Baking bread, to me, elevates cooking from an assembly of ingredients to a process nearing alchemy, a skill meant only for those who dare to meet the challenge. My first attempt at baking bread resulted in a bland, if pretty, loaf that promptly met the trashcan. I’m proud to report that my second attempt was the star appetizer at our seafood paella cook-out last weekend. Bravo for second chances!
I’m still not exactly sure what happened. But it all started with this recipe by Mark Bittman for grilled flatbread. Flatbread is perfect for everything from artisanal pizzas to crackers for hummus to dipping in sweet olive oil laced with kosher salt. To make flatbread at home requires only flour, water, salt, sugar and instant yeast. Simple, yes?
Not so fast. For whatever reason, none of the stores in my two-mile shopping radius stock instant yeast, so I tucked a packet of active dry yeast into my basket and assumed I could make a conversion of some nature with the same results. While it’s true that the end result was, indeed, flatbread, my version took an 18-hour rise instead of the hour rise Bittman suggests one would have with instant yeast.
There were moments when I was convinced the dough wouldn’t rise; I set a measuring cup aside the covered bowl to measure the dough’s progress. But at the eleventh hour the yeast proved it could do its job. As I plopped the dough onto a floured surface, peeling away the sticky mess with more flour, I hesitated. I had more pressing culinary tasks to attend to, including pureeing tomatoes for Mr. Gonzo’s paella and making homemade ice cream for our guests. But I surged ahead, dividing the dough into eight small balls that I thumped and thwacked into thin, ameba shaped flatbreads. With Mr. Gonzo’s grill hot and ready for the paella pan, I had just minutes to grill my bread before he reclaimed the surface for himself. But seconds was all it took until we had lovely grilled flatbread.
And it was delicious: chewy and savory, a perfect delivery system for a simple dipping sauce of olive oil and salt. To try it yourself, follow Bittman’s recipe, which is what I plan to do next time, because there will be a next time. After all, alchemy is a process not unlike cooking and once you’ve discovered the secret, you’re hooked.
Gluten-free update: Consider using this gluten-free flatbread recipe for flatbread.