Sfiha (Middle Eastern Cheese Pizza)
When I think of Sfiha, I see my grandmother sitting on the ground outside baking with her little taboon oven.
Little dough balls sitting in a tray next to her on a floured surface.
She would take them one at a time, prepare and bake them.
The taboon (outdoor oven) is where she made all her bread for the family.
Most of us would be rolling the dough with a rolling pin, but not my Sitti.
She would flatten them out with her hands, load them up with a topping, and toss them in the oven.
I still remember the taste of that beautifully melted cheese all these years later.
What is Sfiha?
Essentially this is a Middle Eastern open faced pizza with cheese or lamb toppings.
Toppings sprinkled with either olive oil or pine nuts, these are lovely little treats.
Lots of families in the Middle East have their own recipes, distinctive to where they come from.
The cheese used for the topping is usually Akawi cheese, a slightly salty white variety.
Ground beef is mixed with the lamb for the meat topping version.
The meat mixture is tasty and often enhanced with pomegranate molasses and just enough salt and pepper.
How to Make Sfiha Dough
There is no one way to make this dough, everyone has their own method based on family recipes.
I will share my recipe below.
Bread is such a big part of Arab cooking, and so getting the dough right for these recipes is important.
Use a good quality flour, and yeast, instant yeast is usually best so you can mix it all in at once.
Put the flour and yeast in a large bowl, add salt, whisk to mix well.
Create a well in the flour mixture then add warm water, mix until a dough forms.
If the mixture is too dry, add some liquid, and if itâ€™s too wet, add flour until you have a good consistency.
Scrape down the side of the bowl when necessary.
Make sure you knead the dough for a good five minutes if you are using a stand mixer.
The kneading process for most dough is a very important step in developing gluten.
Kneading the dough makes the bread lighter, more chewy, and gives it its overall structure.
Cover the bowl and set aside in a warm spot, let the dough rise to double its size.
Pour out the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and cut into uniform portions.
How to Make Sfiha
Get the ingredients together for the sfiha you will be making, chop the onions, crumble the cheese, etc.
I like to divide my dough into one ounce pieces making the sfihas small and easy to handle.
Once you divide the dough it will be important to let the dough balls rest for about 10 minutes before you begin shaping them.
One method to finish the pies, is to take the dough ball and just push some of the topping in the middle.
This will give you a very puffed up version of the sfiha with the topping becoming a bit of a filling.
Or you can use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a flat disk shape and then press the topping on.
Alternatively you can shape the dough the old fashioned way using your hands.
Press your thumbs into the dough ball as you rotate it between thumb and forefinger, flattening it out as you go.
Place the cheese sfiha on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and place in a preheated oven.
Bake for about 20 minutes or until brown.
For the Dough
- 3 cups Flour
- ¾ tsp Salt
- ¾ tsp Instant Yeast
- 1 tbsp Olive Oil
- 1¾ cups Water
For the Cheese Topping
- 8 oz Akawi Cheese or white cheese
- ¼ cup Olive Oil
- 2 tbsp Mint
- Place flour in a large bowl. Add salt and yeast. Stir with whisk until well mixed.
- Create a well in the middle of the flour mixture. Pour in olive oil and water.
- Pulling flour in from the outside with your hand as you mix it into dough.
- Once you have your dough cover the bowl and set aside in a warm place. Allow dough to rise to at least twice its size.
- Punch down dough. Cut dough into equal size pieces, and roll them into balls. Set aside while you make the topping.
- Crumble the cheese into a bowl. Add the olive oil, and dried mint. Stir until all ingredients are well incorporated.
- Roll out the dough balls into flat round disc shapes.
- Spoon a measure of topping onto dough. Press the topping into the dough with your fingers or spatula. Place on a baking sheet.
- Bake at 392ºF (200ºC) for 20 minutes or until brown.