Armenian cheese bread (pizza, sort of; banir hatz, baneer hatz)

Armenian cheese bread is in regular production at the Sarkahian household where the recipe resides in Isgouhi's mental cookbook, apparently handed down from her mom who came from the food mecca Aleppo, Syria. Surfing the web for similar recipes is difficult since there are so many ways of writing "cheese" "bread" in Armenian and its various dialects, and of course every Armenian mom makes variations out of family traditions (Anjarian dialect: bandrou hatz). This recipe is typically made in industrial sized quantities, or at least enough to supply a large extended family which relies on this as a snack/lunch food. It is essentially a bread dough pizza, usually made on big rectangular cookie sheets.

Although we wrote down the ingredient list 15 years ago, somehow we never formalized it into an actual recipe in our collection, perhaps since we have been lucky enough to have it appear magically at regular intervals in our refrigerator. But the time has come to elevate it to the status it deserves. Motivated by all the terribly amateur photos we have already snapped with our point and shoot digital camera. The T = "tablespoon" and t = "teaspoon" measurements which appear here are the Isgouhi heaping spoonfuls. For a long time when she dictated her recipes, this qualifier was not understood by bob, resulting in our attempts falling short of the mark for a while. We eventually got the message. All T and t measurements below even when not followed by "(heaping)" should be understood in that light. Of course oil does not heap, so in that case it is a mute point.

ingredients

dough
5 lbs flour (can be 50-50 all purpose and whole wheat!)
1 T (heaping) salt
1/4 c vegetable oil
1/2 c warm water
2 T (heaping) dry yeast
1 T salt
1 T (heaping) sugar
extra water if needed
 
cheese-spice mix topping (for about 4-5 11x14 in pans)
bulk stuff:
1 lb blue cheese or gorgonzola cheese
1 lb small curd cottage cheese (evolved to farmer's cheese with time)
1 c grated parmesan cheese (parmigiano!) or pecorino romano (for a stronger taste)
8-9 finely chopped medium onions
spices:
1/2 t black pepper
1 t red pepper (to taste), spicy paprika, not cayenne
1 t allspice
salt to taste
2 T oregano
1 T cumin
1/8 t ground cloves
touch of cinnamon to taste
liquids:
3-4 T olive oil
2-3 T (heaping) tomato paste (Isgouhi's modification of tradition to give more color to the topping)
2 T (heaping) red pepper paste.

instructions

  1. Topping:
    Mix all the ingredients together. If not red enough, add another T tomato paste. Check that spices are "enough". This is the hard part since the memory for comparison is in the chef's head, not ours. Set aside.

    Dough:
  2. Find the family dough specialist for this step. It helps to have a little experience. But if not, you have to start somewhere, give it a try. Practice makes perfect.

    Stir the yeast, salt and sugar into the warm water and let sit 15 minutes until it puffs up. Mix the flour and salt together. Incorporate the yeast mixture into a well in the middle of the flour and mix until even with your hands. Continue adding a bit of water at a time if needed to reach the right dough consistency. See photos.
  3. Knead the dough in a large bowl sprayed with vegetable oil about 10-15 minutes until it is smooth.
  4. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put in a warm place like the oven (without heat) to rise for 2 hours until it doubles in volume approximately.
  5. With a little oil on your hands, divide the dough into 5 or 6 equal balls. Put them on a cookie sheet with flour under them so they don't stick, cover with plastic and let sit for another half hour for a second rise.
  6. Roll out each dough ball (large enough ball to cover your large cookie sheets to the desired thickness).
  7. Spread the topping on each sheet as it is rolled out.
  8. Bake two sheets at a time at 400� F for 15-20 minutes until the dough is sufficiently cooked.
  9. Remove and cool.
  10. Stack with waxed paper in between the sheets and put in a large plastic bag and refrigerate.
  11. You can eat some when it comes out of the oven if you wish.

notes

  1. Some spelling variations:
    Banirov Hatz; Banderoom Hootz, Bandera Hootz, Bender Hootz (dialect): http://georgefamily.net/cookbook/20BahneerHatz.html,
    Banerov Hatz: http://www.thearmeniankitchen.com/ [search],
    Banir or Baneer Hatz.[http://www.thegutsygourmet.net/glossary.html]
  2. 2020 update.
    This is just the Armenian version of the Italian flatbread called focaccia, but with a thin topping to boost the flavor to the max. After a decade or more of bob lamenting about whole wheat upgrades, finally Ani and Isgouhi listen and give it a try here, and FANTASTIC taste! But we won't be able tell her brother's family---they are unable to switch. Some people just won't bend in the taste department, even for their own good.
  3. Our recipe for whole wheat focaccia.
  4. Illustrations available.
armenianchzbrd.htm: 7-apr-2020 [what, ME cook? � 1984 dr bob enterprises]