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3 Flatbreads to Hook You on Bread Baking for Life
Daniel Meyer (one of our crew, a voracious home cook, fledgling charcuterie-maker, former restaurant critic) texted me on Wednesday morning: “I made flour tortillas the other night—they were SO flaky and good, and not only made me remember how incredible and easy they are to do at home, but that we should write about flatbreads.” So, here we go...
It was quesadilla night. Not because that’s a thing in my house, but because I had an anxiety-provoking hodgepodge of leftovers and vegetable scraps I wanted to make disappear, and nothing dispatches fridge interlopers quite so effectively as a blanket of melted cheese. There was discolored endive (caramelized that), a half-eaten bell pepper (roasted it on the burner), wilted dressed salad (picked out the tomatoes and red onions and cooked them down into a thick sauce with some garlic, frozen chipotle, and water; I’m still grappling with the soggy lettuce), and, of course, the last gasp of Thanksgiving turkey (which I crisped in a skillet with a little cumin and stirred into the sauce). Yeah, and cheese.
Those big flour tortillas you get at the supermarket (the kind you’d roll burritos in) would have been the right size for my hulking quesadillas, but are too flimsy when there’s this much filling in play. Besides, in my hierarchy of what makes for a satisfying home-cooked dinner, not having to make any special trips to the store is second only to taste. So instead of putting on shoes and walking two blocks to the supermarket, I dumped some flour in a bowl and started making tortillas, a mental hurdle that for some inexplicable reason was easier for me to clear.
The process: You add some water and oil to the flour to form a dough, knead it a bit, rest it a bit, roll them thin and cook in a hot dry skillet. Sure, it takes a little time (scroll down for the recipe), but it never feels particularly onerous or high-stakes, and the pleasure of standing over your counter and tearing into a steaming, faintly chewy, freshly griddled tortilla is what home cooking was made for. (Plus, if you quesadilla-ify them, as I did, or find some other plausible excuse to crisp your tortillas in fat, they become these flaky dreamboats that really put the store-bought versions to shame.)
Homemade flatbreads are like that, a habit-forming combination of doable and remarkable. In addition to tortillas, I’ve included recipes for the two other flatbreads that I probably bake the most: one is pita (chewy, puffy, ubiquitous, and insanely good right out of the oven); the other is a long, ridged Persian flatbread, called barbari, that’s rubbed with a cooked flour paste before baking, which creates this stunning golden crust. For those of you who don’t bake bread, these recipes (all from How to Bake Everything) are a solid place to start; for those of you who already do, consider them a friendly reminder that filling your house with the smell of fresh bread might be an entirely appropriate use of a few hours on an almost-winter weekend.
Either way, thanks for humoring my (not) hostile takeover of the newsletter; the power is really intoxicating and I can’t wait to do it again. In the meantime, have a wonderful weekend, bake some bread, and we’ll see you on Tuesday.
Flour tortillas...turned into quesadillas...eaten for lunch by Daniel's wife...at her desk. Photo: Fallon Parker
There are plenty of halfway decent flour tortillas available at supermarkets these days, but eating a freshly rolled one right out of the skillet is a pleasure reserved for the home cook. Nothing about the process is difficult. You don’t even need a tortilla press, although if you have one, here’s a chance to use it; if you want to make big ones, a rolling pin is the way to go.
You can buy pita everywhere, although most are disappointingly tough and more “flat” than “bread.” It’s hard to find the real thing: the chewy, slightly puffed rounds that are ubiquitous in the eastern Mediterranean. Both a baking stone and a baking sheet will work, but you can also try dry-baking them in a hot skillet on the stovetop—a fun variation that gives the bread more of a golden crust.
In Iran, these long, oval loaves with their trademark ridges, called barbari, are often served with a soft cheese similar to feta (hummus, baba ghanoush and the like are also fair game for dipping). What makes this bread so good is that it’s rubbed by hand (very satisfying, I must say) with a cooked paste of flour, oil, and water before baking, which produces a beautiful golden crust.
Talk To Me, Goose!
Questions, comments, brilliant suggestions? Just want to share the recipe for your grandma's potato salad, or your mom's meatloaf, or your uncle Drew's three-day 100-percent rye loaf (yes, please)? Don't hesitate to reach out anytime.