Pronounced “matloa”, this is an Algerian bread made out of hard wheat and semolina, leavened by either sourdough or fresh yeast.
Its history is not very precise, but we know that North Africa is the birth place of many different breads, especially flat ones. Greeks, Berbers, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines were already presents before the Musulman conquest led by the Omayyad in the 7th century. The exceptional amount and quality of the grains grown in Algeria made the country very coveted by its neighbors. No wonder why Algerians are very fond of bread and inventors of many. During the Roman Empire, the region was called Africa Romana and known to be the wheat stock of Rome.
The matlouh, or any other kind of bread, was usually made by the mother every morning and brought to the communal oven. It was either baked in a bread oven, horizontal or vertical, or baked on a tajine, sort of clay stove placed on top of an open fire.
Nowadays, the matlouh is cooked on the stove, using a tajine or a special griddle that gives the bread both a rustic look and a particular taste.
In the older times, every family had a piece of land to grow wheat on. The men would take care of the harvest and then bring it to the village’s stone mill in order to make flour. The mill was usually water-powered and the bigger towns would have many to cover all the inhabitants’s harvests. In exchange, the miller would take a part of the flour to bring for his family. The women would take care of the bread and the kids.
Nowadays, we can still find some communities that operate like that, but they are getting rare. The country is getting hotter and hotter as the years pass by, causing drought and rivers to disappear. Harvesting wheat now is getting harder and it pushes the country to buy foreign flours, usually from Russia and other East Europe countries. Growers now pick grains that can support heat the most, causing some varieties to disappear. In order to preserve them, international grain reserves were created in order to stock them and prevent their extinction.
The matlouh is usually made out of a mix of hard wheat flour and semolina, leavened by either sourdough or fresh yeast. Depending of the region, the family’s tradition and personal taste, the recipe can contain more or less flour or semolina, sometimes no flour at all.
Similar flatbreads ressemble the matlouh, like the khobz, which is the same but using soft wheat, and the kesra which uses hard wheat but is unleavened.
Here’s the recipe :
- 125 g white bread flour
- 125 g thin semolina
- 6 g salt
- 175 g water
- 7 g fresh yeast or 2.5g dried yeast
Mix the flour, the semolina and the salt together. Mix the yeast with the water. Combine everything and start kneading.
I like to knead by hand so it would take around 10 to 15 minutes.
Shape the dough into a ball and let it rest in a bowl, covered. Let it double in size, it should take around 1 hour and a half.
Punch the dough to let the gas out and take it out of the bowl. Shape it into a ball and let it rest for 30 minutes.
Drop a good amount of semolina on your workbench and put the dough on it. Flatten the dough until you get a 1cm thick circle. Don’t hesitate to put more semolina if it starts to stick.
Put your matlouh on a clean kitchen towel with some semolina. Cover it with another towel.
Let the dough prove for 30 to 45 minutes depending on the temperature of the room.
Preheat your pan before starting to cook your bread. Put the heat on lower-medium.
Transfer your matlouh from the towel to a tray or a chopping board. Let it slip down on the pan.
Let it cook for around 5 min then turn it onto the other side. Push the bread gently and let it cook for another 5 min.
Once it’s nicely colored, put the bread on the side and turn slowly to let it cook everywhere.
To be eaten straight away.