Hi, guys. When it comes to cooking there isn’t much that’s more basic and important than bread. This is where we want to start our cooking adventure. We’ll be baking bread this whole month and writing about the different processes involved, the techniques, the misadventures, and of course, the deliciousness. Here goes nothing!
So, let’s talk about flatbread first. Anthropologists, archaeologists and historians all agree that flatbread was the first stroke of baking genius we humans had. Ground grain, mixed with water and cooked in hot embers or on hot stones – that’s what it took to transform the human eating experience and start us on a culinary journey that’s been going on for at least 6000 years. Every culture has some sort of flatbread; what’s even more astounding, many of these flatbreads have survived into our modern world, and are still staple foods today! Imagine that! Ok, ok, I know what you might be thinking (while rolling your eyes) – enough with the geeky stuff, this is boring, yada-yada-yada. But I really don’t think it is. What I’d rather think is, that every time I eat a bite of one of these breads, I’m eating the same thing my great-great-great-great relatives were eating…thousands of years ago. Now tell me that’s not cool! Why bother going to the museum? You can literally cook history.
This whole month on the blog we’ll be cooking history. Bread history to be precise. Grains, batters, sourdoughs, starters. We’ll be experimenting with all these! It’s exciting – our inner nerdiness will probably turn you off at some point. But now after we’ve warned you, let us proceed. We are starting with thousand-year old recipes for flatbread. Today we’ll be making a stop at the Caucasus where a flatbread, called Lavash, is widely popular.
Although Lavash is a staple in the whole of the Caucasus, it is believed, due to linguistic evidence, that it was first prepared in Armenia. From there it spread into Iran, Turkey and Lebanon, where it is known as an Armenian bread. Its name is derived from Proto-Armenian and literally means ‘flat and thin’.
So let’s start baking. Below are the things you’ll need. Oh, and we forgot the water, but hey, it’s our first recipe post, we were bound to mess something up. Just add 250ml of water to the ingredients and you’re ready to go.
The recipe is very simple – sift the flour and salt together and add the water. Start kneading until you have a nice, elastic dough. It takes around 10-15 minutes. It helps if you have a sous chef with big muscles!
Rest the dough for 30 minutes. The reason for resting it is to ensure that the gluten has enough time to relax and rearrange itself after the kneading. Gluten contracts when a dough is handled and we need to rest it afterward, in order to be able to roll it out. If the 30 minutes don’t do it, and it starts shrinking when you’re rolling it out, just give it some more time.
Traditionally, Lavash is rolled out to an elliptic shape. However, we are not very proficient with the rolling pin, as you can see. Our breads tended to be freestyle-shaped!
As to the baking, in the Caucasus, the traditional way of baking a Lavash is slapping it on the wall of a clay oven. Since we don’t have one available to us, we had to make do with the good ol’ electric one 😉 We fired it up to 250°C/480°F and put the rolled out piece of bread on a non-stick baking tray. Flatbreads are baked in extremely high temperature, so they can be leavened by the steam vaporizing and puffing up small air-pockets in the dough. It takes a very short time to bake a flatbread. The Lavash was done in 5 minutes. If any of you guys have, by any chance, a clay oven at your disposal, don’t leave the bread in there for more than 2 minutes, it gets really really hot in there 😉 . We discovered that the longer you leave it in the oven, the harder it will get afterwards. But you can still eat it – it tastes like very plain, simple crackers. So test it out to find out which version is your favorite!
For a touch of decadence, slather the flatbreads with butter after you take them out of the oven. Put them in a plastic bag to keep them soft. They will eventually dry out but they keep for a long time. You can make them soft and edible again by sprinkling them with water.
Flatbread – Lavash
- 500g all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 250ml water
- Sift the flour and add the salt.
- Add the water and start kneading. Knead until you have a nice, smooth, elastic dough.
- Let the dough rest for 30 min.
- Preheat oven to 250°C.
- Cut the dough into billiard ball-sized chunks.
- Start rolling out to a 2-3 millimeters thickness.
- Put on a non-stick baking tray and bake for 5-8 minutes. Don’t use baking paper or oil.
- Take them out and smear with butter. Put the flatbreads in a plastic bag and seal tightly.