The Coptic Tradition of Feteer Al Malak or Archangel Michael Buns
The tradition goes that the Coptic (Egyptian Christian) matriarch of every family bakes these vegan sweet buns to honor Archangel Michael, the most revered angel in Christian scripture, asking the Archangel to protect her kids and to raise her prayers to the almighty GOD.
Legend has it that when the buns are left overnight to rise, Archangel Michael visits the Matriarch’s kitchen to mark the buns with his sword, and signal his approval of being her prayers messenger.
Typically, my grandma used to bake this pastry a few times a year, precisely whenever a family member was ailing, applying for a new job, or taking important tests. The most beautiful detail I memorized vividly was of my grandma sharing the buns with her muslim neighbors as well as Christians, knowing how equally venerated Archangel Michael is in the Islamic faith.
Feteer Al Malak or Archangel Michael Buns Recipe
Like many Egyptian women, my grandma never wrote down her recipes, including this one. Therefore, I put together mine throughout many trials and errors.
Admittedly, it comes out better each time, as I manage to improve the taste and texture thanks to patience and persistence, and I am happy to share the success secret of this recipe:
Use unflavored oil such as canola (my favorite). It is light with a natural flavor. Please note that the secret to a fluffy Feteer Al Malak or Archangel Michael Buns is mixing thoroughly the oil first into the flour, until the flour resembles wet sand. For this step, either use your hands or the paddle attachment of a stand mixer, both will work well.
Don’t rush the fermentation of the dough. Let it rise in a warm dark place covered with a plastic film and a clear teal towel for at least two hours, until it doubles in size.
If you are opting for some depth of yeast flavor, then after the dough rises, let the dough sit in the fridge overnight. This step can also break down the task into two days which makes it a practical baking experience.
A dash of cinnamon mixed into the flour will make your kitchen smell heavenly when you bake it. Additionally, Mixing the cinnamon with some oil to brush the surface of the bun will give it a nice tan and glossy finish.
Degree of Difficulty
Don’t fret. This Feteer Al Malak or Archangel Michael buns recipe is pretty straightforward for newbies or beginner bakers.
You definitely don’t need a stand mixer to make it, your hands will do a fantastic job, invite the kids to partake in the recipe making, and learn about this deep-rooted Coptic Egyptian tradition.
For precision, you might need a kitchen scale to weigh each bun dough so you have equal sized buns. That said, you can eyeball the size of the bun as well if a kitchen scale is not a gadget you keep around.
Healthier Version of Feteer Al Malak
A healthier version of the regular Feteer Al Malak or Archangel Michael buns is achievable, if you replace all purpose flour with whole wheat one and white sugar with brown sugar.
Practically, you can omit sugar altogether in this recipe, and use honey to proof the yeast. In this case, the buns will be unsweetened and you can eat them with Zaatar or Dukkah.
Food taste is subjective, but I actually think that the Feteer Al Malak tastes better with whole wheat and brown sugar.
Mixing raisins and cranberries in the dough, adds a dose of nutrients and energy that we all need in forms of a midday snack.
Embrace the Blessed Tradition and Share it
I never get enough from making Feteer Al Malak during lent. Actually it is becoming a meditating practice.
Whenever I feel uncertain or feel rattled by life’s trials and tribulations, I resort to one hour in my kitchen to bake Feteer Al Malak.
While kneading the dough by hand, I gradually release the tension, and in whispering prayers to St. Michael, my soul finds peace. No wonder my grandma often found a good reason to bake these beauties.
What makes it an even merrier tradition, is sharing Archangel Michael buns and its story with friends from all walks of life.
More Vegan and Lent Recipes
Check the Vegan section on this blog index for more vegan recipes such as:
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Archangel Michael: Feteer Al Malak: فطير الملاك
Makes 12 to 15 medium disks
For The Dough
- 500 grams all-purpose flour or whole wheat flour
- Pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/2 cup white sugar or brown sugar + 1 tablespoon for the surface of the buns (avoid the sugar if you want it unsweetened)
- 1 tablespoon instant yeast
- 1 1/2 cup warm water
- 1 1/2 teaspoon white distilled vinegar, optional
- 1/2 cup raisins or cranberry, optional
For The Glaze:
- Proof the yeast: Add the instant yeast and 1 tablespoon of honey to the warm water. Mix well until the yeast and honey are well incorporated, and let the yeast proof in a warm place for 10 minutes or until it gets frothy and foamy.
- Mix the dry ingredients: Add the flour, baking powder, and salt then mix well using a metal spoon. Toss the oil into the mixture of dry ingredients and use your hands to mix well until the flour mixture is thoroughly coated by the oil. It should resemble wet sand. Add the sugar and mix well.
- Assemble the dough: Make a well in the center of the flour and oil mixture, add the sugar and run the mixer at a low speed and add gradually the yeast mixture, and the vinegar. Increase the speed. Turn off the mixer when a sticky, soft dough comes together.
- Let the dough rise: Transfer the dough to a deep bowl coated with oil. Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and a clean teal towel, and let the dough rest in a dark place. When the dough doubles in volumes, you can let it rest in the fridge overnight to develop a deep yeast flavor, yet that is optional. (see notes).
- Preheat the oven to 180°C or 360°F.
- Shape the buns: Divide the dough into equal portion of 115 grams each. Shape the individual pastries by pinching the ends to form a ball, and rolling them on the counter with the palm of your hands to smoothen their surface. To shape the crosses, twist thin threads of dough into a cross shape and glue it with oil in the middle of each pastry. Sprinkle them with cinnamon to make the cross motifs pop up when baked. Arrange the shaped pastries on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Glaze the buns: Mix the oil, brown sugar, and cinnamon well and brush the surface of the bun with the glaze, using a pastry brush.
- Let the buns rise again for 20-30 minutes.
- Bake: Transfer the baking sheet to the preheated oven, and bake for 25 minutes. Get them out of the oven when they are puffed and have a golden crust. Serve hot or at room temperature with jam, cheese or zaatar.
- This recipe could be halved or doubled.
- The vinegar makes those vegan buns fluffy and pillowy.
- Letting the dough rest overnight, help the yeast to develop a pleasant flavor and aroma when baked.
- This dough is so forgiving and versatile. Get creative with trying different savory and sweet fillings.