I’ve always had dreams of making my own freshly-baked bread. My mom once got a bread maker as a gift, which was fun to play with a couple times, but that’s just not the same as a hand-shaped loaf that conjures up visions of little Parisian boulangeries. But bread making just seems so daunting. Yeast, kneading, regulating temperature…it all sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, given my penchant for just throwing ingredients together in a pan. Plus, I read 52 Loaves by William Alexander, and it pretty much confirmed my belief that bread making is effin’ hard work. (Incidentally, his book The $64 Tomato is also awesome and worth a read if you’re like me and harbor hope that if you just get the right stuff, you could possibly actually grow food plants instead of killing them.)
So, when I came across this Herbed Flatbread recipe in Martha Stewart, I got pretty excited—it seemed actually do-able even for a yeast-fearing bread dummy like me. There’s a photo here, so you can safely assume that I did manage to produce results.
Overall, it was fairly simple, and in all likelihood, I’d attempt this again. But, a few key things I wish I’d known:
Yeast. I was scared of using it because I’d read all sorts of things about how persnickety it can be, and thank you very much, but I think I should be the only high-maintenance entity in my kitchen. (Plus, it kind of creeps me out that it’s basically a bunch of dust with germs crawling around in it. Also, it looks like termite poop. Gross.)
My fears were partly well-founded because it took me three tries to prepare the yeast. I dumped out the first batch because I didn’t follow the instructions, and instead of sprinkling the yeast over warm water, I just plopped it in, resulting in this icky semi-solid blob of yeast.
Take two: I sprinkled properly this time, but the recipe instructions said that there would be some foaming action. I watched carefully, expecting beer suds, but nothing happened. It just looked cloudy and gross. I assigned Shake to scour the internet for images of “yeast foam.” Nothing looked like the bowl of water I had. Crap. Maybe the little yeastie bugs were dead?
Take three: This time, I actually took the temperature of the water to get it precisely to the 110° temp called for. And I used a new packet of yeast. Still looked the same. I decided, “Screw it,” and went ahead with using my suspect bowl of yeast water.
The instructions in the Martha Stewart recipe ask for waaaay less yeast but the same amount of water that the package instructions call for, so maybe that was the problem, and no one would ever get the foamy action the recipe implies will occur. At any rate, the non-foamy yeast water seemed to do the trick, as the dough did rise up just like the recipe said it would.
The other thing I wish I’d known was how important it is to roll the pieces out super, super thin and be patient about the baking. I’d misjudged my time planning, so I was rushing the whole process to get the flatbread on the table with the roast chicken I’d planned for the night’s meal. I rolled out the dough hastily, so some pieces were a good deal thicker than they should have been and came out much less cracker-y than I wanted, especially since I took them out of the oven as soon as they started turning golden. I recommend you be more patient than I and let them bake ‘til they’re a darker shade and more crispy. We both enjoyed the thinner, just-before-burnt pieces much more than the thicker ones. Shake pointed out that the thicker pieces would be good for making flatbread pizzas, though, which is an experiment for another day!
The flatbread wasn’t all that interesting to photograph, so here are some shots of the roast chicken that made up the rest of the meal (I ditched the salad and compelled us into a veggie-less night because I was just too tired to put together the Caesar salad I had planned to serve):
Oh, one more bit of bread advice to share: don’t dump your suspected-dead yeast water down the kitchen sink. I’m not sure if this was pure coincidence or what, but about a week after my flatbread making experiment, our kitchen sink clogged up. Internet research (what did we do without it?!) revealed that yeast and drains are not compatible (despite some urban myths suggesting that dropping yeast down a drain will clean it out). I did, however, find several sites suggesting that I pour ½ cup baking soda, followed by ½ cup of vinegar down the drain, wait a while and then chase that with a kettle of boiling water. Whaddaya know, it worked! Will be clearing my drain with this method every six months to keep the crud away.
Have you had any bread-making experiences and advice to share?
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