Poster: Hank @ Thu Apr 09, 2009 2:19 am
There's a simmering icy volatility deep in the reality crevice tonight. I can feel the parasite crows pecking away at the chinks in my spiritual armor. When I start to feel like that, I know that there's only two things that can help me : a stiff dose of The Book of Joel, and some delicious and effortless flatbread.
Flatbread as we understand here it has a lot in common with pizza, but is less formal and not subject to the strict pizza rules. This is like the distinction between a Reuben and a standard sandwich -- one is a highly Platonic construct that borders on religion, and the other is a broad category of expedient chow. It's impossible to mess up a flatbread -- it's like fingerpainting with dough and toppings.
This flatbread, which I call the Collegiate, is one of my favorites for late-night wolf action and subsequent lunch noshing. I start, as always, with a modified version of Jeff Varasano's dough recipe, some of which I keep started in my fridge most always. Ideally, you want this stuff to sit in the fridge overnight and be ready to go when you make the bread, but I've also made this work with just a couple hours' autolyse and rise time. Note that the modified Varsano dough is very, very wet; this is because I like this flatbread to be crazily-formed, fairly dense, and yet with structure. Experiment with your own ratios of flour to water if so inclined.
Step 1 : the modified Varasano dough :
1 cup warm filtered water
1 cup organic whole wheat flour
1 cup organic unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon yeast
Step 2 : the toppings :
Freshly grated Romano cheese -- don't skimp
-Note on cheese and poisons : I always get organic cheese if buying American, but make exceptions for Italian and someother European cheeses. Dairy farming standards are a lot different over there, and I'm more confident in the wholesomeness of the 'normal' cheeses from those countries. Also, I've never seen an organic authentic Romano. Just consume it, like all cheese, in wise moderation
3 cloves fresh organic garlic, sliced
Organic extra-virgin olive oil
^^ these are the basics, but you can pretty much put anything on a flatbread. I like to chop some pistachios and put them on there, for example, or sliced green olives or any vegetable
Combine the water and yeast in glass bowl; stir until yeast is dissolved. Add flour in half-cup increments and mix with fork as you add. Add salt and mix until mass is thoroughly wet, soggy, and shaggy. Let sit out for at least 20 minutes -- I usually let it go for up to an hour, until it starts to rise a bit. This is the autolyse period, when the structure of the dough begins.
Lightly grease the inside of a small glass bowl with olive oil.
Turn dough out onto flat, floured surface and knead for a bit, turning the dough over and in on itself and squashing it down with the ball of your hands. Keep the surface and your hands floured to avoid sticking. During this stage, I usually end up letting about a quarter-cup or so of flour get soaked into the very hydrous dough mass as I knead. Knead for a minute or two -- the more you knead, the more structure your dough will have when done; however, this isn't pizza dough, so don't worry about achieving Varasano's 'windowpane' effect. Since this is lazy flatbread, I usually knock it off after about a Ramones song length. Of course, if you have a strong stand mixer, by all means use that instead.
When kneading is complete, form the "gluten cloak" on the dough ball (stretching its surface over itself and pinching in back) and set it seam-down in the greased glass bowl. If leaving overnight, cover and place in fridge; if just letting rise for a few hours, leave out on counter.
When dough has sufficiently risen (about doubled in volume), fire up your oven to 500 Farenheit degrees or as high as it'll go. You want to start heating up your baking stone about an hour in advance to get the best crust result from an electric oven.
Get your Romano grated, your garlic sliced, and your olive oil ready to pour. Stage everything so you can get to it real quick. Lightly flour your pizza paddle with rice flour to prevent sticking (rice flour is what you want to use for this, it's the move). Here comes the hard part.
Get the dough out of the bowl by flopping it out onto your hand, then start working it into a vague disc shape, taking care not to pop the 'bubbles' in the dough. Handle it gently; no need to throw the thing at the ceiling fan, but do kind of rotate it on your hands. When more or less flat, set it on the pizza paddle and push it into final shape with your fingers as quickly as possible. Remember : every second it sits on that paddle is another second for moisture to soak through and make the dough stick. i like my flatbread to be wildly shaped, with a modest roll to the crust perimeter.
NOTE : if you don't have a pizza paddle and stone, build directly on the baking pan you'll use to cook the bread on.
When shaped, apply the olive oil to the dough so that you have a thin coating over the surface with a few small pools for Italian charm. Then, quickly distribute the garlic slices across the dough, followed by the grated Romano and any other toppings. Again, speed is key, and it's OK if it looks a little sloppy.
Get that thing into the oven pronto! If you've done it right, it should transfer to the stone with little or no sticking and start a-cookin' Cook for not more than 7 minutes (if your over is 500 degrees). When done, cheese will have browned somewhat and crust will have taken on a light-brown coloring and feel hollow when tapped.
When done, take out of the oven, let sit for a minute or two, then slice and scarf! Generally, one of these will make a 14" flatbread and feed two very well.
All this sounds more involved than it is. Since time does most of the dough work (just like the New York Hassle-Free Bread), it's really just an assembly process once the cheese is grated.
This flatbread is great dipped in soups (thick like broccoli-leek or thin like minestrone) and is the perfect platform for any ingredients / toppings you feel like adding. The fiber from the whole wheat flour and the olive oil kind of counteract some of its carb-bomb attributes. It's an all-occasion staple in the Hank house.
Stay tuned for more tasty, poison-free organic bread recipes! Just don't tell Dr. Roe, OK?