Flour, salt and water — no bread recipe could be simpler. And yet the Turkish flat bread yufka is much more than just an ordinary staple food. It has become a symbol of the awareness of tradition, community spirit and solidarity. For centuries, production of the paper-thin sheets of unleavened bread has involved teamwork — and the ritual continues to this day, especially in the rural areas of Turkey. For private celebrations or on religious feast days, the women of a village come together to bake bread, enjoy each other’s company and pass their own skills on to younger generations. It is a traditional custom to share the bread, fresh from the oven, with neighbors, friends and guests as well as their own families.

In 2016, UNESCO paid tribute to this traditional practice by adding yufka into the list of “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” Only 17 products in the food sector have been awarded this distinction, including kimchi from North Korea, Belgian beer and Neapolitan pizza.

A diversity of applications

Yufka has been an indispensable part of Turkish food culture. Whether at home or in a restaurant, a meal at which no bread is served is unthinkable. The bread usually is broken into rough pieces and dipped into soups, sauces or hotpots.

But yufka finds its way onto the table in the form of a casserole, strudel or filled pastry roll as well as just flat bread. Traditional Turkish specialities such as gözleme, dürüm, börek are made from thin sheets of wheat dough. The products are filled with spinach, potato, kebab or minced lamb, for example, depending on the recipe. As a finger food, sigara böreği — deep-fried yufka sheets filled with feta cheese and parsley, in the shape of a cigar — are popular.

To ensure these products are easy to fill, fold or roll, the dough sheets are baked softer and spread additionally with oil or margarine.

The importance of freshness

Freshness is the most important quality criterion for yufka. The 80 million Turks prefer to buy it from one of the countless yufkacis — small, family-owned bakeries specializing in the production of yufka. From early in the morning, the shops offer mountains of freshly baked flat bread that tempt customers into their establishments.

Consumers who don’t have time to buy food daily stock up on wrapped, industrially baked yufka from a supermarket. In addition, it is possible to find industrially baked yufka bread in the markets. Yufka bread is a better cooked product than böreklik’ yufka. These products then must be sprinkled with a little water before use to restore their soft, succulent consistency.

The art of making Yufka

Whether from an artisan bakery or a bread factory, the basic recipe for yufka is simple. As a rule, it consists just of wheat flour, 2% to 5% salt, and water.

The dough is first mixed, then shaped into little balls weighing 50 to 100 grams after a resting time of about an hour. After proofing for around 30 minutes, the most important utensil in manual production comes into use — the oklava, a long rolling pin about as thick as a finger. With this, the sheet of dough is first rolled out flat like a strudel dough on a round wooden table and dusted with flour again and again. Then comes the finishing touch: with great care and dexterity, the sheet of dough is rolled back and forth around the rolling pin. Since the oklava is placed in a different position each time and the pressure is increased continuously, the final result is a paper-thin dough structure that is nevertheless regular and tear-resistant.

The standard size of yufka is about 40 to 50 centimeters. But true yufka artists attempt diameters of up to 70 centimeters.

The dough is not usually baked in an oven but on a “sac” — a large, slightly convex hotplate that traditionally is heated with wood and coal. Recently, gas-fired sac stoves are being used to bake the dough. Skill is needed in working with the cast iron, too. In order to bake the dough evenly, the delicate sheet must be turned around and over constantly with a long wooden rod. Within a few minutes, a delicious bread speciality with the characteristic blisters and aromatic brown specks appears on the scorching hot plate.

Flour standardization

The quality of yufka depends very much on the flour used as well as the manual skill of the baker. The doughs must have high extensibility and must neither dry out nor tear or stick.

The following flour quality parameters are ideal for the production of yufka:

In practice, however, wheat lots with these values are not always available. In the artisan sector, Turkish bakers try to compensate for deficiencies in the raw material by making manual adjustments to the preparation of the dough. But in industrial production, the bakeries are much more dependent on standardized flours with defined baking properties. Therefore, in the milling and baking industries, the use of enzymes and additives is becoming increasingly common. By specifically upgrading the raw material, it is possible to produce tailor-made flours that both improve the quality of the finished product and simplify handling of the dough. Flour improvers specially designed for the production of flat bread increase the elasticity of the dough, intensify browning and improve machinability.

The following is an overview of the problems most often encountered in the production of yufka, and possible approaches to a solution:

Problem: The flat bread does not achieve the required radius; the dough springs back.

Possible cause: Unsuitable flour quality. Both flours with a very high protein content and those with short gluten properties reduce extensibility.

Solution: If the protein content is high, promote dough relaxation, for example with cysteine (e.g. EMCEsoft P10), xylanases (e.g. Alphamalt HC) and — if the Falling Numbers are also high — amylase (e.g. Alphamalt A 5070). For flours with a low protein content and short gluten properties, cysteine is often preferable. A higher extraction rate also results in softer gluten properties.

Problem: Inadequate browning.

Possible cause: Too little enzymatic activity in the flour.

Solution: Increase the extraction rate and starch damage; add amylase (e.g. Alphamalt VC 5000) in order to boost the Maillard reaction and browning.

Problem: Sticky doughs.

Possible cause: Too much added water; low water absorption capacity of the flour.

Solution: Reduce the extraction rate; add less water; reduce the surface moisture of the dough, for example by adding special xylanases (e.g. Alphamalt TTC) or lipases (e.g. Alphamalt EFX Swift).

Problem: Dough cracks when rolled out.

Possible cause: Dry dough; short, crumbly gluten (possibly due to heat-damaged wheat).

Solution: Use lipases (e.g. Alphamalt EFX) to strengthen the gluten structure; increase extensibility with cysteine (e.g. EMCEsoft P 10) or add vital wheat gluten (e.g. EMCEvit C).

Problem: Doughs dry out quickly.

Cause: Dry-baking flour; low water absorption.

Solution: Increase the smoothness of the flour (finer granulation, higher starch damage); add emulsifiers or xylanases (e.g. Leciflor 500 ER, Mulgaprime 90 or Alphamalt HC) to increase the lubricity of the dough.