I’m not sure it really needs to be said, but in the interest of full disclosure: I love bread. I love its universality, that every culture throughout history has developed some method of combining grain, water, and fire. I love what bread can symbolize, whether thanks for an abundant harvest, or an offering of welcome to a stranger. I love how we eat it, alone or accompanied, plain, stuffed, or flavored. I love that it’s difficult to make just one serving of bread; we bake bread to share, to nourish others, to feed a crowd.
Maybe even more than eating bread, I love baking bread. No matter how many loaves of bread I bake, there will always be more recipes to try. No matter how many times I make a certain recipe, the process will always be different: the texture of the dough, the ambient temperature, countless variables demanding my attention. Baking bread is both an art and a science, a set of strict, yet fluid, rules waiting to be interpreted. And amidst all of those rules, sometimes there is just you and the dough, and the act of kneading, meditative and satisfying.
So this afternoon, on one of my rare days off when I actually had little to do, with the fridge already full of leftovers and no need to cook, I pulled out the rather dully-titled but endlessly fascinating Flatbreads and Flavors by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. With recipes collected from over 20 years of travels, this book is not just about traditional flatbreads from all over the world, but also the sauces, dips, chutneys, and stews that accompany them. It’s the kind of cookbook I love to curl up with when things are feeling a little mundane, a book that conjures up images of Mongolian steppes and five-foot deep tandoor ovens, of Bedouin camps and Malaysian street bazaars.
I’m not sure if this bread is called snowshoe naan because it’s long and narrow like a snowshoe, or because when you shape the dough, the indentations from your fingers stretch out like snowshoe tracks. Either way, it amused me to think about it as we ripped off pieces of bread and dipped it into olive oil and then the dukkah, an Egyptian dry spice mix. If there is a shape that dough can be coaxed into, people have done it, and I hope that the first person who tentatively dimpled and stretched their naan felt a little thrill of creativity, something a little exotic and different to liven up their day.
Alford and Duguid recommend baking on unglazed tiles to replicate the radiant heat of a clay tandoor. I used a perforated pizza pan and didn’t quite get the golden crust I was looking for, but was still happy with the results.
Dukkah refers to any dry spice mix used, with olive oil, as a dip for bread or vegetables. Being in Oregon, I felt it was appropriate to try Heidi Swanson’s hazelnut dukkah recipe. I think this dukkah would also make a fantastic crust for lamb or maybe even a white fish such as halibut.
Afghan Snowshoe Naan
Adapted from Flatbreads and Flavors by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
2 ½ C lukewarm water
1 t dry yeast
2 C whole wheat flour
3-3 ½ C white flour
1 T salt
Combine lukewarm water and yeast in a large mixing bowl. Add whole wheat flour and stir well, then stir constantly for one minute in the same direction to develop the gluten. Cover and let sit at least 30 minutes and up to 3 hours.
Sprinkle salt over the mixture then add 1 C white flour and stir well. Continue adding white flour in ½ C increments until dough is too stiff to stir. Turn out on a floured surface and knead until smooth and strong, about 10 minutes.
Lightly oil a clean mixing bowl and place the ball of dough inside. Cover and let rise 2-3 hours.
Gently punch down the dough and turn out onto a floured surface. Cut into 4 equal pieces and stretch each piece into a flat oval about 6” wide by 8” long. Cover with plastic and let rise 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 450 (if using a pizza stone or unglazed tiles, preheat them now as well). To shape the bread, dip your fingers in a small bowl of cold water and make deep indentations all over the dough. Stretch the dough into a long oval by draping one end over each hand and pulling gently. Don’t worry if the indentations stretch out into holes.
Place the bread on a baking sheet or the preheated stone and bake 4-6 minutes, until the top has golden patches and the bottom is crusty.
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks
½ C hazelnuts
¼ C coriander seeds
3 T sesame seeds
2 T cumin seeds
1 T peppercorns
1 t fennel seeds
1 t dried mint
1 t salt
Heat a heavy skillet over high heat and toast the nuts and seeds individually until fragrant. Cool completely then pound in a mortar and pestle, or process gently in a food processor or spice grinder (do not let it break down into a paste). Store refrigerated up to 1 month.