Murtabak, Sweetness with Cheese

Murtabak is a stuffed pancake or pan-fried bread which is commonly found in Israel, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Thailand. Murtabak originated in Yemen, which has sizeable Indian population; through Indian traders it has spread back to their home countries, to India and Southeast Asia. The word mutabbaq in Arabic means “folded”. Before serving, Murtabak usually is cut into portions. Sometimes it is eaten with salty soy sauce and pepper, sometimes with sweet condensed milk, melted butter, honey or syrup. In the year 976, some pilgrims were eating Murtabak from the streets in Jerusalem.

Murtabak
Murtabak

For the dough:

  • 2 ½ cups (500 g) Dour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup (90 ml) vegetable oil

For the filling:

  • About ¾ lb (375 g) salted sheep cheese, or a mixture of chopped nuts,
  • cinnamon, and a pinch of nutmeg

For the sugar syrup:

  • 1 cup (200 g) sugar
  • ½ cup (90 ml) water
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 to 3 drops orange blossom ex tract (optional)
  • Confection (icing) sugar

    Murtabak
    Murtabak

  1. To make the dough, combine all the dry ingredients and add 1 ½ cups (375 ml) water.
  2. Knead to a smooth consistency.
  3. Cover with a damp towel, and knead again after 30 minutes.
  4. Kneading each time around 10 minutes, continue the process of kneading and resting for a total of 5 hours.
  5. The elasticity of the dough will make it all worthwhile.
  6. The intervals can be shortened or lengthened, but always remember to cover the dough with a damp towel after each kneading.
  7. After 5 hours, divide the dough into 8 equal portions, form each into a ball, roll each ball in oil, and cover with plastic wrap.
  8. Refrigerate all the balls for 12 hours.
  9. To make the filling, rinse the cheese under cold running water and soak in a bowl of cold water for 2 hours to eliminate some of its saltiness.
  10. Drain and dry, squeezing to remove any remaining liquid, and crumble into a bowl.
  11. To make the sugar syrup, mix the sugar and water in a pot and cook until the sugar dissolves.
  12. Add the lemon juice, bring to a boil, and cook for about 7 minutes.
  13. As it cools, add the extract. Stir and set aside. To assemble, heat the oven to 400·F (230 C, gas mark 8). Place a ball of dough on a lightly greased surface and begin to spread the dough with your hands.
  14. Stretch it carefully on all sides, keeping it round, until it is very thin, almost translucent.
  15. Do not worry if the edges tear.
  16. Fold in the rounded sides to make a square. (filo sheets, brush 1 sheet with melted butter and proceed).
  17. Sprinkle one eighth of the crumbled cheese or nut mixture into the middle and fold the edges of the dough toward the middle to make a smaller square.
  18. Place on a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining 7 balls of dough (or filo sheets), and bake until the dough turns golden.
  19. Pour 1 tablespoon of syrup over each, sprinkle with confectioners’ (icing) sugar, and serve immediately.

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