(photo by wm. christman)
One of my favorite tools in my kitchen is my baking stone. You may know it better as a pizza stone but I use it for so much more than just the occasional loaded round of house-made pizza. My stone definitely shows its age with stains from cream, fat, oil, cheese, burnt flour and cornmeal – you could consider it well-seasoned. I always trust it to turn out great baked goods. And it does.
For the 4th of July this year, I decided to finally exorcise the flatbread demons that had taken up residence in my brain. Not that I have issue with making flatbread; I just needed and craved to apply hand to dough and dough to stone as a sort of perverse therapy. And once this boy gets the dough making itch, it’s difficult to get him away from confessing his innermost doughy thoughts to that hot stone in the oven.
So…if you know how to make pizza, then you already know how to make flatbread. And even if you don’t, it’s as simple as rolling out dough (you can cheat this – read on…), adding a thin layer of something moist or slippery, then piling on one or two ingredients, preferably ones that will crisp up under high oven heat…and applying some high heat. And you don’t even need a baking stone (although it helps).
well-used and well-seasoned baking stone (photo by wm. christman)
This July 4th flatbread mania was further fueled by the bacon episode of “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” on the Food Network. This episode caught my eye because one of my favorite chefs and salumi-creator, Chris Cosentino, was on talking about his Boccalone operation in San Francisco and about San Francisco’s Dynamo Donuts and their amazing bacon-apple-maple donut. That was enough to keep me watching when a segment about San Francisco’s Nopa restaurant appeared. Nopa consistently features at least one flatbread on their menu and the one in this segment was a fresh bacon, garlic confit and seasoned crema flatbread. At that point, I was running for the kitchen…
I had just finished curing and roasting a five pound slab of bacon the previous evening and it was in the fridge, wrapped and ready to go. And I always have garlic confit and cream on hand and I was well stocked with flour and water. It didn’t take much more prompting to get the oven fired up to 500° with the goal of getting my version of this flatbread on the table for dinner. The most involved part was making the crema. It took sweating some Vidalia sweet onion and fresh garlic in a sauce pan, then adding a couple of pinches of red pepper flakes and about a cup of heavy cream. Stir, simmer and reduce then strain all of the solid bits. What was left was a thick savory cream with a slight pepper bite.
the prep for flatbreads one (fresh bacon and garlic confit) and two (Andouille sausage and clam) (photo by wm. christman)
Beyond that, dough was rolled, garlic confit applied, fresh bacon cut and strewn about. I added some sliced green onion for extra flavor and color. A proper high-temp baking on the stone for about 20 minutes yielded a browned and sizzling flatbread “pie”. I liberally squirted some of the seasoned crema across it and left it in the oven for another two minutes or so. Dandelion greens were piled on top for crunch and bitter counterpoint. The flatbread never made it off the dinner table. I’m not sure there were even any crumbs left on he serving dish either.
the finished bacon, garlic confit, seasoned crema flatbread ready for service (photo by wm. christman)
Flatbread number two, a Andouille sausage and clam version (see the picture at the top of this article), was a bit of a cheat. Since this was a work day, there was little time or desire to shop for ingredients so all of it was up to whatever the fridge would disgorge. I had some pushing-the-expiry-date pre-made garlic-and-herb pizza dough and needed to do something with it pronto. A further scan showed some Andouille sausage and some pesto and creme fraiche. And I really wanted a briny component to compliment the smoky, peppery Andouille and a spare can of chopped clams was the best choice.
The M.O. for this flatbread was the same: roll out the dough, slice up the sausage and render some of the fat out by blanching it in boiling water for a few minutes so it would crisp up in the oven, drain and dry the clams, and mix up some of the pesto with creme fraiche for moistness. Brush, layer and scatter then bake at 500° for about 20 minutes. I used the rest of the dandelion greens from FB1 for garnish. Actually, dandelion greens are a great addition to this as they stay relatively crisp on top of the piping hot flatbread and give a real nice bitter edge to the end flavor.
My wife Janet noted that unlike pizza, the flatbreads don’t have that cheese-heaviness to them which makes for a lighter meal which is especially important to her (and me) in the summer. However as much as I like eating flatbread, I almost get even more pleasure out of designing and making them. Indeed, flatbreads may usher in a change in course for me and this is just the beginning of some real balls-out experimentation for the rest of this year.