Sfeeha are what meat pie dreams are made of. Tiny little bitesize morsels of savoury yumminess. That's the only way to describe these Lebanese delicacies.
What is sfeeha baalbeckiya?
I've been fortunate enough to taste sfeeha made in Baalbeck, the region most famous for making them in Lebanon, and they really were out of this world.
'Sfeeha Baalbeckiya' are usually shaped into little squares and watching the artisans make dozens at the speed of light was mesmerising and therapeutic at the same time.
They were delicious because they took the two essential elements of meat and bread and brought out the best in them. Simple, honest and humble.
Lahm b 'ajeen (see pic above) is the cousin of sfeeha and it is usually made in a disc shape. The mixture also usually has more spices and onions.
The meat filling
Traditionally sfeeha are made with the best lamb meat though of course you can make them with beef too, or a mixture of both.
The meat is mixed with a little tomato and onion and some black pepper and seven spice to enhance the flavour.
As they are tiny, you place the raw mixture in the centre of the mini rounds and they should cook nicely by the time they emerge from the oven.
How are sfeeha cooked?
Sfeeha are usually cooked in communal Lebanese ovens known as 'Furuns' and i've written about my memories of going to the Furun as a child in my recipe for Manakish Dough here.
Of course, most of us don't own pizza ovens at home so a very hot oven is our next best bet.
Turn your oven on to the highest setting and heating up the oven for a good twenty minutes will help cook them faster.
What's the difference between sfeeha and manakish dough?
Sfeeha and Manakish dough are very similar and are sometimes used interchangeably.
I would say the one thing that makes them different is that sfeeha usually contains milk to make it softer and is a little less stickier than manakish dough so you can shape them and they keep their shape in the hot oven.
Manakish dough is also usually a little puffier with a little more yeast which makes it rise more after proving.
However, if you add too much yeast to the dough, the sfeeha will puff too much and they will lose their shape when cooked.
Top tips for making the dough
Make sure you use very luke warm water when activating the yeast. If it is too hot then you will kill the yeast. You should be happy giving the water to a small child.
Though of course if it is too cold then the yeast won't bubble and froth which is the test that it has worked.
If you want to be technical about it then the optimum temperature for the water should be 38C/100F.
Always store your yeast in a cool dark place, in the fridge if you have to during the summer months. Check the sell by date often and add a pinch of sugar with your water to help it going.
How do I shape sfeeha?
It's actually really easy to shape sfeeha, they are open and are not as difficult to shape as fatayer which should be closed.
Simply roll out a very thin circle shape that can fit inside your palm, add a little spoon of meat filling in the centre and pinch the four corners into the traditional square shape.
If the dough is too sticky you won't be able to pinch the corners closed so add a little flour to make it more manageable.
As with all baking, a little patience goes a long way. Don't be disheartened if they don't come out perfect first time, you will get the hand of them eventually. And when you do, it's simply mini pie heaven.
Bitesize Lebanese pies with a lamb filling
For the Dough
- 3 1/4 cups of all purpose or bread flour
- 1/2 cup of lukewarm water
- 1/2 cup of lukewarm milk
- 2 tsp of dried active yeast
- 1/2 tsp of salt
- 1/2 tsp of sugar
- 3 tbsp regular olive oil or vegetable oil
For the Meat Filling
- 250 g of lamb mince
- 1 small onion
- 2 tomatoes
- 1/2 tsp of salt
- 1/2 tsp of black pepper
- 1/2 tsp 7 spice
In a bowl, combine the milk and water together and test the temperature with your finger, it should be only slightly warm and if it is too hot it will kill the yeast. Let it cool if necessary.
Add the sugar to the water milk mixture along with the yeast and stir well until it dissolves Leave for 15 minutes allowing the yeast to ferment and bubble
In a large bowl, add the salt and flour, oil and yeast liquid and bring together. If the dough is too dry add a tablespoon at a time of warm water until you have a smooth ball
Then turn out into a floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes so the dough springs back when you poke it
Place the kneaded dough ball into a large mixing bowl and cover with cling film or damp cloth, leave to rise in a warm place for at least 2 hours or until doubled in size
With floured hands knock back the dough and shape into a ball. Divide into small golf sized balls. Cover with a muslin cloth and leave for another half hour
As the dough proves for the second time prepare your mince meat mixture by adding the meat, onion, tomato, salt, seven spice and pepper to a food processor and blending to a fine mixture
Turn on the oven on the highest setting (usually 230°C)
Roll the small dough balls into very thin rounds (approx 3 mm) which can fit into the palm of your hands. Add a small teaspoon of mixture and pinch the four corners into the traditional sfeeha shape. Transfer to a non stick tray.
Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden, turning half way if necessary to get an even bake
If the room is too cold, warm the oven on the lowest setting then turn it off and prove the dough inside for about 2 hours
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