Introduction to Baking Bread in Hot Sand


This video offers an introduction to baking bread in sand heated by a fire of brushwood. This particular version is made by a Berber but it is a technique that is widespread in desert regions. The YouTube videos documenting the method tend not to offer much information on the dough and how one version might differ from another. It seems to be a process that limits baking to one bread at a time. If any of you know whether a second bread can be baked in the same hot sand and embers, please leave a comment. I haven’t tested this method.

2 Vidoes Bread Baked in Hot Sand

These two videos offer a good look at what the bread looks like while other videos offer more detail on how to handle the fire and heat the sand.


This video starts towards the end of the process of creating an oven of hot embers and sand. We first see the bread after it is is within the oven and clearly partly baked. Based on other videos I’d guess that they are uncovering it to check it after about 10 minutes. I start with this video because it lets us see that the finished bread — at least this baker’s version – is crunchy.

This the second video produced by this filmaker. We get a really good look at the finished bread.

Scraping Sand from Sand-baked Bread

This video is in two parts.

The first video offers a particularly clear look at exactly how the fire is scraped away from the flatbread and clarifies that the bread is baked in hot sand, not on embers or even in this case a mixture of embers and sand. The tourist who is filming asks the guide who bakes the bread a question that elicits the answer that this little bread is just for show. If he were in the desert for several days he’d make a large fire over a wide area and bake a very large bread, one that would last for days. This points up the risks of assuming from videos and demonstrations that what one is seeing is, in every detail, the true local practice.


In this second video the bread is taken out of the sand. One sees the extreme care with with the bread is scraped with a knife to be sure there is no sand sticking to it.



Baking in a Tandoor Oven

The tandoor oven is the most common oven from the Caucuses to Northern India. The are a couple ways to think of the tandoor oven. The tandoor can be thought of as both a chimney and an oven wall built around a fire. Bread is slapped onto the heated wall where it sticks and bakes from a combination of heat stored in the  wall and  from radiant heat rising from the embers on the oven floor. Thus, while bread is baked on the floor of the domed bread oven it is baked on the wall of the tandoor oven. Tandoor breads are thus always “flat” though though they are often leavened with yeast or a sourdough starter.

As with the domed bread oven there is an initial hot firing to charge the oven walls with heat. If one starts baking too soon the ovens walls with char the bottom of the bread. If the embers at the bottom of the oven are too hot the heat rising from them will burn the bread before it is cooked. Most of the videos I’ve seen of baking in the oven just show the baking of the bread but don’t show how the oven is actually managed. If, by chance, you live in a country with tandoor ovens, please consider making a video for YouTube that shows the firing of an oven and that explains how the oven is managed for baking.

I selected this video for the introduction to the tandoor oven because it is a long video, five minutes, and thus really offers a look at a fairly complete baking cycle. It also shows aspects of the tandoor oven that is always clear. For example, the oven is clearly divided into two parts, the lower part where the fire is built and the upper part where breads are baked. That part is whitewashed. It is so cleanly whitewashed. There is no smoke on the whitewash which thus either tells us something about how the fire is operated or suggests that it was just whitewashed before the filming began. It also looks as if the fire was of brushwood.

At one point in the movie one sees a woman approach the oven and pour water on the embers. Tandoor ovens tend to be curved slightly at the top and you see here the bread browns sooner when it is on the curve. Perhaps these breads were browning too quickly and that is why the water was poured on the embers. (If you have experience operating a tandoor oven please comment.) At the end, when one of the breads is removed one sees that the bottom of the bread is a little burnt. I would thus guess that this is a first batch of bread going into the oven and the walls are a tad too hot and the embers still glowing just a tad too strongly.


Baked on a Griddle

This is a disquieting video of flatbreads being baked in Afghanistan.  In it, we see a young baker forming and the rolling out a bread to beaked on a griddle. The focus is on the rolling out which is done slowly. The film maker seems to get bored with the rolling-out process and so he pans to the breads being baked on griddles, our one hint of how the breads are baked, and then walks outside the door. It turns out that the bread is being baked behind blast walls in military base.


Baking Bread in Sand #2


Detail of interest: the flour dusted depressing. This video is made up of a series of stills. We do lose some technical information, particularly regarding how the ash and embers are swept out from the sand. But there is one detail in this video I haven’t seen in others. The bottom of the heated depression is dusted with flour prior to the bread being put down, presumably to reduce the amount of sand that might adhere to the finished bread. I haven’t noticed this on any of the other YouTube videos. Does anyone know whether this is a common practice or perhaps something just done for the tourist demonstration?

Baked under flaming branches

This is a truly extraordinary video. The text provided by the film maker  identifies the bread as follows:

This is on the edge of the Sahara Desert near Zagora, Morocco. The locals make bread by placing the dough on heated rocks and cooking the top with palm fronds. The dough is then buried in the heated sand and left to bake thoroughly. Later it will be dug up, brushed off, and eaten warm.

Note that the bread is set over a very clear bed of hot rocks that seem not to have ash on them so they were presumably brushed off. The rink of rocks is perfect. Burning palm fronds are then being held over the breads to both illuminate the scene, but I also think to help set the to crust before the hot sand is poured over them.

The video does not offer the source of that hot sand. If you know something about this please post a comment. Thank you.