As a partner in Sofra, the bakery and café that I opened with chef Ana Sortun in 2008 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, most of my baking focuses on sweet and savory dishes from the Middle East. I’m not Middle Eastern, and neither is Ana; we met in 1996 when both of us were cooking under Moncef Meddeb, the esteemed Tunisian chef, at his 8 Holyoke restaurant, also in Cambridge. In the ensuing years, we’ve both traveled extensively throughout Lebanon and Turkey studying ingredients, recipes, and techniques. All this is to say that when it comes to making rolls for Thanksgiving, I make pogaca, a light, soft, airy roll that hails from Turkey.
Pronounced po-ah-cha and loosely translated as “hearth bread,” pogaca are most often served at breakfast and with tea. Whether plain or stuffed with cheese, vegetables, or meat, they also fit right in at the dinner table. A basket of them, especially if some are filled, would make Thanksgiving—or any holiday,
really—feel even more special.
Pogaca are easy to make, especially if you have a stand mixer with a dough hook. The dough comes together beautifully and is a dream to handle. There are many varieties and shapes for pogaca, which is found in other cuisines, too. Making plain round rolls is just a matter of shaping pieces of dough into balls and baking. The filled breads may be served simply shaped into an oval or more elaborately fashioned in an impressive rose shape that’s easier to make than it looks, especially with the help of the step-by-step photos below.
Fillings can be savory or sweet, and the options are endless. Some of the fillings I offer here are Middle Eastern inspired, such as feta and parsley or a fragrantly spiced date butter. [Editor’s note: We fell hard for the date filling.] I’ve also come up with some flavors that speak to my own American holiday memories. My mom put sausage in her turkey stuffing, so one pogaca always on our Thanksgiving menu is based on that; the roll itself takes the place of the bread, and the sausage is cooked with familiar stuffing flavors like onion, celery, and thyme. As I am a pastry chef by training, I just have to offer up a sweet filling, in this case tenderly cooked, lightly caramelized apples for a sweet roll that can take the place of a slice of pie at dinner’s end.
Pogaca are best served on the day they are made. But don’t fret; you don’t have to do all of the work on Thanksgiving Day. You can fill and shape your pogaca a day in advance. The pogaca can also be frozen right after shaping and baked fresh on Thanksgiving (see the recipes for details). Given all of this, there’s really no reason not to include a little Turkey with your turkey this year.
How to Shape Oval Pogaca