It is always a thrill to take a class with Jeffrey Hamelman, Director of King Arthur Bakery in Norwich, VT, and author of Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes but to watch him bake in a wood-fired oven in a beautiful orchard with a soft breeze swirling around fruit-laden appletrees takes the experience to a whole other level, especially when the first breads start sliding out, blistered and bubbly, and the air fills with the seductive fragrance of fire-burnished dough.
Flatbreads go way back: people were baking and eating them long before the first leavened bread came along. And of course they remain the dominant bread in many parts of the world. In my early years as a baker, I read with tremendous interest Jeffrey Alford’s and Naomi Duguid’s Flatbreads & Flavors: A Baker’s Atlas. I travelled with it to many exotic destinations without ever leaving my kitchen. I even used it to prepare for a two-week camping trip by boat up and down the rivers, lakes and canals of southeastern Ontario where I knew we would be without access to real bread. I had decided to make Norwegian crispbreads as I was pretty sure they would travel well. The recipe called for whole-grain flours and there was none to be had on our side of the River. Determined to tackle the wilderness on whole-grain power, I had gone to Tara Natural Foods in Kingston, Ontario and stocked up. I remember driving back to our cabin, feeling virtuous. I made stacks of crispbreads and sealed them inside plastic containers. They were excellent and wholesome and I have the book to thank for saving us from the sponge-like sandwich bread to be found at mini-marts along the waterways. Plus there is something eminently festive about flatbreads, the way they pop out of the oven, ready to eat and share with a crowd.
True to the international spirit of flatbreads, Jeff had decided to take us on a little tour that morning. We baked:
- A spinach-filled flatbread from Lebanon
- Another savory flatbread, this time from Tunisia
- Tarte flambée from the Alsace region of France
- Socca, traditional chickpea flour crêpe from Southern France, also to be found in Liguria, Italy, under the name of farinata, and probably my personal all-time favorite
- An anise-chocolate flatbread from Spain
For ease of reference, each flatbread will be posted in a separate post. I’ll start with the Lebanese flatbread and work my way down the list. It may take a while to cover all of them but come they will!
I have read through all of your grain gathering essays and have to say I loved them all. Your way of capturing the essence of an experience and putting it all into the written word delights me to no end. What a talent you have and I thoroughly enjoy being a recipient of your craft.
Your talent with a camera inspires awe in me too. I know people will say 'it is just the camera' but I have a camera, and it is a good one, yet my photos do not turn out like yours do at all. You are able to capture something in each picture that catches your subjects in a way that somehow holds their essence intact. I am fumbling for words to describe what I see in your photos…hope you get what I am aiming at. 🙂
Anyway, thank you for sharing here. I loved getting updated about all that is happening in the grain world here in the US. Pretty exciting stuff and to think these people are all the 'grass roots' people. So many years of baking experience among them combined with the know how of the farmers and millers who are all sharing what they know.
Oh Janet, thank you so much! I feel very privileged to be able to attend events like this and then share the experience with other bread lovers. And it is always a pleasure to read that someone likes to read about it! Not to mention looking at the photos. I love the link between the image and the written word. For some reason they go hand in hand as far as I am concerned. Which is why a blog is such a good platform for me!