With the outbreak of COVID-19, more and more of us have been experimenting within the kitchen. Locally a trend is sweeping across the country with homemade and artisan loaves of bread. Bread is nothing new to Malta. A staple item in Maltese cuisine, local bread is steeped in thousands of years of history and has gained a fabulous international reputation. It is considered part of the cultural identity of the islands. Its unique taste is unlike bread anywhere else in the world!
Ħobż is the word for bread in Maltese. It arrived in the language from the Semitic-Arabic side of things. This may come as no surprise as Maltese is as profoundly influenced by Arabic languages as by the Latinate ones. And of course, the Romans were here too. Rome left a plethora of excellent baking techniques and technology behind it, and Roman-influenced bakers remain some of the best in the world. Baking to this day remains a true art in Malta. So how can you make the wonderful Maltese loaf at home? Well, there are many variants, most involve preparing a starter dough. If you have a hankering for this doughy goodness- why not give this one from Unravel Malta a go!
Step 1: Making the Starter Dough (Tnissila or Tinsila) – sourdough
• Half a sachet of active dry yeast
• ¼ cup lukewarm water
• 1 tsp sugar
• 2/3 cup strong bread flour
Mix all ingredients and form into a ball (it must be soft and elastic) and store in a warm place for about 6 hours (if cooler temperature, leave it overnight). After this time you can refrigerate or freeze the starter dough ready for next time.
• Reactivate the starter dough (the day after when baking the bread)
• Take half of the starter dough and squeeze it between fingertips in lukewarm water;
• Add 15g active dry yeast
• 1 tbsp sugar, cover and let the yeast to fermentation (frothy)
• The other half of the starter dough – add to it 100g strong bread flour and enough lukewarm water until a soft elasticated dough is formed. Allow to rest in a warm place for 6 hours and store in the fridge for next time.
Making the bread
• 600g strong bread flour
• 2 tsp sea salt (fine)
• The starter dough mixture
• Additional lukewarm water to form the dough
• Knead until elastic and smooth (about 10 minutes)
• Store in a medium-sized bowl, cover with cling film and wet tea towel for about 1 hour or until it doubles in size
• Knead the dough and fold the edges inwards to the centre while turning the bowl anticlockwise for five turns. Cover again and place in a warm place for another 1 hour
• Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and cut into pieces of your liking
• To make the bread, fold the edges between hand palms towards the centre underneath forming a ball of you preferred size
• Place onto a well-floured baking tray (place the balls apart for rising space), cut a slit on the top of each of the bread ball and sprinkle flour on top.
• Cover and store in a warm place until the balls double their size. Sprinkle additional flour and bake into a pre-heated oven 250°C for about 45 minutes (depending on the size and form of the bread)
• Allow cooling on a wire rack; cover with a clean cloth.
Need some topping inspiration? The art of making Maltese bread doesn’t stop there. Follow this recipe to try your hand at ‘Hobz biz-zejt’, a delicious way to enjoy Maltese bread.
Sit back, and enjoy your freshly baked Maltese loaf with the freshest local ingredients- in true Maltese style!