Laffa is a soft, thick pan bread from the Iraqi-Jewish community, now popular in Israel. It's easy to make homemade laffa bread, and unbelievably good fresh.
I'm not sure if this is just my experience, but I think of laffa and Iraqi pita as two different things. On the boardwalk near where my grandma used to live, there was always a street vendor or two selling laffa, soft, pillow white wraps spread with labaneh, a savory yogurt cheese, and za'atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend (more on those here). A restaurant nearby with a large outdoor patio was known for Iraqi pitas, which are larger in diameter, thinner, more charred, and always served with olive oil and tons of za'atar. (Also different from Druze pita, or taboon bread.) However, I've also heard the terms laffa and Iraqi pita used as though they're interchangeable.
For our purposes here, we're making laffa as I think of it, thick, chewy pan bread that's easy to make at home. My kids devour these and are always asking me to make them. Laffa is best fresh, but will last a few days. They're nice reheated or toasted, just like day-old pita.
Making laffa bread dough
To make dough for laffa bread, you start by mixing the flour (all-purpose works great here) with a small amount of sugar and yeast. Then the salt and olive oil go in and you start mixing. The water gets added a bit at a time with the mixer running, until you get a smooth, silky dough.
Shaping the laffa breads
After kneading, you leave the laffa dough to rise for an hour. After an hour, turn out the dough and subsidivide it into eight equal pieces. Tuck the ends under each piece, forming a ball shape. Then you'll cover the eight balls of dough and leave them to rise for another 20 minutes.
After the final rise, the laffas get rolled out with a rolling pin until they form thick rounds about 7-8" / 18-20 cm in diameter. I roll them out one by one right before they go in the pan, keeping the other ones covered until it's their turn to be cooked.
Cooking the laffa bread
Traditionally, laffa is cooked on a convex surface (like this). Though they used to be cooked over a fire, today, they're usually cooked on an electric griddle made for cooking flatbreads. (This is how the street vendors cooked them back on the boardwalk.) You can either cook homemade laffa bread on a griddle or large skillet, or make a DIY convex surface by using an overturned pan or wok.
Method 1: Cooking on a griddle
The easiest way to cook laffa is on a griddle or in an ordinary skillet (and, more on this below, basically indistinguishable from the other, more traditional method). You can use any one you have; you just need a hot, flat surface you can heat up on your stovetop. In the photos I'm using a large, flat, rimless griddle called a tava or saj. It's an Indian brand I got on Amazon, and I love it. It's great for Middle Eastern, Indian, and also Mexican cooking (because it's similar to a comal). It's a bit larger in diameter than a Western one. They're all good, though.
Method 2: Cooking on an overturned pan
You can also cook your laffas on a makeshift convex surface. In the photos, I'm using a regular, medium-sized, sloped-side frying pan that I imagine most of us have in our kitchens. It works very well. Now that I have a carbon steel wok, I think that would be the ideal DIY convex cooking surface. However, I've done several side-by-side trials of laffa cooked on a griddle vs. an overturned pan and honestly, they turn out virtually the same. So I usually don't bother and just cook it on a griddle or inside a regular skillet.
How to use your laffa bread
Like a pita, laffa is great anywhere you want to mop up sauce, like shakshuka, and of course, dip in hummus and labaneh. Laffa also makes a great sandwich wrap, especially for sabich or some kebab meatballs.
Laffa Bread (parve)
- Stand mixer fitted with dough hook attachment (see notes for hand mixing)
- 4 cups all-purpose flour - 500 g
- 1 ½ Tbsp active dry or instant yeast
- 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 Tbsp salt
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 ½ cups water
Mix the laffa dough:
- Measure out the flour directly to your stand mixer bowl (I put it on the kitchen scale and tare it). Add the yeast and sugar and mix by hand with a spoon or spatula.
- Add the salt and mix again. Then, add the olive and combine well by hand.
- Fit the bowl onto a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook and begin to knead on the lowest speed.
- With the stand mixer running, slowly add water to the bowl. Knead for 5 minutes or so, until the dough is soft and pliable but not sticky - nice and silky when you touch it. If needed, add more water or flour 1 tablespoon at a time.
Rise for 1 hour:
- Form the dough gently into a ball, dust the bowl with flour, and return the ball of dough to the mixer bowl. Cover and leave to rise for 1 hour.
Shape and rest:
- After the dough has risen for an hour, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into eight equal pieces using a bench knife/scraper. Form each pieces into a round, smooth ball. Place on a lined baking sheet, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and leave to rest for 20 minutes.
Cook the flatbreads:
- Before beginning, prepare a basket or bowl by folding a kitchen towel in half and laying it in the basket/bowl. You will flip the top half of the towel up, place the finished each laffa inside as they come off the griddle, then fold the towel over it to cover. This not only keeps the laffas warm, but makes them softer and more pliable.
- Heat a large, heavy skillet or griddle over a medium flame. One by one, roll out each ball of dough into a flat circle, not too thin. Stretch the circle a bit with your hands, then place on the ungreased skillet. Cook for about 1 minute, until browned areas just begin to appear on the bottom of the laffa and it puffs slightly. Flip and cook for another minute on the second side. Place inside the folded towel and cover while you cook the rest of the laffas.