Sourdough Flatbreads

Revision: 0.65, 13.Dec.05 07:30

[Caution:  This recipe is still under construction--steal at your own risk!]

This is a simple sourdough flatbread recipe.  It goes by various names such as Pita, Focaccia, and Barbari or Mannaeesh in the mid-east.  These kinds of ancient, fragrant, leavened breads have been made for at least a dozen millennia if not more.  While the original recipes seem to have been lost in the depths of antiquity, I have researched and found some recipes that seem to work, converted them back to sourdough, and have posted it here.  Enjoy them again as they are; butter them, dip them in olive oil, or fill them with savory meats.  Be creative!  I enjoy it topped with "Za'atar" (zah'-ter) a mild yet flavorful mix of herbs and olive oil.  Or you can make Pizza or Focaccia with it as well!

This recipe makes about three 8-inch, or four 6-inch flatbread rounds, and takes 10-12 hours to make.  I usually begin building my breads the night before, but have modified this recipe slightly so that it will finish in time to serve them hot for dinner.  In order to serve them at 1900 hrs., I begin around 0700 hrs.

Yield:  About 3, 8-inch; or 4, 6-inch flatbreads.

The Sourdough Sponge (step-1, early morning):

Mix the ingredients with a whisk, cover, and place in a warm (~85F) place for 6-10 hours.  Let ferment until bubbly and vibrant.  The time needed for that varies with your culture and the temperature.  Cooler is slower, warmer is faster (and too warm is deadly to sourdough!).

The Dough (step-2, ~8 hours later):

Either by hand or with a mixer, combine the flour, oil, and salt.  Add the sponge created in the previous step and mix until smooth and elastic.  Add flour, about a tablespoon at a time, as needed, to get the dough to just not stick to everything in sight.

When done mixing, turn out on a floured surface.  Using just enough flour to keep things from sticking to the surface, and shape the dough into a short, elongated loaf.  Let it rest for 10 minutes.  Then stretch (stretch&fold) it to about double its length, fold it into thirds, forming it into approximately a square, turn the seam-side down, and wait 10-minutes.  Repeat 5 more times.

Final build:

Lightly grease two sheet pans (or use parchment).

If making Focaccia or Pizza,  roll out into a roughly 15 X 10 inch rectangle (or multiple smaller units).

For the rest, divide dough into thirds or quarters, and shape each piece into a ball.  Roll out each ball until it's about 1/4 of an inch thick on a lightly floured surface into an 8-inch round, 6-inch for quarters (don't be concerned if it’s not a perfect circle).  Place on a cold baking sheet.

Put into a draft-free place to rise.  Depending on the temperature and your culture, that would be 1-5 hours, with about 2-3 or so being typical.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400F or 500F as required.

To make Pita flatbreads; bake rounds at 500F for 10-15 minutes.  Hotter if the pockets won't form.

To make Za'atar flatbreads; using your fingertips, dimple the rounds all over.  You can press fairly hard, just don’t puncture the round with your fingernails.  Brush rounds with the Za’atar Topping.  Bake at 400F until just slightly browned.  A bit crisp around the edges is desirable.  Can also be done on a grill.  Grill the tops, flip, and then add the Za'atar topping mix.

To make Barbari flatbreads; Dust a tray with 1/3-cup or so of cornmeal.  Place rounds on tray.  Using your fingertips, dimple the rounds all over as in the previous variation.  Sprinkle tops with sesame seeds.  Put on a cookie sheet, cornmeal side down, and bake at 400F for 8 minutes.  Turn over and bake for a further 4 minutes.

To make Focaccia flatbread; Dimple the surface of the bread as in the previous variation.  Brush with more olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt.  Bake at 400F for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown.  Sprinkle with additional oil if desired, cut into squares and eat warm.

To make Pizza; Like the Focaccia, leave the dough whole.  Roll it out to the size you want.  The dough is very elastic and will snap back, so be patient, work it slowly, and let it rest from time-to-time.  Although I use a 12 X 15 in. cookie sheet, it should cover the standard 14 inch pizza pan as well.  Let it rise for up to an hour or so, and then finish assembling your pizza.  Bake at 500F until the cheese and toppings are brown and cooked--about 12-20 minutes. 
[NB: Letting the dough rise one more cycle before it's rolled for use makes for a MUCH better pizza!]

To make Breadsticks: Break off dough pieces in approximately golf-ball sized pieces.  Roll them on the counter or a table until they're long and slender.  For thicker sticks, use more dough or make them shorter.  You can egg or corn-starch wash them and sprinkle on sesame seeds if you like.  Watch them carefully as they'll darken quickly.

Remove bread from oven.  Cover with clean towel, serve hot or wrap in foil and freeze (toast before serving).  Serve warm by themselves, with extra topping, yoghurt, or stuffed with a meat of your choice.  Delicious cold as well…

Excellent with: Bulgur&Lamb, Hummus, Marinated Flank Steak, Khoresh Ghaimeh, ...