These easy summer flatbreads can be made in no time - and with no oven
My oven is getting dusty. It's only reasonable, of course, that I am reluctant to turn it on in the summer, when all it does is add 20 degrees to the inside temperature, causing my old air conditioner to work that much harder. Besides, who needs a casserole or a cake between, say, May and September, when just-picked tomatoes and ice cream are on the menu?
Fresh bread, however, is a year-round necessity, as far as I'm concerned. When there's a nip in the air, I love to churn out crusty loaves of rye, fill sheet pans with dimpled focaccia drizzled in olive oil, and knead mashed sweet potatoes into my Thanksgiving dinner roll dough. But once the combination of heat and humidity results in Code Orange days, my oven goes on hiatus, and I turn to the griddle, or even the barbecue, to make breads that won't turn the kitchen into, well, an oven.
My introduction to a homemade stovetop bread was none other than the humble English muffin. I'll admit that I had no idea how it was made until I was visiting family in California many years ago and saw my sister-in-law making some for breakfast on a griddle. Coming from Florida, where my home bread-making was limited to a couple of cooler months a year, it was a revelation to me that there was another way to get my fill.
Just like the commercial variety, those English muffins had a golden brown exterior and all the requisite nooks and crannies on the inside, but their yeasty scent was as intoxicating as anything baked. Once I started making them myself, the store-bought variety just couldn't compare, and they inspired my foray into the wider world of stovetop breads.
Every culture has some kind of a flatbread that can be baked without an oven. For those looking for gluten-free options, there's a Punjabi tortilla-like version, makki ki roti, made with fine cornmeal and studded with cilantro and carom seeds. Germany's flammkuchen is a pizza-like flatbread that takes well to the barbecue to provide its traditional slightly burnt crust before being topped with creme fraiche, bacon and onions. I've been more than a little intrigued by Palestinian taboon, a flatbread baked on hot stones, since recently seeing "The Great British Baking Show" contestant Brendan Lynch utilize the decorative river rocks found in craft stores to replicate the time-honored cooking method.
The advantage to the wide array of quick-cooking flatbreads that can be made without turning on the oven is that they pair well with summer vegetables, fresh dips or soft cheese packed with herbs, and as a base for grilled pizzas or avocado toast. They taste best when eaten fresh, but can also be stored for a few days and refreshed in a toaster oven or even the microwave. Some, like a fast, yeast-free naan, can be made in well under an hour, and a puffy, beer-based flatbread takes only slightly longer and cries out to be slathered with mustard and topped with slices of grilled sausage and onions.
In the same way that any muffin batter can be quickly changed up with, say, blueberries or walnuts or pumpkin puree, flatbread dough - often just a combination of flour, a leavening agent such as yeast or baking soda, salt and water - takes well to mix-ins such as fresh herbs and spices, hot peppers and olives. Brush the griddled tops with olive oil and then sprinkle with za'atar, sumac or nigella seeds. Roll the dough into larger rounds, layer half with cheese, roasted garlic or sun-dried tomatoes, and then fold over and seal the edges before griddling to add even more depth of flavor.
But it's the simplest treatment that is sometimes the best of all. At Supra, a Georgian restaurant in Washington, chef Malkhaz Maisashvili briskly rolls out rounds of a basic four-ingredient dough that is then shaped like a canoe and slapped against the walls of a cylindrical clay oven called a tone. Brushing the exterior of the shaped bread, called shoti, with salted water helps the dough stick to the clay surface but also adds a pleasingly salty crunchiness.
Although cooking bread in the tone adds a distinctive flavor that can't be exactly replicated on a stovetop, the basic dough still lends itself to being griddled - a floury salt-flecked crust surrounding a fluffy interior that pairs perfectly with smoked cheese and a pile of pickled vegetables. Its baton-like shape calls to mind a French baguette, the supporting character of most summer picnic baskets, but which is often, sadly, a chewy breadstick that's been languishing at the neighborhood grocery store and has lost its joie de vivre. It only takes a little more planning to make fresh bread the star of your next picnic.
Good friends, cold wine and fresh bread. Really - what more could you need on a sultry summer night?
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Whole-Wheat English Muffins
Once you've had freshly made English muffins, it's hard to go back to the store-bought variety.
The original recipe from King Arthur Flour typically calls for bread flour, but all-purpose flour works quite well here, and the addition of whole-wheat flour gives them a pleasing heartiness. With a yield of 16 muffins, you can easily freeze half the batch for future breakfasts.
An instant-read thermometer is helpful here for checking doneness. This recipe works well with a stovetop griddle, but you can also use a cast-iron or electric skillet. If you don't have a stand mixer or simply want to knead the dough by hand, see the VARIATION, below.
MAKE AHEAD: The dough needs to rest twice, for 1 to 2 hours and then for 20 minutes. The muffins can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days, refrigerated for 1 week, or frozen for up to 2 months.
Adapted from a King Arthur Flour recipe.
1 3/4 cups lukewarm milk (dairy or nondairy)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature (dairy or nondairy)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten (may use an equivalent vegan egg substitute)
3 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 packet)
Semolina, for sprinkling
Combine the milk, butter, salt, sugar, egg, flours and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on low speed just until blended, then increase the speed to medium-high and beat for 5 minutes, until a dough forms that has started to pull away from the sides of the bowl. The dough should be quite stretchy, soft and shiny.
Scrape the dough into a ball inside the bowl and cover. Let rest in a warm place to rise for 1 to 2 hours, until it's nice and puffy.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and sprinkle generously with the semolina.
Gently deflate the dough and divide into 16 equal portions. Shape each piece into a smooth ball. Divide the balls between the baking sheets, flattening each one into disks about 3 inches wide. Sprinkle the tops with more semolina, cover and let rest for 20 minutes (they'll puff up a little more but won't rise significantly).
Preheat a stovetop griddle over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to low before adding the muffins, because you want them to cook slowly. Cook the muffins a few at a time, for 7 to 15 minutes per side (typically no more than 10 minutes per side), until the exteriors are golden brown; an instant-read thermometer will read at 200 degrees when the muffins are cooked all the way through.
Once the muffins are cooked, let them cool thoroughly on a rack before storing. When you're ready to toast them, use a fork to pierce a horizontal line around the sides of the muffin and then split it open, to create maximum nooks and crannies.
VARIATION: If you don't have a stand mixer, you can put all the ingredients into a large bowl to mix together into a shaggy mass, then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead by hand for about 10 minutes, until you have a soft, stretchy ball of dough, then proceed with the rest of the directions.
Nutrition | Per piece: 160 calories, 5 g protein, 28 g carbohydrates, 4 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 210 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar
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10 servings (makes individual 6-inch loaves)
Shotis puri, or shotis, are a traditional Georgian bread typically baked in a type of open-topped tandoor oven called a tone. This stovetop version doesn't offer exactly the same flavors that can come from cooking inside a clay oven, but still yields a crisp exterior with a warm fluffy interior that pairs beautifully with smoked cheese and pickled vegetables.
Brushing the exterior of the dough with salted water adds flavor while also keeping the dough from sticking to the surface of the hot griddle. It helps to have a kitchen scale for portioning the dough equally.
MAKE AHEAD: The dough needs to rest twice, for a total of 55 minutes. The breads can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Refresh them by reheating them in the microwave on LOW for 20 seconds or lightly warming them on the stove top.
From food writer Kristen Hartke.
1 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 cups flour, plus more as needed
1/2 cup water mixed with 1 teaspoon of salt, for brushing
Whisk together the warm water, yeast and sugar in a mixing bowl; let the mixture rest for 5 minutes or until foam forms on the top.
Add the salt to the flour, then mix in the flour-salt blend, 1/2 cup at a time, until a sticky dough forms. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for a few minutes, adding flour as needed. The dough should still be slightly sticky. Pat into a round ball, dust with flour, then place in a clean bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest in a warm, draft-free spot for 40 minutes, until nearly doubled in bulk.
Generously flour a work surface. Turn out the dough there, then divide it into 5 equal pieces (3 1/2 to 4 ounces each). Roll each piece into a ball and let rest on the floured surface, covered lightly in plastic wrap, for about 15 minutes.
Heat a cast-iron griddle or pan over high heat on the stove top.
Divide each ball of dough in half, to form a total of 10 half-moon pieces. Lightly flatten each piece with your fingertips and use a pair of kitchen shears to snip the top of each piece (just a small snip, no more than an inch long).
Once you can splash a couple drops of water on the griddle and they bounce and evaporate, brush the top of each piece with the salted water and put a few pieces on the hot griddle, salted water side down, pressing down lightly.
Let each piece cook for 4 or 5 minutes on one side, until starting to get browned and crisp, then turn over and cook on the floured side for an additional 2 or 3 minutes until lightly browned. It will look a bit floury on that side when it's done.
Cool slightly; cover loosely with a clean dish towel until ready to serve, but then eat soon to enjoy the exterior at its best.
Nutrition | Per piece: 120 calories, 4 g protein, 25 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 300 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar
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The Indian flatbread known as naan is typically one that can be made fairly quickly, but this version from a food blogger in Bangalore, India, takes it to the next level by getting hot, fresh naan on the table in about half an hour, from start to finish.
While naan can be made with a sourdough starter, this version uses yogurt to provide a lightly sour undertone, while baking soda instead of yeast gives the dough additional lift - and in less time that a starter dough would take. Freshly chopped herbs and sesame seeds add extra flavor and crunch.
MAKE AHEAD: These are best if served right away, but can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 day.
Adapted from MyFoodStory.com.
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plain yogurt (regular or low-fat)
1/4 cup water, or more as needed
1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
1/4 cup sesame seeds
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup freshly chopped herbs, such as parsley, cilantro and/or mint
Whisk together the flours, baking soda, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Mix together the yogurt, water and oil in a large measuring cup.
Add the yogurt mixture to the flour a little at a time, kneading as you go. If the dough seems too dry, you can add more water, a teaspoonful at a time, or, conversely, some extra flour if the dough seems too wet. You'll knead the dough for a few minutes total, until it is soft and supple, then cover with a damp towel. Let it rest for about 20 minutes.
Lightly flour a work surface. Divide the rested dough into 6 equal portions, then gently roll out each piece on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4-inch thick (the shape doesn't matter). Brush the tops lightly with water, press in some sesame seeds, then turn them over and brush the other side with a little water.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. To cook the naan, place the side without the sesame seeds down on the hot pan (depending on the size of the pan, you'll be able to cook one or two at a time). Cover immediately with a lid; the naan will start bubbling up. Wait 45 seconds, then flip the naan and cook for 30 seconds on the second side, which should be lightly browned.
Remove from the pan; quickly brush the side of the naan with the sesame seeds with melted butter and then sprinkle with the fresh herbs.
Nutrition | Per piece (using low-fat yogurt): 310 calories, 8 g protein, 44 g carbohydrates, 12 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 560 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar
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Soft Beer Flatbreads
Beer is a great choice to use in making flatbread, because it instantly adds even more yeasty goodness. Just as in cooking with wine, choose a beer that you would drink, and a dark variety will provide even more depth of flavor.
While the original recipe makes 16 slightly smaller rounds, this version has been adjusted to make 12 larger ovals that are just the right size for slathering with mustard and topping off with bratwurst sliced on the bias and a pile of caramelized onions - proof that flatbread isn't just made for dipping in hummus.
An instant-read thermometer will come in handy here. The flatbreads can be cooked on an outdoor grill as well, over indirect heat.
MAKE AHEAD: The ovals of dough need to rest for 40 minutes. The cooked flatbreads can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Refresh them in a pan over low heat on the stove top or microwave on LOW for 20 seconds.
Adapted from CraftBeering.com.
8 ounces beer, such as a brown ale or dunkel (see headnote)
1/2 cup warm water (100 degrees)
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 packet)
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
4 cups flour, plus more as needed
2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
Warm the beer slightly, to no more than 100 degrees.
Combine the beer, warm water, yeast and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough-hook attachment. Stir well and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes until foam forms across the surface. (If it doesn't, you may need to start over with new yeast.)
Add 2 cups of the flour and the salt; beat on low speed until incorporated, then gradually adding the remaining 2 cups of flour until a ball of dough forms that is just slightly sticky. This should take about 5 minutes.
Lightly flour a work surface. Turn out the dough there, cover with a clean dish towel and let it rest for 5 minutes.
Use some of the oil to lightly grease two rimmed baking sheets.
Divide the dough into 12 equal portions, rolling each one into a ball. Flatten each ball with the palm of your hand, then gently stretch each one into 6-inch ovals (use your fingers or a rolling pin). Divide the ovals between the baking sheets, then brush the tops of them with more of the oil. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean dish towel and let them rest in a warm, draft-free spot for about 40 minutes. The doughs will rise a bit.
Once the ovals have been proofed, heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Working in batches as needed, cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until lightly golden with distinct grill marks.
Transfer to a platter. Brush the tops lightly with the remaining oil, and cover loosely to keep warm until ready to serve.
Nutrition | Per piece: 220 calories, 5 g protein, 35 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 390 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar
This article was written by Kristen Hartke, a Washington Post freelance writer