Do you ever come across something – a passage when reading, a pair of pretty pumps, a snowfall, even – that seems to have been placed in this world expressly for you and you only? I got that feeling on my first breeze through the February issue of Gourmet magazine (the one with that taleggio and escarole sandwich calling from the cover).
You see, my oven is on the fritz, bringing a temporary halt to my year of bread baking – or so it would seem. Then, happy, hungry me, flipping through Gourmet, I discovered a bread recipe that suited my bereft-of-an-oven state.
The recipe was for Algerian flatbread: a whole-wheat dough requiring one kneading cycle and a mere hour of downtime, ultimately baked atop a griddle (no oven necessary!). Notwithstanding, this is tactile stuff: You divide the well-rested dough, then roll it into disks before brushing it with olive oil spiked with a rousing mix of cumin, paprika and turmeric. (A note: I’m not sure whether it’s a proper substitute or not, but with my spice rack void of turmeric, I used coriander instead, knowing its affinity for the other two spices called for in the recipe.)
A couple things came to mind as I followed the subsequent instructions to roll the disks up into tight cylinders, then coil them, spiral-like, into a cinnamon-bun shape. (Yes, it’s a lot of fuss for a little bread, but the repetition allowed me to get all cozy with my thoughts.)
Thought number one: Bread is remarkable for its simplicity, for the fact that such an assortment of incarnations – of shapes and textures – can come from what are essentially the same ingredients. Flour, salt, liquid. Sometimes sweetener. Now and then yeast.
Finally, I rolled the dough again into disks, disks now etched with the spices, before baking them one by one, pancake style.
Thought number two: In every country, in every culture and time, there has been bread of a sort. There have been and are specific crumbs and just-so crusts that conjure certain places, the methods for each bread passed down, their purposes ranging from holy to ordinary.
Here, in my little kitchen – my kitchen with the temperamental-if-modern-day oven, no less – I can stir and knead my way into the wider, well-seasoned world. Today, it was North Africa by way of flatbread.
It doesn’t replace the actual being there, but still, it’s a whiff, it’s a taste. And a tasty taste, at that.
*We ate these fabulous flatbreads for two days straight, slathering the leftovers in hummus or swirling them in soup. Go here for the recipe: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/241505
**Checkout more on flatbreads at the Is My Blog Burning Bread Baking Event hosted by Chili und Ciabatta!