I already posted the other day on Tsiknopempti, our BBQ Thursday. Then there is the Sunday of Apokreo – very similar to Halloween, but probably a bit more Dionysian in nature – when we dress up, eat, drink, dance and generally go a bit crazy.
The next day is Clean Monday, the start of the Great Lent, 40 days of no animal products whatsoever. Supposedly. Most Greeks don’t fast during Lent anymore. However, I’ve heard it’s quite good for detox to abstain from animal products now and again.
Fast or no fast Clean Monday is a much loved tradition in Greece. It’s a public holiday and traditionally we go out for picnic, fly a kite and eat stuff like seafood (weirdly, it’s allowed during the Great Lent), tarama salad, olives and it all goes down with great big chunks of lagana.
Lagana bread is monstly baked just for Clean Monday. Every single Greek person I know always wonders why but we never seem to have it any other time of the year. I’ve heard that it used to be a type of unleavened bread but we use yeast nowadays. Most people simply love it. It’s soft, aromatic and it is ideal for a picnic. We also usually buy a lot more than we need so it’s stale lagana for the whole of the first week of Lent.
After moving to the UK I keep saying that I will bake some lagana but I never do. This year I decided that enough is enough and I got cracking. It really helped that I now have some experience with making my own bread from scratch. Last year I tried to bake and it was a disaster (utter).
I learned the first (and most useful) things on baking by watching Paul Hollywood (@hollywoodbaker). He is a UK baker extraordinaire and he has a gift for explaining things. My partner bought me his amazing book 100 Great Breads and he’s got an easy recipe for lagana bread (without the need to start 12 hours before that does my head in). I’ve only slightly changed it by adding some tahini (the smell is heavenly) and not using some of the seeds he suggests (mainly cause I didn’t buy them).
If you’d like to see the technique there is also the Greek video.
Normally I would have baked this on the Sunday or Monday but the lovely people on the Digital Scullery facebook page asked me for it so here goes.
By the way, I LIVE baked this one. I was writing a live post here, I was on twitter and on facebook. Cheers to all you lovely people for keeping me company, I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’d love to repeat the exercise soon!
- 500 gr. strong white flour
- 1 teaspoon mastika (aka masticha, mastiha)
- 2 teaspoons tahini
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 20 gr. fast action yeast
- 60 ml olive oil (as always with me it’s extra virgin oil)
- 300 ml water
- 100 gr. sesame seeds (and I’ve added some poppy seeds in that mix)
(you’ll see all the pics with the full technique below)
- Grind the mastika in a pestle and mortar
- Mix together the flour, salt, yeast (make sure salt and yeast don’t touch initially), olive oil, water and mix mix mix
- After 2-3 minutes add the tahini and mastika
- Work the dough for about 5 to 10 minutes
- Leave it to rise in a covered bowl for about an hour
- Put the sesame seeds and poppy seeds in a bit of warm water. Paul Hollywood says that this way they’ll release their aroma
- After the dough has more than risen in size knock it back (yes, it gets small again) and divide it in two
- Create two ovals – about 2 centimetres high)
- Cover in the seeds (you may want to roll the dough in them)
- Leave to rise again for about an hour
- Just before you pop them into the over press one finger again and again on the surface so that you end up with the lagana’s characteristic dimpled surface
- Bake them in a pre-heated over (220 celsius) for about 20 minutes until golden
Seriously, just dip them in some good ol’ virgin olive oil with a bit of balsamic vinegar in there. Bliss!
Tip: You can find mastika in small London Greek or Cypriot shops (North London is your best bet) and obviously online.