11, 2016 10:46pm

    First of all: stunning post and photography! OMG I am so making those flatbreads.

    Re the baking steel: fascinating! I’d never heard of them. I was interested to discover, however, from the Serious Eats post that my thick (1.75cm) stone delivers pizza results like his steel (6 minute pizzas with a mottled base). I think the thickness of the stone really does make a difference. (It’s less prone to cracking, too, and while you can use a cracked stone, if you think a stained one is annoying…)Also, a peel makes the whole thing about 1000% easier, so it’s worth it. I don’t have a problem with screeching or storage, as I leave it in the oven all the time: even when you’re not using it, it’s great for keeping the oven temp steady when you open and close the door. So overall I’m happy to stick to my heavy stone, but a steel sounds much better than a thin stone.

  • ron shapley
    March 11, 2016 11:03pm

    Or, as Julia did, the bottom of a drawer………..

  • Karen O
    March 12, 2016 5:51am

    before I was given a peel I used an upside down small cookie sheet well dusted with flour or cornmeal which worked very well for pizzas.
    Have you had sumac lemonade? We tried it a few years ago with our native sumac in Minnesota – it’s delicious (and ferments well :-)

  • Helen
    March 12, 2016 10:22am

    Have a look at the perfect pizza article on the guardian, I love their method of heating a cast iron pan to smoking on the stove chucking the dough in, topping it as fast as possible and then putting the pan as close under a well heated grill as possible, the pizza (or flat bread) takes about 4 minutes and doesn’t use a crazy amount of energy.

    • March 12, 2016 12:13pm
      David Lebovitz

      Thanks. Yes, I’ve used a cast-iron skillet to make pizza and it works well without having to preheat the oven for a long time. The only issue is that you can only do one at a time, but you’re right that it’s a great technique to use, too.

  • phanmo
    March 12, 2016 8:53pm

    My SO being Bretonne, we have a cast iron bilig (the completely flat pan traditionally used to make crêpes) that I use to make pizza and pita bread.

  • March 13, 2016 5:11pm

    I just baked up a batch of flatbreads using your recipe for my kids and they were a hit. I couldn’t find zataar in my cabinet so I used black sesame seeds. Thank you for this great recipe!!

  • susan
    March 13, 2016 7:25pm

    I can’t wait to try this, as i love Zataar.
    when I make pizza, I put the dough on parchment in the oven and pull it out to a cookie sheet as I don’t have room for a peel.

  • March 14, 2016 3:57pm

    Yummy !

  • March 15, 2016 9:49am

    great option for entertaining.

  • AliceN
    March 15, 2016 2:54pm

    I love this post David! Being half Lebanese, my family grew up on this bread. My father would make fresh bread weekly, which we called Baba’s Bread, and my friends always found their way to my house to chow down on Baba’s Bread and Za’tar – or butter for those who don’t like the flavor of Za’atar. My father usually made one batch, but once word got out, it was 2 then 3 batches. It’s a love affair, as my father was so happy at the site of my friends and I , oohing and ahhing over his bread. Oh, I must add, he also made Leban, then Lebanee (arabic cream cheese) that goes perfect with bread, Za’atar, and olives! Thanks for the post David, I must try this recipe myself. More Lebanese recipes please.

  • Janet in New Hampshire
    March 15, 2016 3:42pm

    Your flatbreads look wonderful!
    I have a pizza stone and a peel. Do not use the peel – can’t get the pie off the peel easily. My pizzas are “dressed” on the peel – you may want to try that with your flat bread. Roll dough out as usual – when you reach the size and shape you desire lift dough (or fold – whatever works) and put on peel – dress dough quickly.

  • tim
    March 15, 2016 3:57pm

    I used to work in a restaurant making pizza. Since I don’t have a peel I use a sheet pan upside down to get the dough in the oven(just make sure it slides well). Just a little more of a drop then the wood peels, works well and I am sure you have 10,000 sheet pans of various sizes.

    While I never have any problems with discolored stones, I also keep mine in the bottom of my oven to hopefully regulate the oven temp a little better. Plus you can make grilled cheese on it SOOOO fast.

  • March 16, 2016 12:02pm

    David, the struggle is real! I too can not stand the sound pizza stones make on oven racks. Needless to say, I’ll be checking out a baking steel. Thanks for the tip.

  • Keith
    March 18, 2016 2:33am

    No peel needed if you use some parchment paper. Very user friendly. Not sure if it affects heat transfer though.

  • Jackie
    March 19, 2016 5:37pm

    Instead of a pizza peel you can simply place your dough on parchment paper and plop it directly on the stone/steel. I always use parchment with my pizzas! Edges of the paper get brown but it won’t burn in the oven.

  • MK
    March 20, 2016 8:36pm

    HI David,
    I notice that you use all purpose flour for the flatbreads. I am relatively new to all things bread and i was under the impression that strong flour is the preferred sort for all breads. No? Does plain flour work best for flatbreads?

    • March 20, 2016 10:30pm
      David Lebovitz

      Some breads do use bread flour but I tend only to use it when it’s very important because it’s not something most people have on hand. So you could use bread flour for these. I used American flour for these, which is stronger than the white flour in France (and perhaps in the U.K. where you are).

  • Diana Leon
    March 20, 2016 11:32pm

    I found a pizza peel with folding handle that is just the ticket and a real space saver. I don’t remember who made it but it came as a set with stone and a pizza cutter from a local hardware store.

  • Bonnie
    March 21, 2016 6:49pm

    Savory Spice is a wonderful source for fresh spices and they carry Za’atar.

  • JoAnn
    March 23, 2016 6:17pm

    Having just cracked my pizza stone a day before reading this, I replaced it with the same pizza steel that you recommended. I, too, was skeptical, but I’ve used it to make some beautiful pizza! I’ll also be using it for my bread baking. Thanks for yet another great tip!

  • Esther
    March 26, 2016 11:31pm

    Wonderful experience and food!
    I made the flat bread, hummus, baba ghanoush, and your tuna mousse. I used the wok in the oven, with a tin foil on top to slide it easily on and off from under the broiler. The ones on the darker side were the tastier breads.

  • Shazam
    March 31, 2016 4:06am

    I am making these flatbreads today! Don’t have any za’atar so going to use harissa paste.

  • April 6, 2016 10:31pm

    I see from your tour date that you’re back in NYC! When you’re here, go down to Manousheh on Bleecker near 6th Ave — I first had manousheh at their pop-up shop, then at their Smorgasburg stand, and now at the brick-and-mortar!