By Pat Teti —
Like eggs, beer, wine, and cheese, “bread” refers to a single food category while encompassing endless variety. Part of the variety comes from using different ingredients but altering the proofing, loaf size and shape, and baking conditions can also add great diversity to the finished product. When you are following a recipe and trying to replicate a loaf you see in a photo, this also means that getting the ingredients right is only the beginning. The temperature and duration of the proofing (rise), dough handling and shaping, and oven temperature and humidity also affect the outcome. Those variables that come into play after the ingredients are in the bowl are seldom described in detail in bread recipes. They are best learned through experience but on the bright side, the result of your efforts will almost always be delicious, even if it doesn’t turn out exactly as you had hoped.
The amount of oven rise that a loaf achieves has a large effect on the texture and appearance of bread but a nice puffy loaf is not easy to achieve with breads containing large amounts of whole grain, like the 50 per cent in this recipe. It is much more reliable to make a grainy dough into flatbread. There are all sorts of advantages to flatbread. It doesn’t require an oven, doesn’t have to be sliced, is durable for packing, can be made from any dough recipe, and it’s fast. You can convert dough into delicious flatbread in a few minutes instead of an hour. I chose to write about flatbread because it lets you experiment with high proportions of whole grain without the frustration of low oven rise. It’s meant to be flat, so aim low and achieve your goal!
While flatbread can be made with chemical leavening such as baking soda, or no leavening at all, this recipe uses yeast. Well-proofed yeasted dough is easy to roll out and you have the option to make part of it into loaves and part into flatbread. Like my pizza recipe in the April/May 2014 issue of TheGreenGazette, this one uses a long, slow rise in a “cool Cariboo kitchen.”
This can make 16 to 32 tortilla-sized flatbreads, depending on their thickness. I often divide this into two and make half into loaves and half into flatbreads. You’ll need a heavy duty camping griddle that spans two burners on a range, or at least one large cast iron skillet.
5 cups water in a large bowl
A pinch of instant yeast (less than 1/8 tsp)
2 cups whole wheat or other all-grain flour
2 cups cracked grain such as 7 grain cereal
Cover and let sit at 15 to 18 degrees C for two days. Allow more time if cooler and less if warmer.
After this “pre-ferment” the dough should be bubbly and have a nice fermented aroma.
Mix in the following:
2 cups rolled oats or other rolled grain
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup flax seed
2 tsp turmeric
Cover and return to cool room temperature.
Add 2 tsp salt
Add about 5 cups more all-purpose flour or bread flour a cup at a time, mixing after each cup. Don’t worry about the amount.
When it comes away from the bowl (after mixing in about 3 or 4 cups), turn it out onto a floured surface for kneading. If you use a mixer I’ll leave that up to you because I don’t have any experience with them. I’ve read that it is possible to over-knead with a mixer but not by hand.
Kneading is one of those things that are easier to do than they are to describe. You can find “kneading dough” videos online but I haven’t found any that do it the way I do. Large, grainy batches of dough like this are much harder to knead than small batches made with white flour. In fact, this batch is much too large to knead all at once in a consumer countertop mixer.
My kneading method is to repeatedly push and roll the dough so that it forms a baguette shape. When it gets long and skinny I simply double it back on itself and continue rolling. This makes it much easier to knead because you are not kneading all of it at once. Unlike a stand mixer, this method is slow and quiet. Listen to the radio, music, or your own thoughts. Keep the dough and the work surface dusted with flour to keep it from sticking. One of my favourite tools for a wooden kneading surface is a metal cabinet scraper to scrape up the sticky bits and corral the flour. If you have a concrete or stone surface, a wooden or plastic scraper might be better.
Keep kneading and adding flour until the stickiness is mostly gone. This takes at least 20 minutes for a recipe this size. When done, fold it up into a flat ball dust it with flour and place back in the bowl, which has been generously oiled. Cover and let rise at a suitable temperature.
This can be done overnight at down around 15 C but I generally put the dough in a warm place to speed it up so I can bake it the same day. If you are making just flatbread, there’s no harm done if the dough “over proofs” (that is, rises as much as it’s going to rise and then starts sinking). However, if you are making part of it into loaves, you don’t want it to over proof. I won’t go into how to determine when the dough has risen just the right amount before baking into loaves because this recipe is about flatbread. I use a digital meat thermometer to check dough temperature. If you want it to rise fast, try to get it up to 25–30 degrees C for the final rise.
Grainy dough such as this doesn’t rise as much or as fast as dough from white flour alone but it should rise by a factor of 1.5 to 2, or nearly double its starting volume. The amount of rise isn’t critical for flatbread.
When nearly doubled in bulk, turn out onto a floured surface and divide in two. Place one half back in the oiled bowl. The following instructions apply to the first half.
Preheat the griddle or skillets over medium heat while getting the dough ready.
Gently pull and push the dough into a uniform log and place little marks with a knife for dividing it into four equal parts. Gently shape one of the quarters into a smaller log and divide it into four equal pieces for small or thin flatbreads. If you want thicker breads, divide into two rather than four. Dusting with flour as needed to avoid sticking, press or roll out one piece of dough at a time into the desired thickness and size. Flax seeds help gauge the thickness for thin flatbreads and sunflower seeds could be used in a similar way for thicker flatbreads.
Grill each flatbread on both sides, rotating as needed and flipping once until they look and feel done. It only takes a few minutes. You can use high heat if you’re careful and don’t mind a bit of smoke. If the flatbread was floured well enough to roll out, it won’t stick to a well-seasoned steel griddle or iron skillet.
This bread is quite low in salt. I like to drizzle it with olive oil and sprinkle with a little more salt. You can use it for sandwiches or make it into crackers by cutting it into pieces and drying them in a warm oven. Enjoy!
Pat Teti was a research scientist with the BC government for 18 years and has always enjoyed making things.