Hearth Bread or Flatbread
Whether you call it hearth bread or flatbread, whether you measure by the handful or with measuring spoons, basic bread is one and the same the world over. An ancient art, home bread baking was once practiced in most households. Now, it is lost for many. Step up to the challenge of World Bread Day 2013 or October Unprocessed 2013, and bake your bread from scratch at home. Bread-making tips follow the recipe—I hope they encourage you to take on the challenge and joy of making your own bread.
- 5½ cups unbleached, unbromated all-purpose flour*
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 packet active dry yeast
- 2 cups warm water (110 degrees)
- Drizzle of oil (to grease bowl)
- 2 cups boiling water
- Optional toppings: olive oil, za’atar, black sesame seeds (Nigella sativa seeds), sesame seeds, coarse salt
- Mix flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and create a well in the center. Place sugar and yeast in a small bowl, cover with warm water and let stand for five minutes to activate the yeast. Pour yeast mixture into the well in the bowl with the flour and knead with a wooden spoon or by hand for about 5 minutes until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Dust your board with flour and knead the dough, sprinkling just enough flour on the board as necessary to avoid sticking. Let rest for 5 minutes. In the meantime, scrape off any dough that is stuck on the sides of the mixing bowl, then grease the bowl. Knead dough again for five minutes. Return the dough to the bowl smooth side down, and turn over once so that some of the oil from the bowl gets on the top of the dough. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let rise in warm area until the dough doubles, 1 to 2 hours.
- When risen, punch the dough down with you fist to inflate pockets of air, then take the dough out of the bowl and knead for 2 to 3 minutes. Cut the dough in half and shape into 2 loaves. Alternatively, shape one half of the dough into a loaf and use the rest to make flatbreads.
- To bake hearth bread: Sprinkle a baking sheet with cornmeal or semolina and place the loaf on top. Let dough rise for 45 minutes. Pour 2 cups of boiling water in a roasting pan placed on the bottom rack of a cold oven. Set another rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 500 degrees. Brush the top of the loaf with water and, with a sharp knife, score the top of the loaf, but do not cut through. Transfer dough to baking sheet, place sheet on the middle rack and bake for 15 minutes. Lower the temperature to 400 degrees, and bake for 10 more minutes. Remove from the oven and place on cooling rack. Wait at least 10 minutes before breaking off a bite.
- To bake flatbreads: Shape the dough into 6 even balls and let rise for 20 minutes. Place a baking stone or iron skillet in the cold oven and preheat to 500 degrees. Take out hot stone or skillet and sprinkle with flour or cornmeal. Place dough ball in the center and with wet hands press to stretch, being careful of the hot stone. At this point you may brush with oil and add toppings, if using. Return to oven and bake for 15 minutes. Cool on a rack.
- Bread-making Tips:
- • For accurate measuring, spoon flour into a dry measuring cup and level it off with a knife.
- • You may prepare dough in a stand mixer.
- • It is easier to handle sticky dough with wet or floured hands.
- • To knead dough, place it on the floured board. Using a mental image of a clock on top of dough, fold the dough over from 12 to 6. With the heels of your hands push dough away from you. Turn dough clockwise one-quarter around, from 12 to 3, and repeat folding and pushing motion, rocking your torso forward and backward, like a pendulum, as you knead.
- • You may place dough in the refrigerator for its first rise.
- • The baked loaf is ready if it sounds hollow when you tap on the bottom with your fingers.
- • Traditional in Middle Eastern and Indian baking, the pungent Nigella sativa (ketsah in Hebrew) can be added to the dough or sprinkled on top of the flatbread before baking. Called “the seed of blessing,” it is said to boost the immune system.
- • Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend usually containing hyssop, salt and sesame seeds and sometimes thyme, oregano and/or sumac. It can be found at kosher and ethnic markets in the DC area.
- • The bread may be baked in advance and frozen wrapped in aluminum foil and then plastic wrap or placed in a plastic back with all the air pushed out before sealing. Before serving, defrost at room temperature or remove plastic layer and place covered in aluminum in a 300 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes.
- *Unbleached, unbromated flour results in better texture and taste. In addition, bromates have been banned in many countries including throughout the EU. The US FDA has been advising bakers not to use bromated flour since 1991. Two choices available easily are Bob's Red Mill Organic Unbromated Unbleached White Flour (certified kosher) and King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour.