This is a tale of yeast taken to the brink of despair - and rescued; a tale with a happy ending and a nice crunchy crust. This bread's story started last Friday when I planned to make a veggie stew with some little French boules to accompany it. I started the dough at lunchtime because it took a lot of rising, using a small batch recipe so I could make just three rolls. French bread only consists of flour, yeast, salt and water, and I was a bit surprised when the recipe didn't mention warming the water. I thought I wouldn't start meddling at this early stage and believe that it was a special French-bread process, so I added the cold water and left the dough to rise.
During the afternoon I started to think that my stew plan was a bit boringly healthy for a Friday feeling, and began hoping that my dough didn't rise after all. My secret hope was answered when I went to check on it after three hours: it sat in its bowl looking exactly as I had when I put it there, as if to say 'well what did you expect when you didn't give me any nice nurturing warmth to get my yeast going?' I emailed The Scientist to tell him that dinner was foraging, and since he's a boy, and being set loose in the ready meals section of the supermarket is almost always preferable to a low fat stew, he was happy. The dough got wrapped in plastic and stashed in the fridge in the hope that it could be transformed into something that required a little less rising.
The next night I was making a Moroccan stew, and I thought that flatbreads would be a lovely accompaniment. The dough was duly brought out again and left at room temperature before being rolled out thinly. Since it was very plain I added some toppings for extra flavour. On one I spread some garlic relish, in honour of its French origins, and on the other, some cumin seeds, having kneaded some cumin powder into the dough before rolling to fit in with the spicy stew. I baked them at about 220C for about 10 mins or so, with no idea as to whether they would even be edible.
In fact, they were the best flatbreads I've ever made! My previous flatbreads (generally the Nigella seed breads from How to Be a Domestic Goddess) are very nice, but somewhat puffy - more like a naan than a pitta. These ones were flatter and a little crunchier, and so were better (I thought) for scooping couscous and veggies - a foil to the meal if you will, rather than a big bite in their own right. We both liked both the toppings very much. The garlic one was quite sweet as it was more of a jam than a savoury relish, and the cumin taste was assertively present without dominating the dish. After a very inauspicious start, these are now my flatbreads of choice! My one problem is that I don't know whether to try them with warm water, or whether they would lose their character. But in that case, are they really a bread?!
After their miraculous resurrection from the brink of yeast despair I am sending these flatbreads to My Diverse Kitchen, who is hosting Bread Baking Day on the theme of small breads this month.
Little French flatbreads (adapted from Small Batch Baking by Debby Naugans Makos)
The original recipe was for 2 boules; I guestimated the quantities up by half so as to make three, so these quantities are a bit rough
1 cup white bread flour, plus more as needed, and for dusting the work surface
3/4 tsp salt
a very scant 1/2 tsp rapid-rise yeast
olive oil, for greasing the bowl
Place flour, salt and yeast in a food processor and process for three seconds to blend. With the machine running, pour a bit under half a cup of [cold] water through the feed tube. Process until the dough holds together, about 20 seconds. The dough should be a sticky mass, and it should appear difficult to knead by hand. If the dough is too dry, add more water, a tablespoon at a time, processing for five seconds after each addition.
Lightly grease a medium sized mixing bowl with olive oil. Place the dough in the bowl and turn it to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap and let the dough rest. [I don't know if this is at all necessary if using cold water - this was the instruction for the French bread part!]. Roll the dough out thinly and top with any seeds/relishes you fancy. You can also knead flavourings into the dough.
Bake at 220C for 10-12 minutes keeping an eye on it.