Naan Sangak – Persian flatbread

نان سنگک

Bread is deeply integrated into Persian culture, and many types of flatbread appear on the Persian table to accompany breakfast, lunch and dinner. One of these is Sangak, which is truly unique in both its flavor and its baking techniques.

Sangak is the Farsi word for the little rocks or pebbles which ultimately make this bread different from all others. The dough is baked on a layer of hot pebbles, giving this bread its signature look of an uneven surface with many indentations.

When baked in a traditional Noonvaie (bakery in Farsi), Sangak is a particularly large bread: about 3 feet long by 1 foot wide. After baking, it’s often folded over itself to make it easier to be carried home to its eager and hungry enthusiasts. Do not be surprised to find small pieces of pebbles still stuck to the bread!

The bread itself is more wholesome than many other Persian flatbreads. Sangak has a higher ratio of whole wheat to all-purpose flour and is naturally leavened by a sourdough starter instead of yeast.

Until recently, the last truly flavorful Sangak bread I had was actually in Iran, a few decades ago. Unfortunately, not many products that I have been able to purchase in the US have been able to deliver the authentic familiar flavors of Sangak bread from the Noonvaie. I have watched countless YouTube videos and seen a wide range of recipes, but when I tried them I had very limited success. Some of them seemed so strange that I rolled my eyes and spared myself from even trying!

It was a different story with this recipe from the brilliant pastry chef Sahar Shomali, who owns and operates Kouzeh Bakery in Los Angeles. When I approached her about Persian breads, she graciously shared her knowledge, technique and recipe with me.

Bread can be a finicky thing, and so many factors will influence the outcome. The flour you use, the age or type of sourdough starter, the room temperature, the humidity, the accuracy of your oven temperature, your unique touch, and whether you are patient or not: they all make a difference.

I have taken Sahar’s recipe and tweaked it to what I was able to create in my kitchen with my ingredients. Do not be fooled, I have no claims of having perfected this bread recipe. But I do promise that this is the closest I have come to creating that old, familiar taste. I also predict that this ancient ritual of baking bread on pebbles will evoke a sense of nostalgia and adventure for the baker!

Whether you are an Iranian looking for that familiar taste or a non-Iranian simply intrigued by this bread, I see adventure in your future as you go out collecting or purchasing pebbles and try out this unique bread recipe!

Exploration!

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Naan Sangak (Noon Sangakie)

Persian flatbread
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Resting time12 hrs
Total Time12 hrs 20 mins
Course: Bread
Cuisine: Persian
Keyword: bread, flatbread, sangak, sourdough
Servings: 2 flatbreads

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup sourdough starter
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup water, room temperature, adjust volume as needed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons water, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 2 teaspoons sesame seeds

Instructions

  • This is an overnight process, so give yourself plenty of time for this recipe.
  • In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine the sourdough starter, flours, sugar and water using a spatula or a fork. You will need to adjust the water according to how wet or dry your sourdough starter is: you should be aiming for a sticky dough that's a little damper than typical bread dough. My sourdough starter was whole wheat, and on the wetter side, so I added a little less water.
  • This is a no-knead dough, so all you have to do is mix the ingredients for about a minute until they come together. Easy!
  • Cover and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.
  • Add the salt, additional water and oil, incorporating the added ingredients into the dough without actually kneading it. You might have to slightly stretch the dough and fold it onto itself several times.
  • Cover and allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  • Once again, fold the dough a couple of times, cover and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
  • One last time, fold the dough a couple of times, cover and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
  • After the final 30 minutes of resting, fold the dough, cover, and place in the fridge overnight.
  • When you are ready to bake the bread, remove the dough from the fridge. Cut the dough in half, keep covered in the same container and allow to sit at room temperature for 1 hour.
  • Fill a baking sheet with pebbles (see notes below) and place on the lower rack of the oven. Preheat the oven to 500°F.
  • You will need a small bowl of water, and a large flat plate that can be made wet.
  • First wet your hands and then wet the surface of the plate. Make sure you don't get the plate too wet, however.
  • Place the first half of the dough on the wet plate and do your best to spread it out into a rough triangle about 15 inches long. Practice makes perfect but don't fuss over this too much. Each bread will have its own unique shape!
  • Carefully remove the HEAVY tray full of HOT pebbles from the oven and get ready to transfer the dough onto the tray.
  • Slowly tip the plate so that the dough begins sliding off of the wet plate onto the pebbles. Gently pull the plate back in a smooth slow motion as the rest of the dough slides and lands on the pebbles. Help it along the way but make sure you don't touch the hot pebbles! Once the dough is on the pebbles do not attempt to rearrange it, as it will already be stuck to the stones.
  • Carefully place the tray back in the oven, and bake for 8-10 minutes depending on how the dough was spread out on the pebbles. The bread should be mottled brown as shown in the picture.
  • Once baked, carefully remove the tray from the oven, and using tongs remove the bread carefully, including any pebbles that are stuck to the bread. No way around this, so don't worry about it. Place on a cutting board until you can remove the pebbles without burning yourself.
  • Repeat with the second half of the dough.
  • This bread is best served fresh and hot out of the oven, of course. If you need to store the bread, keep it in an airtight container and reheat it in the oven or toaster oven before serving.

Notes

I purchased my pebbles from a Home and Garden store, washed them thoroughly, and tested them in the oven to make sure that they were suitable for this purpose.  
To test them, I laid out the pebbles on a baking sheet, put another baking sheet on top and baked them at 520°F for 30 minutes to ensure that they can withstand the heat and not crack or shatter.  
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8 thoughts on “Naan Sangak – Persian flatbread

  1. I really wanted to try making sangak since my family loves it and it seemed like a good project to tackle while we’re stuck at home, but had pretty much given up on finding a good recipe for it online… and then you came through with this gem! I was so glad that it used sourdough starter, too, since that flavor is part of the appeal and just can’t be replicated with commercial yeast. So I started the dough yesterday and we enjoyed it with dinner this evening. It was SO delicious. Very similar to what I’ve had at Aria Bakery in Kirkland (though of course not quite as good as when the professionals make it–but it’s a suitable substitute for now). We also sprinkled ours with nigella seeds since we love that flavor, and the kids had a lot of fun helping me prepare the rocks and watching the wet dough sizzle as I draped it over the hot stones. We used fairly large rocks since that’s what we had on hand, but I think it would have been easier to separate the cooked bread from the stones if they had been a little smaller–I see why the key word here is “pebble.” Or maybe I was just too impatient and should have let it cool a bit longer. But the recipe was great and the video & instructions were very helpful. I look forward to making it again!

  2. Alanna, I am so thrilled that you ventured out and gave this humble Sangak bread a try and turned into a family activity! Like you, I also had all kinds of rocks/pebbles stick to the bread. I think switching to smaller rocks/pebbles will just make it easier to remove the cooked bread from the tray, but not spare us from having the rocks sticking to the bread. Once removed from the hot tray, then I can take my time removing the pebbles!

    1. Hi Molly. Sangak bread’s unique flavor does come from the sourdough, so eliminating it will also change the bread’s taste and texture. Making sourdough starter is as easy as adding equal parts of water and flour with a small piece of fruit that is left out on the counter for a few days. This will jump start the natural yeast activation process and you will have a starter within a week which is as good as any 100 year old starters! Hope that helps.

  3. I’m so thrilled to see a sourdough version of this bread! And our starter is whole wheat as well. Because the volume of the starter can vary so drastically, I usually use a digital scale to measure it. Can you give an estimate about how much 1/3 cup sourdough starter weighs? Also, has the starter been recently fed and ready to go when you mix the dough?

    Many thanks for posting your recipe

    1. Hi Elizabeth, the true Sangak bread will always have a sourdough component to it. I feed my sourdough practically daily so when it is time to bake bread of any kind, it is ready to go. As for measurements, I also use a digital scale when preparing more complex sourdough bread, but when it comes to Sangak I have found it to be less finicky. Depending on the hydration level of your sourdough and percentage of the whole wheat you use you will need about 90-100 grams of sourdough starter. Hope that helps and let me know how your Sangak turns out!

  4. Thank you for your reply! That definitely helped!

    Our first try (we made 2 breads) went pretty well – we had a little difficulty with the transfer to the hot stones – but in spite of the less than stellar look, it tasted fabulous. (The dough is really really slack, isn’t it?!)

    Our 3rd try was more successful (I changed the dough to a somewhat lower hydration). We were so thrilled with this bread that we also made a video of transferring the shaped bread to the hot stones.

    Thank you again for posting your recipe and technique!

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