Great Legacies Children

Rings of goodness

Maltese breads were usually baked in community ovens.   | Photo Credit: Pixabay

A compact snack or a meal by itself. This is the Fitra, a sourdough bread from the island of Malta, which made it to the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage, last year. Fitra is a ring-shaped bread with a hole in the middle, usually eaten along with a variety of fillings (carrot, lettuce, mint, basil, beans, sardines, tuna among others).

The Maltese word for bread is hobz, which is drawn from Arabic. The making of hobz may have also been influenced by the Romans who brought their own baking techniques and technologies to Malta. The name fitra is derived from the Arabic word fattar (which means to flatten). In Damma, a 1776 dictionary on preparations at the bakery of the Order of St. John’s, linguist Giovanni Francesco Agius de Soldanis describes and records the long process of making the fitra.

How it was made

First, bread-makers would mix the sourdough starter (a bit of dough from an earlier batch) with the flour to give the bread a tangy flavour. The flour would then be kneaded by hand till the dough reached the right texture and consistency. Then it had to be ‘rested’; this was called proofing and was to allow it to ferment. A little flour would be scattered on top of the dough, which would then be covered with a cloth and put in a warm place. Sometimes, the baker would turn it over once or twice during the proofing. This process took hours and allowed the dough to double in size.

Once the dough was ready, it would be portioned and shaped. The fitra was flat and round with a hole in the middle; the hobz was full round with a dark crusty exterior and a soft centre. These were baked in community ovens, which were heated to a temperature of 450-500°F. While the hobz took over an hour in the oven, the fitra was done in around 30 minutes because the making of the dough ensured that all the gases had been released.

This process is being followed even today, though bakers have shifted to modern ovens. In fact, bread is such an integral part of Maltese life that the people have many idioms that relate to bread as the basis of life.

Fun Facts

Bakers would make a mark on the side or top of the loaf for identification, since the baking was done in community ovens.

Since the ovens needed fuel, people would give bakers bundles of thistle or wood as payment for the bread.

Once on the table, the bread is marked with the cross as a gesture of thanksgiving. This is still done.

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Printable version | Sep 22, 2021 5:39:36 PM |

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