Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Lagana

Tomorrow is Kathari Deftera, which means Clean Monday (you may know it as Ash Monday), and it is the first day of the Orthodox Lent. It is a moveable feast which occurs always forty-eight days prior to Easter Sunday and it’s a day of purification, both spiritual and physical as the great fasting period begins.

Kathari Deftera is a public holiday in Greece, and people traditionally go out for a picnic and to also engage in the custom of kite flying. If you are ever in Greece on this day, you’ll see the sky filled with kites of every size and shape and children as well as adults running around, trying to fly them as high as they can.

As with all holidays in Greece, this one too revolves around food. No fish, meat or dairy products are permitted but we can have shellfish since they don’t have any blood. The traditional foods that are eaten on the day are the sweet tahini halva, or the one I always make, semolina halva, shellfish like octopus, shrimp, mussels, calamari and squid, prepared in various ways, taramosalata which is a carp roe dip, olives and of course the main attraction, the lagana.

Lagana is a large, flat, elongated rectangular bread with rounded sides and sesame seeds on top, and it is made and consumed only on Kathari Deftera. The word lagana (plural: laganes / Greek: λαγάνα) derives from the ancient Greek laganon (Greek: λάγανον) meaning a thin, flat and unleavened bread. Once upon a time, lagana used to be unleavened as well, but today yeast is added to the dough to make it lighter.

Lagana is reminiscent of focaccia and it has a crunchy crust and a soft and airy crumb. It is ever-so-slightly sweet in flavor, with nutty accents from the sesame seeds, and sometimes spices such as aniseeds are added to the dough mixture.

On Kathari Deftera, lagana is sold in every bakery in Greece but many people choose to bake their own. In Greece, I rarely make my own lagana, there are so many foods to be prepared on the day it’s quite difficult to make bread as well, and the truth of the matter is, the ones from the bakeries are excellent.

Ever since I moved to Holland five years ago though, if I want to enjoy lagana, I have to make it myself. That’s the curse of the expat. Thankfully, it is not at all difficult to prepare and besides, I always enjoy making my own bread. This one in particular is among my favorites and I crave it throughout the year. I never liked the fact that it is only consumed on Clean Monday but, well, I suppose it gives me something to look forward to.

Have a good Kathari Deftera!

Lagana (Greek Lenten Yeasted Flatbread)

This recipe for lagana gives you the perfect, authentic and traditional flavor of the unique Greek bread; crusty, with a soft and open crumb and nutty sesame seeds on top.
Eat it with dips of any kind and know that it makes the best vehicle for every type of sandwich. This is exciting bread.

Lagana is a large-sized bread but my oven is small; I can’t fit one large lagana so I make two smaller ones. You can choose either, depending on the size of your oven.

Yield: 1 large or 2 small laganes

250 g all-purpose flour
250 g semolina flour (from durum wheat)
9 g instant dried yeast
1-2 tsp caster sugar (add 1 tsp if you prefer not to taste any sweetness)
1 tsp sea salt
30 ml (2 Tbsp) extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing the bowl
330 ml lukewarm water
Sesame seeds for sprinkling over the top

Special equipment: stand mixer with dough hook attachment (optional), plastic wrap, pastry brush, large baking sheet or two smaller ones, baking paper

In the bowl of your stand mixer or in a large bowl, add the yeast, all-purpose and semolina flour, the sugar, salt (making sure it doesn’t come in contact with the yeast), olive oil and the lukewarm water.

If you’re kneading in a stand mixer, attach the dough hook and knead for about 7 minutes, on the lowest speed, until the dough no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl, remains moist and it is smooth and elastic. Empty it onto a lightly floured surface and knead it a little to see how it feels. It should feel a little sticky to the touch.

If you're kneading by hand, once you have mixed the ingredients together into a rough dough (it will be quite runny and sticky), take the dough out of the bowl and onto a clean surface and knead well. It'll take 10-12 minutes. What you're aiming for is a soft and pliable dough that's sticking slightly to your hands and that remains moist but not overly so that you can’t knead it.
The reason you want the dough to be moist is because you want a soft and airy crumb. If the dough is heavy, the bread will be heavy as well. Furthermore, in combination with a good kneading, you will accomplish many large and small holes in the crumb.

Note: Not all flours are the same, so if your dough is very wet, don't be afraid to add more flour (all-purpose flour). Add a little at a time though, testing the consistency of the dough. You don't want to end up with a stodgy, stiff dough.

Shape the dough into a ball, lightly grease the bowl of your stand mixer (or a large bowl) as well as the dough ball with olive oil and place the dough inside the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in a warm place, allowing the dough to proof and double in size. It will take about 1 hour to proof, depending on how warm the room you leave it in is.
During the winter, I always leave my dough next to a working radiator. Not on top of it but on a chair and right in front of it.

Note: If you want to test whether your dough has proofed correctly or not, do the finger-poking test. Gently poke the dough with your finger and a) if the dough springs back immediately, it is under-proofed, b) if the dough springs back halfway, it's perfectly proofed.

Line your baking sheet(s) with baking paper.

Once the dough has proofed, take it out of the bowl and knead it for a couple of seconds just to deflate it a bit. It should feel smooth, pliable and soft.

If you want to make two smaller laganes, divide the dough into two equal pieces.
Using your hands (or a rolling pin), form your laganes into an elongated rectangular shape with rounded edges with about 1.5 cm thickness.
You can either form the laganes on a clean surface or on the baking paper (they will be easier to transfer). Transfer the breads onto the baking sheets and cover with plastic wrap.
Leave them to proof in a warm place (they will not double in size though just proof a bit), for about 30 minutes.

In the meantime, preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius / 390 Fahrenheit.

Once the breads have proofed, remove the plastic wrap and brush them lightly with water, using a pastry brush. Then, poke the tops of the laganes with your fingertips to make indentations, being careful not to pierce through the dough and deflate it, and sprinkle liberally with sesame seeds.

If you make one large lagana, place the baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes. If you make two smaller ones, place one baking sheet on the low rack of the oven and the other baking sheet on the middle rack. Bake for 15 minutes and then switch positions and bake for further 15 minutes, until the laganes have taken on a golden-brown color.

Remove the baking sheets from the oven, place laganes on a clean surface and allow them to cool.

Enjoy them!!

More Lenten recipes


  1. I love learning about all the Greek traditions on your blog. The bread looks delicious, you should make it more than once a year (or would that be very wrong?)!

  2. Kali Sarakosti! Your lagana looks amazing! I drool over kathari deftyra foods. Are you fasting for the entire time?

  3. Even though I have quite a few Greek friends here in the states, I never hear of traditions such as Kathari Deftera. And I love that so many (all?) Greek holidays have special foods associated with them. ... Magda, you make the most beautiful breads... ~ David

  4. This looks very similar to a Persian bread that's also slightly sweet. Looks delicious! Bookmarking this page :)

  5. Only once a year??!! How can you resist for the other 364 days?

  6. Have a good holiday! Your bread looks so delicious and I can almost picture how great it must taste. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Wow! That is so beautiful. I enjoyed learning about "clean Monday" very much. Thanks for sharing this story with us. I always enjoy your posts.

  8. Nuts about food — nah, it wouldn't be wrong but people just associate it with Clean Monday.

    Anna — Kali Sarakosti to you too. No, I only fast during Easter week.

    David — thank you :)

    Pola — I can't! I just remember it only during Lent :)

    Spicie foodie — thanks for dropping by.

    Teresa — thank you, you're sweet.

  9. Magda, thank you so much for sharing this great recipe!! I bought our lagana from a wonderful local Greek bakery this year (we are lucky to have 3 in our neighborhood) but I am determined to make my own next year with your wonderful recipe!!

  10. Just made 2 of them. Turned out a bit flatter than I wanted but quite tasty! I took pictures but I don't know how to put them on here. I will be making them again next year!

    1. Hi there. I'm glad you enjoyed the laganes! Lagana is supposed to be very flat; I'm not sure what you expected. You can't put pictures here unless you have a link to share in the comments. I will be happy to see them!