Flatbread that isn’t so flat

One of our favorite bread recipes is Middle Eastern Flatbread. This bread isn’t flat like a pita, but it is flatter than a loaf of sandwich bread. And it tastes absolutely fabulous, warm out of the oven, with a nice saucy pasta or soup. We sometimes split small loaves horizontally and make sandwiches or panini with them. They are also good sliced and toasted, with butter and jam. Can you tell we like this bread?

This is truly an easy and fast recipe – I can start it at 5:00 and have fresh bread for dinner. Of course, we eat late because of our schedules, but my point is you can have fresh bread in a little more than an hour. And it rivals any bakery bread, hands down.

The original recipe is from Bernard Clayton’s “New Complete Book of Breads.” This was one of my better purchases – $11 for the hardback at an outlet mall because it had a stain along the edge of the pages. Of course, that was almost 20 years ago, so I have gotten my money’s worth out of it! I have tinkered with the recipe just a bit, and simplified the directions, but it all started with Bernard Clayton.

I find that I use almost two cups more flour than the original recipe calls for. The more I think about it, I use more flour than Bernard Clayton calls for in almost all of his recipes. Either he plans on using a lot of flour for kneading, and lets “approximately” cover it, or he measures his flour differently than I do. Check out A Word on Measuring Flour for the sprinkle and sweep method I use. It is always a good idea to check out the introductory notes in a cookbook to see how the author measures the flour, but they don’t always tell you. Anyway, you can benefit from my trial and error with this recipe and hopefully will get good results.

As always, I have made this into a whole wheat recipe. I am always touting white whole wheat flour, and I make no promises to stop. It really is a great way to get whole grains into your diet. If you haven’t already, buy a bag and see how you like it. If you absolutely can’t stand the thought, you can always make this with all-purpose flour, as originally written.

The original recipe calls for either butter or olive oil. And this is one case where I don’t think butter makes it better. It makes good bread, but the texture and flavor really are better with olive oil. Now butter on the finished bread is another story…

Middle Eastern Flatbread
adapted by The Cook’s Life
from “New Complete Book of Breads” by Bernard Clayton
makes 3-10 small loaves

3 cups white whole wheat flour*
1 package active dry yeast (2 ¼ teaspoons)
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups very warm water
3-4 cups all-purpose flour, approximately

Seed topping:
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water (optional)
Sesame or poppy seeds (optional)**

Place 3 cups of white whole wheat flour in a large mixing bowl. Add yeast, salt and sugar and stir to combine. Add olive oil and water and mix vigorously until well combined. Let dough rest for 5-10 minutes. Whole grains are slower to absorb moisture than white flours, so this will give the whole wheat the time it needs. The rest will help you avoid adding too much flour and ending up with dry, heavy bread. After the rest, start adding the all-purpose flour gradually, until a soft ball of dough forms. Be sure to add enough flour that the dough is not too sticky to knead.

Heavily flour your kneading surface. Scrape dough from bowl to floured surface. Sprinkle dough with flour and begin kneading, gently at first: pull the far side of dough toward you and fold over, pressing it away from you with the heels of your hands. Turn dough a quarter turn and repeat. When dough is less sticky, you can be less gentle. At first, scrape your kneading surface with a rubber spatula if dough sticks. Add flour as necessary to the dough and your hands to prevent sticking. Knead 6-8 minutes, or until dough is smooth and elastic.

Grease a large bowl. Place dough in bowl and turn over to coat top with oil. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and set aside to rise until doubled – about 30 minutes.

When dough has doubled, turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut into 3-10 pieces, depending on size desired. Ten pieces make small loaves, perfect for making sandwiches.

Grease a large baking sheet, or line with parchment paper. Place dough pieces on baking sheet, leaving space between them. Flour hands and flatten dough pieces as much as possible, to around an inch thick. It is fine if they touch at the edges, or you can use two baking sheets.

Flour the handle of a wooden spoon and press holes in tops of loaves, to make dimples that cover the surface. You can also press the handle of the spoon, or the side of your hand, in lengthwise, to make furrows instead of dimples. Cover loosely with waxed paper or parchment and leave to rise for 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees while bread is rising. After 20 minutes, loaves will be puffy, but not necessarily doubled. Gently redefine dimples or furrows.

It is hard to tell, but these are risen and ready for the oven. They are definitely puffier than they were right after shaping.

If using seed topping, brush dough gently with beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds. Bake 10-20 minutes depending on size. When they are done, loaves will be golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Cool on racks or serve warm. These freeze well.

*You can use all-purpose flour instead of white whole wheat, if you prefer. You can then skip the rest after adding the first 3 cups of flour.

**Toasting your seeds gives them a nuttier flavor. Use a small, ungreased skillet, over low to medium heat, and toast the seeds for about 10 minutes, or until they smell nutty. Watch the seeds and stir them often to avoid scorching them. Let them cool before using them on top of the dough.

Download the recipe here.

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