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Poğaça with feta cheese
And the story of the neighbourhood time setter.
I never quite figured out what the words were, but if GPS technology hadn’t been imy clock according to hearing them. At precisely 10.20 am, and then again forty minutes later, the man bellowed loud and clear from the street. It was as if windows, doors and walls had all been temporarily removed.
Or something like that.
Neighbours told me he’d been doing the exact same route at exactly the same time for well over 20 years before the house I live in became my home. Prior occupants may indeed have set the time to his bellows.
While the words were unrecognisable, I quickly learned what they implied. Freshly baked poğaça was on offer. The man was a poğaça seller with a mobile street cart.
Join me in exploring the food and cultures of Turkey, the Middle East & beyond.
This is poğaça
Made from an enriched dough, often with some sort of simple filling, poğaça is a popular breakfast on the go in Turkey. Add a cup of strong black tea with a generous hand of sugar, and Turkish workers have the energy to face a day’s labour.
There are too many versions of poğaça to even attempt a count, let alone describe. Some are yeasted and soft like buns, others crumbly, relying on baking powder for air. Some are stuffed, others plain. Some have lots of dill added (would surely approve). Some are shaped like a half moon, others are round, yet others oval. And I’m sure there are places in this country where they have local versions with unique shapes, too.
Unfortunately, many bakeries these days opt for cheap fats to keep the cost down (a single poğaça costs only pennies). Luckily, it’s easy enough to make at home with better quality ingredients. In fact, it’s a great way to start the day if you’re up a little earlier than usual and have time to spend in the kitchen before the rest of the home (or just you) is ready for breakfast.
You can make a yeasted dough the night before and keep it in the fridge until the morning. But to me, the appeal of homemade poğaças is that they can be in the oven within 45 minutes of gathering my ingredients, without having to pre-plan anything. So, it’s the convenience that makes me prefer the baking powder version over the yeasted ones.
You’ll no doubt note one unusual ingredient in the list: Mahlab, a spice made from wild cherry seeds. It’s more typically used in the Eastern regions of Turkey, and lends a deliciously nutty aroma to the poğaça. While I love it, omitting it is perfectly fine if it’s not readily available where you live. Your poğaças will still be delicious.
Breakfast pastry | Turkish cuisine | Yields 16 small pastries
500 g white flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp finely ground salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp ground mahlab (optional)
250 g natural yoghurt (1 cup)
100 g butter (1 stick minus 1 Tbsp), melted and left to cool slightly, or equivalent olive oil
1 egg yolk, whisked with a few drops of water, to coat the pastry
2 tsp nigella seeds or sesame seeds (optional)
200 g feta cheese (7 oz)
1–2 eggs, whisked (optional)
How I make it
In a wide bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and mahlab (if using). Add the yoghurt and melted butter (or olive oil). Mix well and knead until your dough is fairly soft, around 5 minutes. It shouldn’t be as developed as a bread dough, but softer than an unkneaded dough. You can use a machine for this, but I never bother. Cover and set aside for at least 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 190 C (375 F). Line a baking sheet with parchment.
Make the filling by mixing the feta cheese and egg. The eggs help bind the filling and reduces the risk of leakage, but can be omitted for a cleaner cheese flavour.
Divide the dough into 16 equally sized pieces (c. 55 g each). Roll into balls, then press them down until you have flat circles with a diameter of approx 10 cm (4 in). I use my hands for this, making sure the edges are a little thinner than the middle (you don't want the edges, which will be seamed together, to be too thick). If you prefer, you can use a rolling pin.
Divide the filling among the middle of each dough piece. Fold one side over the other, so you get a half moon, pressing out the air as well as you can. Make sure to squeeze the folds together so the seam is completely closed. Trim off any excess dough along the seam. If you like, make a pattern by folding the seam over onto itself repeatedly (see pictures below), or by pressing down a fork. Make sure the seam isn't too thick or wide, or your pastry will be dry.
Place the poğaças on the baking parchment. Brush with the egg yolk whisked with a few drops of water. Drizzled over some nigella seeds or sesame seeds (if you like).
Bake in the middle of the oven until golden, 20–30 minutes. Cool completely before serving (if you can wait).
Poğaça can be eaten as is, as part of a breakfast or as a quick snack on the go. Perfect for bringing along on hikes or picnics!