Well: it’s been a sad, sad week in the world so far. First, yet another unarmed young black man, Michael Brown, is shot to death by police: anger, frustration and protests erupt in Ferguson, Missouri. Then, Robin Williams, who brought joy to so many, lost the ultimate battle against his demons. Tributes and stories, hundreds of fabulous stories, poured in from every corner of the internet. Then Lauren Bacall died. And there’s the unrelentingly rainy weather. And Israel-Palestine. And the fact that Iraqis are once again fleeing on foot to escape ISIS. Enough, world. Enough.
And, so: bread. Perhaps the most comforting of comfort foods, not only to eat, but to make. To knead the dough until smooth and silky, to shape it into a tight ball; to let it rise, to roll it thin; to warm the kitchen with a hot oven, to smell the bread as it bakes. All of these things are a comfort. The texture of the dough beneath my hands, the yeasty smell of the bread as it springs to life in the oven, the knowledge that people have been baking bread for thousands of years before I was born, and will continue to do so for thousands of years after we, and our troubles, are long forgotten.
So: bread. Lavash, to be specific. A relatively simple flatbread, with limited yeast, and well-suited to both whole grain flour and my perpetually cranky gas oven, as it does not require a lofty rise for taste or texture. The bread can be baked until soft like a wrap or crisp like a cracker and can be topped with any number of seeds and spices, or kept simple with just a bit of salt. Your choice. In a world that seems increasingly beyond our control, choice is a good thing, no?
Adapted (barely) from Lavash in Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads
- 8 oz (1 ¾ cups) whole wheat bread flour
- 1 ¼ tsp instant yeast (or active dry yeast, proofed in a small bowl of warm water)
- about 6 oz water (¾ cup)
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 egg or egg white, lightly beaten with a splash of water and a pinch of salt, for egg wash
- flaky sea salt, freshly cracked black pepper, flax, poppy, and/or sesame seeds, for topping
- Day 1. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, yeast and water: stir a few times. Add salt, olive oil and honey: stir vigorously until a dough ball forms. Turn onto a lightly floured board and knead until dough is firm and silky, and just slightly tacky, about 3 – 5 minutes. Adjust flour and water as needed. Lightly oil a small bowl, form dough into a tight ball, roll once in the bowl to coat in oil, then cover bowl tightly and refrigerate overnight.
- Day 2. Remove dough from refrigerator 1 hour prior to use. Prepare two sheet pans with parchment or silicone mats.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (325 degrees F convection). Turn warmed dough out onto a lightly floured board. Chop into two even sections, and lightly knead for a few turns until dough is silky smooth and just barely tacky. Clean the work surface of flour and lightly spray with oil, or rub with a very thin layer of olive oil. Take one dough ball and roll out, from the middle outwards, into a large rectangle, as thin as you can go without tearing the dough (about ⅛-inch). Rolling one end of the dough rectangle onto your rolling pin, carefully transfer the dough onto the prepared sheet pan. Lightly coat surface of dough with egg wash and sprinkle with desired toppings. Repeat with remaining dough ball.
- Bake in the preheated oven, rotating pans top to bottom and front to back halfway through the cooking time, until lavash is a rich brown, about 25 – 30 minutes. Cool completely in the pan, then break into cracker shapes.
Yields approximately two sheet-pan sized sheets of lavash.
- For soft lavash, reduce the cooking time by about 5 – 10 minutes. Re-warm lavash if it crisps upon cooling.
- The overnight autolyse is not strictly necessary in order to prepare the flat bread; however, it does improve both the flavor and the handling of the dough.
- For a vegan version, you can replace the egg wash with simple water, or a water & cornstarch slurry, which will help seeds to adhere to the bread.
Store at room temperature, wrapped in a clean kitchen towel, for up to 3 days.