Introduction: Tashkent Non (Uzbek Bread)
Tashkent non is the typical bread sold everywhere in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Everywhere you go you can see bread sellers wheeling these around in old-fashioned, big-wheeled baby strollers straight from the tandyr ovens that are tucked away in the crevices between buildings in the old city.
A word about non - Tashkent non is light and fluffy and addictively delicious. It's got a chewy, glossy crust and an open, airy crumb and when it's piping hot, there's nothing more delicious. I can put away 5-6 loaves easy in an hour, especially if honey and that buttery lard stuff are involved.
The other main kind of non is Samarkand non, which is a whole different story. Tashkent non is dense, dry, and lasts a long time. Might be good for a stew, but not good for just snacking.
Aside from these, there are other kinds of bread like patr (which is flat, more the consistency of Samarkand non, and stamped all over), but Tashkent non is clearly the jewel of the family.
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Step 1: Make the Dough
I've looked high and low for a good Tashkent non recipe, but it's taken some trial and error. I've come up with a mix of the recipe in Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford's Homebaking (Silk Road Non) and that on the recently started Uzbek cooking blog, The Art of Uzbek Cooking (just be careful to use common sense with this website, as the author's English is not 100%...for instance, clearly you wouldn't want to use 2 tbs of salt for this bread, though that's what the recipe suggests).
2 tsp active yeast
2 cups lukewarm water
1.5 tsp salt
3.5 - 4 c all-purpose flour
1 c whole-wheat flour
a little milk, oil, or lard (optional)
nigella seeds (optional)
Chekich/Chiqish or fork
Pizza stone, unglazed quarry tiles, or cookie pan
The first step is to dissolve the yeast and salt in the water. Then add rest of the flour until you have a soft dough. Knead on a floured surface or in the mixing bowl a few times til smooth. It should be a little sticky, but not so much so that it is unwieldy.
Let rise in a warm place for two hours, or until it has roughly doubled in size.
Step 2: Make the Rounds
When the dough is ready, break it into 4 equal pieces. Form each one into a flattened round. Depress the center a bit, as it doesn't need to rise as much. Let the rounds rest covered on a lightly floured surface for about 20 minutes.
At this point, preheat the oven to 450 - 475 degrees F. Normally this bread is cooked inside a tandyr oven, so the hotter the better. Also, if you have a pizza stone, unglazed quarry tiles, or another similar cooking surface, you'll want to use that for a better (crisper, more delicious) bottom crust. If you don't have a baking stone, then bake the bread on a cookie tray.
Step 3: Make the Center Pattern
A Chekich is a stamp for stamping the center of Uzbek bread. This is a pretty specialized piece of baking equipment, and not likely to be in most people's kitchens here in the US. While I'd look at this as an opportunity to make my own chekich, if you don't have a lathe or don't feel similarly inclined, then you can just use a fork to punch a pattern in the center. You want to punch this patter so that the center of the bread doesn't rise, so the bread ends up kind of donut-shaped.
There are a few tricks here:
1. Do this RIGHT BEFORE you're about to put it in the oven. You don't want to give the center enough time to rise again.
2. Punch down the center manually first, but not too thin. If you do it too thin, the center can get crispy like a cracker. The Uzbeks in the Ferghana Valley also sell some other tool that does this (no pins, but just a ridge that's slightly larger than the chekich), but when I ventured farther West, people said they'd never heard of such a thing. You want to punch down an area slightly larger than your stamp. If you're using a fork, this is less of an issue.
Step 4: Brush With Milk and Sprinkle With Seeds
Lightly brush the dough with milk (I use whole, but it probably doesn't make much of a difference) and then sprinkle with the seeds. I prefer nigella seeds, which have a slightly oniony bitter flavor, but black or white sesame seeds are also sometimes used. Or you could pretty much use any kind of seed you prefer.
Alternately, most recipes don't call for the milk coating but instead say you should wipe it with lard or oil before or after (they vary) baking. I used milk because when I was in Tashkent, I visited a bakery where they showed me part of their process and they used milk. I tried brushing oil on after removing the loaves from the oven as suggested in the Uzbek cooking blog, but didn't like the way it seemed so greasy when you break up the bread. Tashkent non should have a smooth, slightly shiny crust.
Step 5: Bake It!
Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden brown.
Tashkent non is best eaten hot, and does not last very well over extended periods. However, when I'm around this bread, it's rarely a risk that it sticks around for more than a day or two. It's good for any and every meal - there's never a meal in Uzbekistan that doesn't involve non.