Monday, April 23, 2012

Flatbreads

I bake from time to time. It's a lot of fun, and the bread tastes much better than supermarket bread. It doesn't take a lot of skill, money or equipment. All you need is some kind of oven, the ability to follow instructions and a fair bit of time.

Details really matter for the results when baking so it's a good idea to be precise with your measurements, temperatures and times. That way, when the bread doesn't turn out the way you wanted it, you can tweak the recipe and try again. Every oven is different, for instance, so you want to keep the ingredients and times the same while you figure out the best temperature settings for your oven.

I give all amounts below by weight; it's a lot more precise than volume measurements, and if you have a good scale it's actually easier and less messy than dealing with a pile of measuring cups, spoons and other utensils. You put a bowl on the scale and add the ingredients one by one, resetting the scale as you go. Quick, simple and no extra dishes afterwards.

Bread
Wheat flatbreads cooling off.

These flatbreads are inspired by Scottish baps and make for a very good breakfast bread, or for take-along sandwiches. They're soft and light, but stay pliable and doesn't crumble easily. We keep a pile of them in the freezer and take out a couple each night for us to eat the next morning. Slice them lengthwise with cheese and ham in the center. For a meatier sandwich add tomato slices and lettuce; a thick chunk of liver pate or meatballs cut in half; or perhaps sliced egg and mayonnaise. If you make them a bit thicker they make good hamburger buns too.

Flatbreads, 12

530g Flour
8g Dry yeast
14g Salt
50g Butter
130g Milk (+ a bit for brushing the breads)
200g Water

Heat milk and water to about 36°-40° (slightly warm to your — freshly washed — finger). Mix flour, yeast and salt. Semi-melt the butter and work it in with your fingers; the flour will become slightly grainy, like when you make a pie dough. Add the liquid and work the dough for about ten minutes until it's nicely bouncy.

Let the dough rise for 45 minutes, then stretch and fold it a few times so it gets a little stiff and rubbery. Leave it again and let rise to about double size; it takes another half an hour to an hour, depending on the temperature.

Cut into 12 pieces (76 grams per piece)1, shape them into round buns and let them rest for 15-20 minutes under a cloth. Use a rolling pin to roll each bun into a thin flatbread, about 8-10cm diameter, and place on a baking tin. Brush each flatbread with milk, then powder them with flour2. Let them rise for 30 minutes while you heat the oven.

Bake in about 230° for 15 minutes or until they start to darken just a little bit. Pile them up, wrap them in a cloth and let them rest until they've cooled; this gives them a soft, pliable crust. Eat them within a few days, or you can freeze them for weeks or more as long as you keep them in an airtight bag.

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#1 Really, get a decent scale if you can. Electronic ones are good, cheap and really useful for all kinds of food, not just for baking.

#2 The easiest way is to put some flour into a tea strainer and shake it over the breads.

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