Pardon the interruption to our regularly scheduled programme with Baking Illustrated—I was recently gifted a “breads of the world” cookbook, Flatbreads and Flavors by an esteemed Calvary member, Greg. The authors describe themselves as “people caught in the grip of wanderlust” (and probably flour dust, I surmise). I’ll be making culinary excursions at the beginning of the week to the Eastern hemisphere so I can bring international loaves to Beer Church for Greg to try.
Today, we go to Kashgar in the Xinjiang Province of China.
But first, I had to go to Menard’s (the most unfortunate name for a home improvement store, there is no good way to pronounce it) to buy unglazed quarry tiles to line my oven with, which, the book says, approximates the conditions of a tandoor oven.
Then, I had to make moral choices regarding yeast selection. Having bonded with my starter, a 50+ year old batch from Denali National Park I nicknamed Flo, to use a dry yeast quick rise packet with her around feels like a betrayal. If I were to cheat on Flo, I’d have to blindfold her or put on loud music while she chilled in the fridge. It just seemed wrong, and there is a way around it. I researched how to convert sourdough starter “units” to dry yeast “units” and it seems there are many, many schools of thought on how do use starter in yeast packet-written recipes.
I picked what seemed like the easiest method. Since I keep my starter at 100% hydration (equal parts flour and water at each feeding), you add all of the water asked for in the recipe to an equal amount of flour and mix in 1-2 tablespoons of starter. Allow this “sponge” to hang out at RT overnight. Then, resume the rest of the recipe the next day, remembering that you already added your water and a matching volume of flour. Several other methods I researched involved measuring substances in grams—I don’t have a scale, and that seemed like a mess and a pain. The 100% hydration sponge pre-ferment worked well, so I’ll stick with this method until I get further educated.I welcome your counsel if you’ve got tips out there!
- 2 teaspoons dry yeast (or my chic sourdough starter switcheroo technique)
- 2 1/2 cups lukewarm water
- 5 to 6 cups unbleached white bread flour
- 1 tablespoon sea or kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped scallions
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1. Do whatever you need to do to get yeast activated or pre-ferment with your starter overnight. Then stir in 3 cups flour (or what’s remaining after pre-ferment) a cup at a time. Stir the dough 100 times in the same direction, about 1 minute, to develop the gluten. Add 2 teaspoons salt, then continue adding flour until the dough is too stiff to stir. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes, adding more flour if necessary to prevent sticking.
2. Clean and lightly oil the bread bowl. Add the dough, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 hours.
3. Position a rack in the lower third of your oven and arrange quarry tiles, if you have them, on the rack, leaving a 1-inch gap between the tiles and the oven walls. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
4. Punch the dough down and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into 6 pieces. Using lightly floured hands, flatten each piece into a 4to 5-inch round. Cover the rounds with a dry cloth. Keeping the remaining pieces covered as you work, roll each dough round out on a lightly floured surface into a 10-inch round. The dough may spring back as you roll; it’s best to work on 2 or 3 dough rounds at a time, alternating between them, to give the gluten time to stretch before you resume rolling. Then cover the large rounds with plastic wrap and let rise for 10 minutes.
5. Working with 2 breads at a time, using a bread stamp or a fork, stamp the center portion of each bread; work from the center out until the dough is thoroughly pricked and flattened, leaving a 1 1/2- to 2-inch rim all around. Sprinkle a scant teaspoon of scallions, a generous pinch of cumin seed and a generous pinch of salt over the center of each bread, then dip your fingers in water and sprinkle the centers of the breads.
6. Slide each round onto a baker’s peel or flour-dusted baking sheet and slide off onto the quarry tiles or preheated baking sheet. Bake until the tops of the breads begin to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool for 5 minutes, then wrap in a cloth to keep soft and warm. Repeat with the remaining dough, scallions, cumin and salt. Serve warm.
YIELD Six large flatbreads
Ooh, this was so tasty, 5 stars!! The shaping was tricky and I wish I had a baker’s peel and a bread stamp with a funky design (birthday countdown T-4 days) because the fork method didn’t work so great on my first two flatbreads. They ballooned up and looked like pocket bread (still tasted great). You have to REALLY stab the center with the fork to keep it from rising. Cumin seeds roasting on quarry tiles make the kitchen smell wonderful. But the best part was having my oven at 500 degrees on a day where the temperature ranged from 0 to -16. Izzy was digging the heat too.