18 March 2009

Flatbread 101: Bread that is Flat

I'm fascinated by making things from scratch as much as I can. It is my life's greatest tragedy that I live in New York City instead of on an organic farm on the Amalfi Coast or somewhere in Provence. Not even having the logistics for a window box really cramps my style, if you know what I mean. I've always wanted to learn to make truly great bread, but so far have been intimidated by the amount of counter space and time necessary.

Enter this wonderful recipe for flatbread found in the River Cottage Family Cookbook. Easily created within 45 minutes from start to wash-up (and 15 of those minutes you're resting), these taste better than anything I've had at any Lebanese or similar Middle Eastern restaurant.

Eat it naked and warm or with nearly any topping. Perhaps you'll like it with a homemade hummus: purée a drained can of chickpeas with a bit of sesame or olive oil or tahini and two very juicy lemons. Add parsley before you purée and garnish with chopped tomatoes to make it pretty. Or roll a flatbread around a salad of chopped tomato and cucumber (seeds removed), served with feta cheese (or any cheese like it), chopped parsley, a bit of red wine vinegar (or more lemon juice), and a bit of olive oil. Make a sandwich with a smear of hummus and top it with any leftover meat.

River Cottage Flatbread

To make 8:

- 1 and 2/3 cups all purpose or white pastry flour (plus extra for dusting work surface)
- 1 heaping teaspoon of salt
- 1 Tablespoon olive or sunflower oil
- 2/3 cup warm water

1) Sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl. (Sifting means shaking through a fine-mesh sieve)

2) Add the oil in the measuring cup with the water and pour the liquid into the flour in a thin stream with one hand while using the other hand to stir it.

3) Form the flour and water into a soft ball of slightly sticky dough (you may have to add a little extra flour or water to get the texture right). Rub off any dough that sticks to your hands

4) Sprinkle flour onto a work surface and start kneading the dough by pushing the heel of your hand (where the palm meets the wrist) into the dough to stretch it. Fold it over, give it a quarter of a turn, and then stretch it again. If the dough starts to stick, simply sprinkle it with more flour. Keep kneading for 5 minutes, until the dough feels smooth and plump. Again, the longer and more aggressively you knead, the better the dough.

5) Cover the ball of dough with the upturned mixing bowl and let it rest at least 15 minutes (longer is better but not strictly necessary)

6) When ready, roll the dough into a sausage shape and divide into eight pieces. Flour the work surface again, and with a rolling pin, roll out the dough into a very thin round roughly the size of a small plate.

7) Get a frying pan very hot over a high heat, and then turn the flame down to medium-low.

8) Shake off excess flour from the rolled-out piece of dough and put it in the pan for about 30 seconds to a minute each side, until bubbles form. Roll out each piece of dough individually and cook one at a time.

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