Mujabbanāt (Flatbread and Cheese Layer Cake)

Ayelet Latavotich

2 hours

Serves 12 (10-in / 26cm springform pan)

Photo by Matan Choufan

An early version of Mujabbanāt appears in “Best of Delectable Foods and Dishes from al-Andalus and al-Maghrib” (“Fiḍālat al-Khiwān fī Ṭayyibāt al-Ṭaʿām wa-l-Alwān”), a 13th-century cookbook by Ibn Razīn al-Tujībī featuring hundreds of detailed recipes.

The recipe, named mujabbanāt Kaijatta after the Andalusian city (modern day Quesada), details a seven-layer pastry made of oven-dried or lightly fried flatbreads separated by a cheese filling flavored with mint and coriander seeds. The pastry is drenched in a milk and honey mixture and slow cooked in a wood-fired oven. An almost identical recipe named “placenta” appears in “De Agri Cultura” by Cato the Elder, a sort of farmers notebook written in Latin in the second century BC. 

Chef Ayelet Latovich, Asif’s culinary director, tested the ancient recipe, adjusting and updating the quantities and ingredients for modern palates. The result is a surprising pastry reminiscent of a sweet lasagna with a hint of saltiness. The recipe can easily be made into a sweet or savory pastry, both equally delicious (for a savory version, leave out the honey and use a salty cheese). Serve either as part of a Shavuot feast or for a weekend brunch. 

Ingredients

  • For the dough:
  • 3 cups / 350 grams spelt flour
  • 1 ⅓ cups / 150 grams whole spelt flour 
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon / 4 grams yeast
  • 1 ⅓ cups / 320ml water
  • For the filling:
  • 10½-ounces / 300 grams low-moisture mozzarella, or jibneh 
  • 7-ounces / 200 grams full-fat Tzfat cheese or low-moisture mozzarella
  • 7-ounces / 200 grams ricotta 
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon ground clove
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, roasted and ground
  • 1¼ cups / 295 ml milk
  • 3 tablespoons cane sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dried mint
  • To serve:
  • ⅔ cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Flowering herbs or edible flowers (optional)

Preparation

  1. Prepare the dough: Place all the dough ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook and mix for 2 minutes on medium speed until a dough forms. Increase to a high speed and knead for 5 minutes. Transfer to a clean, greased bowl, cover and let the dough rise for 30 minutes.
  2. Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces. Cover one piece with clingfilm and set aside. Divide the remaining piece of dough into 7 equally-sized balls, cover and let rise for 15 minutes. 
  3. Preheat the oven to 475°F / 250°C and place a baking stone or a baking tray on the floor of the oven.
  4. Roll the dough balls into flat and round .1-in / 3mm -thick discs and place on parchment paper. Bake for 3 minutes, one at a time, until they are almost fully baked, but not golden.
  5. Prepare the filling: Grate the cheeses, or mix in a food processor until smooth. Add the black pepper, cloves, and ground coriander seeds, and mix well.
  6. Meanwhile, place the milk, sugar, and dried mint in a small pot and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and set aside. 
  7. Assemble the pastry: Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F / 180°C and grease the cake pan with olive oil.
  8. Divide the remaining dough that you set aside earlier into 2 equal pieces. Roll out, or stretch by hand, one piece of dough and line the base of the pan. Spread an even layer of the cheese filling to cover the base. 
  9. Spread an even layer of the cheese filling on 6 baked layers and stack them in the pan, one on top of the other. Cover with the last remaining pita.
  10. Slightly warm the seasoned milk, strain, and pour over the pastry.
  11. Roll out the remaining piece of dough and stretch over the pan to cover, like a lid. Bake for 30 minutes, until the dough cover is overbaked, dark and dry.
  12. Remove the dough cover and slice the cake into diamond-shaped slices.
  13. To serve: Warm the honey with the cinnamon and drizzle over the warm cake. Cool for 1 hour and garnish with flowering herbs or edible flowers.

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