Flatbread! I’m a big fan of bread in general, but one of my favorite of its manifestations by far is flatbread. Why? Well, for one, it’s a great vehicle for both wrapping and dipping, which are my two favorite ways to eat food. Beyond that, there’s also just a homey, rustic, down-to-earth joy in eating bread in one of its simplest and ancient of forms. Anyone who knows their world cuisines will know that flatbread is a pretty common element in pretty much all of them: pitas, tortillas, won-tons, injera, matzo… the list goes on and on, and most are as diverse and unique as the cultures who invented them. It is just a great food that speaks to the heart of our humanity and cultural history. Today I want talk about how to make some.
This approach is for a general pita or naan style flatbread; soft, wheat-based and usually leavened, relatively thick (compared to a tortilla) and often round in shape. In some form or other it’s a pretty important staple of India and the Middle East (or at least it’s one of my favorite things to eat at restaurants from those places) and it’s freaking delicious. If you’ve never had fresh pita or tandoori-cooked naan, you need to go try some before you make this recipe so you know what you’re shooting for. The bland big-brand pita that sits on supermarket shelves is nothing compared to hot, fresh flatbread from an oven near you.
But wait! There’s more! Over the course of my illustrious career as a home baker, I’ve learned a few different ways to make flatbread, all of which have their pros and cons. Let’s talk about them:
1. Oven – this is probably the best all-around way to make flatbread. The key is to use a ridiculously hot oven and a baking stone; the faster the bread cooks the better it is. If you’ve had naan from a good Indian restaurant, you’ll know what I mean: the outside is brown or almost charred in spots, but the inside is soft and chewy. If you make pita in the oven, you have a pretty good chance it’ll puff up and make the center “pocket” that many of us like so much.
2. Pan/griddle – I like this method because it’s quick and easy. No waiting for a stone to heat up, no danger of losing my hand in a hot oven, just toss the bread on a pan like a pancake and flip it when it bubbles. I find that this actually makes a softer, chewier bread than the oven, but they also tend to not keep as well.
3. Grill – this is more of a stylistic choice than anything, but it is fantastic. It combines the ease of the griddle method with the rustic char of the oven, and it’s pretty delicious if you do it right. If you want, you can also use your baking stone straight on the grill if you’re comfortable doing so; since grills can get hotter than ovens the results can be even awesome-r than before.
This is my standard all-around flatbread recipe, but something that’s awesome to realize is that you can use pretty much any dough as a flatbread dough. Try rolling out your favorite loaf into the rounds for these techniques, and you’ll be surprised by the new character they get.
3 cups bread flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 tsp yeast
1 cup water, give or take
1 tb olive oil
1 tsp salt
Optional: ground cumin, garlic powder, or other flavors according to the meal you’re making
Mix and knead your dough like you would a pizza dough or similar. If you need tips for the technique, check out the post on kneading dough. Mix the yeast into the liquids, then add the salt then the flour gradually until the dough comes together and is kneadable without making a huge mess (but not too dry or stiff).
Knead on a lightly floured counter until the dough is smooth and springy. Tuck into a tight ball and let rise in a covered, greased bowl until doubled in size. If you’re baking in an oven, at some point you should preheat your oven (baking stone inside) to as high as it goes (500°F or so).
Divide into portions. You can get 6-8 rounds out of this batch, depending how big/thick you want them. Form the portions into balls and set aside on a floured counter, covered loosely with a towel or plastic bag.
Take each round and roll or pat it out into an even disc. The roller makes it more even and regular, and hand-forming gives a more rustic look and feel. Make it then, but no less than 1/3 of an inch or so. You don’t want it to be so thin that parts of it bake through like a cracker, and a slightly thicker round is more likely to “pocket” in the oven.
Time to Bake: If you’re using an oven, place one of your breads on a pizza peel and slide it into the oven. If you don’t have a peel or anything similar, you can delicately toss or drop the breads onto the stone, but it takes a little practice.
Bake for 3-5 minutes each, until the dough is bubbly/puffed up and browned in spots. Remove from the oven and wrap in a lightly damp towel to soften and keep warm.
On the pan: heat a griddle or cast iron pan to medium-high heat. Oil it lightly and drop a bread onto the surface. Once it bubbles and browns somewhat on the bottom, flip it over and cook the other side. Toss them in a towel when finished, just like the oven version.
Grilling: lay your dough on the cooking grate of your grill. I tend to not put it directly over the coals, because I forget to check it and it burns, but if you’re quick you can probably make it work. Same as with the pan, flip it once the top side bubbles and cook the other side until browned somewhat. If you want, you can rotate the bread 90 degrees when it’s halfway through cooking on each side, to get a nice grid of grill marks.
Regardless of how you make it, enjoy your flatbread! I love having some of it around for hummus or wraps, or even as the base for a grilled pizza or something (maybe that’ll be a future post). and it’s always neat to experiment with new flavors and doughs in this format. What’s your favorite way to cook it?
Till next time, foodies!