To those who are unfamiliar with it, yufka is a round and very thin sheets of unleavened flour dough. It is used to make Turkish flatbread and pastries, and has been considered as one of the most important food items in the Turkish as well as in the Balkan and Middle Eastern cuisines. Some say that yufka may have been the earlier form of phyllo/filo dough. More specifically, Turkish yufka is usually made from wheat flour mixed with a little salt and water to form a dough.
What is Yufka?
You might not have heard of Yufka yet, but probably you already eaten dishes made of it – like Baklava, Börek or Gözleme. Yufka is used in a lot of traditional Turkish recipes and the variety of possible uses is huge. The more familiar English term is phyllo or filo dough. The round dough layer-like pieces are about 50-70 diameter and thin like paper. The dough itself is made out of flower, water and a bit of salt. Originally there was no leavening like baking powder or yeast added. Yufka can be used for a flatbread itself or can be processed as basic dough for several sweet or savory traditional Turkish dishes. Due to its versatility you can find it at any meal of the day: Gözleme for breakfast, Börek for lunch, dinner or tea time and Baklava or Bülbül Yuvası for dessert.
I first became familiar with Yufka dough in Germany, where I grew up. There you can buy it in Turkish supermarkets, but often you can only get the shrink-wrapped layers that that are already cut into triangles, which are used for Sigara Böreği. The shrink-wrapped layers are a bit drier than freshly made Yufka. Therefore the store-bought layers are more fragile and break easily when you handle them. You can store the package, unopened, for months. In Turkey you can buy fresh günlük Yufka dough in every supermarket or at stores that solely sell Yufka, called Yufkacı. These small corner shops are a factory and a store at the same time. Here you will see people producing Yufka dough with the help of a big food processor. Nonetheless, there is still a lot of manual labour included. The Yufka you can buy at the Yufkacı is much higher quality and is easier to handle than the shrink-wrapped one. Of course you can make Yufka at home, but it’s a labor-intensive process and a large work space is needed. Therefore even good Turkish housewives would rather buy it in the neighbourhood shop next door than to make it themselves. These fresh dough layers should be used within 3 days, otherwise the pieces will dry out and become brittle.
But how does the Yufkacı roll the dough so thin that you can read a newspaper through it? Flour, water and salt are combined to make a sticky dough that needs to sit for a few hours before further processing. The dough is divided to small pieces of about 50 grams. Each piece of dough is rolled with a lot of flour and with the help of a special rolling pin. The Yufkacı will use a long wooden rod called Oklava that looks like a broomstick, to roll out the dough as thinly as possible. Several layers can be rolled together at once on the rod because of the copious amounts of flour the Yufkacı uses to prevent the dough from sticking together. These layers are rolled together with pressure until the dough is extremely thin.
Some recipes add eggs, yeast and/or oil to the dough. Fat and yeast help to make the dough flakier. Additional fat is also added at later steps in the process, for added flakiness. The best example of this is baklava. Here each layer of Yufka is buttered before being put on top of each other and this causes the layers to rise during baking.
The bread version of Yufka is called Yufka ekmek. The raw dough is roasted for about one minute on each side over a Saç, a large inverted round pan, until it gets a bit color. Yufka ekmek is used as a side dish to absorb meat, vegetables and sauces and is also used as the wrap for a Dürüm.
In some touristy restaurants you can see mostly older woman sitting on a low table rolling dough, filling it and baking out to Gözleme in the middle of the place. Of course it’s part of the food production process, but I assume it’s also about tourist entertainment. It’s quite interesting to stop by for a minute and watch these women through the window handling the dough so professionally like they never did anything else in their life.
One fun fact for the end: The word Yufka is also used as an adjective. “softie” or “tenderhearted” can be find in the dictionary under ”yufka yürekli”.
I love food as much as I love Istanbul
Photo Credits: Jen Waller, Sally Butcher, Daniele Zanni