Five-ingredient recipes can be a lifesaver when you want a simple treat. When you keep the shopping list this short, each ingredient really has to hold its own. We used flaky pastry as the base of this croissant bread pudding to create an impressive dessert (or breakfast) that will make it seem like you spent hours in the kitchen.
The key to good bread pudding is starting with stale bread (or croissants). The slightly dry pastry does a better job of absorbing flavor and moisture from the custard. This croissant bread pudding is a great way to use up day-old pastry leftover from breakfast.
To start, all you do is cut your croissants into pieces like the ones you see above. You can also just pull them apart if you don’t want to deal with a cutting board.
In order to give your bread pudding a little bit of a twist, add some lemon juice and lemon zest to the custard mixture of eggs, cream, and brown sugar.
Pour that over your baking dish full of croissant pieces, let the custard mixture sink into the croissants for half an hour, and put the whole thing into the oven. The croissants will puff up and brown on top.
Lemon Croissant Bread Pudding
2 cups half-and-half
1/2 cup light brown sugar
4 croissants (stale if possible – stale bread always works better for bread pudding)
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
Cut or break the croissants into medium-sized pieces and place into an approximately 10-by-7-inch baking dish.
Using a peeler, take the skin off the lemon and mince the zest. Cut the lemon into quarters.
Whisk the eggs, half-and-half, light brown sugar, lemon zest and the juice from 2 lemon wedges (or all 4, if you’d like it to be more lemony), until thoroughly combined.
Add the egg mixture to the baking dish. Let this mixture soak for at least 10 minutes or up to 30 minutes.
Bake the pudding for 1 hour or until the middle is set. Remove and let cool and completely set for about 20 minutes. Serve your croissant bread pudding plain, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or with a dollop of whipped cream.
Building a flavorful soup is one of the great pleasures of fall. You can make a great soup with just about anything in the pantry. Use vegetables scraps to start a beautiful homemade broth, and then layer in ingredients until you’ve created a flavor explosion. If you want to take it a step further, don’t stop when you’ve finished the soup. Learn how to make bread bowl at home for an surprising, edible presentation.
What’s the best bread for a bread bowl?
Technically, you could hollow out any crusty piece of bread and fill it with soup. Some of these just might not be very easy to enjoy (no offense to the baguette). When is comes to making bread bowls, we prefer a round crusty loaf of artisanal or sourdough bread. This shape is sometimes referred to as a boule, which comes from the French word for ball. We use boules to create bread bowls for French Onion Soup. The bread is delicious with caramelized onions and melted cheese, but it would also be an incredible (edible!) container for Butternut-Sausage Soup or Minestrone. A crusty exterior is important, an extremely squishy soft loaf of bread would get too soggy.
How to make a bread bowl
To create the bowl shape simply take one or two bread boules, cut off the tops, and hollow them out. If your bread isn’t straight-from-the-oven fresh, you can re-crisp the hollowed-out boules in the oven for a few minutes.
Got leftover garlic? One of the all-time best uses for garlic, extra or not, is garlic bread. Think of a buttery slice beside your plate of spaghetti as some old favorite red sauce joint. That’s the good stuff.
The only problem is that too often garlic bread disappoints. There’s not enough butter, or it’s greasy. The garlic is raw and overwhelming, or sparse and tasteless. The bread is too chewy, rather than contrasting soft interior with crunchy crust.
Today we’re here to remedy all your garlicky woes with our recipe for homemade garlic bread. If you’ve found yourself collecting extra cloves from your Blue Apron box, grab six of them right now, and let’s make some garlic bread.
You’ll want to pick up a good loaf of Italian bread, preferably from a beloved local bakery. You want it to be soft inside and crusty on the outside—nothing too dense here. Grab a stick of softened salted butter, your pepper grinder, and those six cloves of garlic
Now, let’s multitask. At the same time, preheat the oven to 350°F and chop your garlic cloves very finely with the salt or press them on the microplane to make a paste.
In a small bowl, combine the garlic with the stick of butter and some black pepper and squish together to combine them. This might take a bit of elbow grease.
Cut your loaf of bread in half lengthwise, then spread the butter thickly on bottom half.
Replace the top half, and wrap the whole loaf in a sheet of foil. Place the loaf on a baking sheet, and bake for 10 minutes, until the butter is melted.
Unwrap, open the bread up, place each half butter side up, and bake for 5 more minutes, until golden around the edges.. While the bread is crisping up, grate about 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese.
Sprinkle the cheese across the surface of both loaves, then cut each half into 2-inch wide strips. Serve hot, with plenty of napkins.
Grains are an essential element of our kitchen repertoire—we cook with them basically every week. That’s because they do everything: act as the base of a salad, sop up some delicious sauce, or get mixed up and fried into grain patties. If you’re stuck eating rice and maybe the occasional bowl of quinoa, you might be overwhelmed by the selection! Here’s a guide to 13 types of grains, and some of our favorite ways to use them.
Types of Grains
An ancient grain that’s full of protein (it contains 30 percent more protein than rice, sorghum, and rye). It’s gluten-free, so it’s also a good grain for those with an intolerance. Amaranth is considered a native crop of Peru, an also has a long history in Mexico, where it was a major food crop of the Aztecs. With an earthy, nutty flavor, amaranth cooks up quickly in about 20 to 25 minutes. Beyond boiling it, you can also pop amaranth-like popcorn in a dry skillet. Try eating these popped grains with milk and some fruit for breakfast, or use them as topping on salads. We also like to mix it with ricotta to form delightful little savory pancakes.
This high-fiber, high-protein grain has a chewy texture similar to brown rice. Just like rice it can work in a variety of dishes. Try it in everything from risotto to heartylamb soup. Cooking barley is similar to cooking rice; cover one cup of barley with two cups water or broth and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. Our orange-glazed tofu and barley saladis incredible, too.
A staple in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking (you may know it as the grain in tabbouleh) bulgur is made from cracked wheat that is parboiled, then dried for quick cooking. To cook, use a 1:2 grain-to-water ratio. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil, remove from heat, add in the 1 cup of bulgur, cover and let stand for 20 minutes. Since it’s easy to prepare, it makes for a quick dinner staple, like in this Saffron Bulgur Pilaf.
Farro, a nutty grain with a chewy texture, comes from a wheat strain called emmer, one of the first cereals ever to be domesticated in the Fertile Crescent. These days, farro is popular all over the world. Farrocan be associated with two other wheat strains besides emmer (known as farro medio): einkorn (which goes by farro piccolo) and spelt (which goes by farro grande). The trick to farro is buying the right kind. The imported Italian farro you can get is often semi-perlato, or semi-pearled; if you buy farro that is not semi-pearled, it just needs to be soaked overnight before cooking it. Try farro in savory grain bowls, or as a nutritious twist on fried rice.
Freekeh has been enjoyed for centuries in countries like Syria, Lebanon and Egypt. It’s made from young wheat that is harvested while it’s still green. It’s roasted during production which gives it a slightly smoky flavor. High in fiber, it cooks up in twenty minutes, so it’s a good option when you need a healthy, quick-cooking grain. We love it with tahini long beans!
Rarely consumed in its whole-grain form, buckwheat, which is derived from seeds known as buckwheat groats, is often turned into a flour, and is a popular replacement for anyone looking for gluten-free flour options. It’s also what French galettes (savory crepes) and soba noodles are made from. When buckwheat is toasted, it’s referred to as kasha, which takes only about 15-20 minutes to cook up.
Yes, it’s the main ingredient in bird seed, but millet is just as good for you as it is for your feathered friends. Millet is an ancient seed originally cultivated in Africa and China. Millet can be ground into flours for flatbreads and even, in East Africa, fermented to make beer. While there are many kinds of millet, the one most often found in US groceries stores is yellow proso. And don’t consider eating the same millet you give to the birds! That variety isn’t hulled, so it’s difficult for your human stomach to digest. An easy trick with millet is to toast it in a dry skillet for about 3 minutes before cooking; this gives it a delicious nutty flavor. Depending on what consistency you want your millet, you can vary the amount of water and cooking time, allowing you to either have a coarser, crunchier consistency, or one that is more porridge-like. We love it as a way to stuff roasted vegetables, like these squash.
Wild rice is North America, specifically the Great Lakes region. Wild rice was a staple part of the indigenous peoples of that region. Since it grew in wetlands, it was originally harvested from canoes. Cooking wild rice requires a 1:3 wild rice-to-water ratio. Bring the water and wild rice to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 35-50 minutes. You know it’s done when the grains are cracked open.
Originating in the Andean region, quinoa has been a culinary staple of countries like Bolivia and Peru for thousands of years. Quinoa is the base of a popular warm breakfast drink in South America. You can get red and black quinoa, but the white version tends to be the most common in the US. Packed with protein, it’s popular with vegetarians, and the fact that it cooks up in 15 minutes has made it a favorite of whole grain cooks. At health food stores you’ll find everything from quinoa pasta to quinoa flour to flakes, godsends if you don’t eat gluten. Use quinoa as a replacement for rice, as an addition to a salad or even inveggie enchiladas.
Potentially one fo the most well known types of grains, rice is a staple for much of the world’s population. It’s particularly popular in Asia, where it is believed to have been domesticated almost10,000 years ago. Of course there are all kinds of rice, from brown to Jasmine, and different varieties are used in different dishes. As a grain, it’s incredibly versatile, and makes its way into all kinds of world cuisines, from Mexican to Indian.
Spelt, also known as dinkel wheat, is an ancient species of wheat. Historically, it staple grain in Europe from the Bronze age onwards. Nowadays it’s commonly found marketed as a health food, particularly as a flour for breads. But you can also use the whole grain in salads or as a replacement for pasta.
Teff is a tiny grain, about as small as a poppy seed. This tiny grain was once popular with nomadic cultures in Ethiopia and Eritreawhere it has grown for centuries. In Ethiopia it’s ground into flour and makes the spongy bread injera that is a base of Ethiopian cuisine. You can buy teff as a grain and as a flour. Pop it in a chili, or use the flour to make wholesome pancakes.
Often used in salads, wheatberry is the entire kernel of wheat, except for the hull. Since the kernel is left intact, that means so are most of the nutrients. The result is a tan-colored whole grain that looks a bit like brown rice. When cooked, wheatberries have a chewy bite and a slightly nutty taste, which pairs well with dried fruit. You can even use them to grow your own wheat sprouts.
Now that you’ve met all these types of grains, we dare you to quiz yourself! Can you name these individual grains?
This post was written by Anna Brones, a food and travel writer based in Paris, France who has a love for bikes, coffee and all things organic.
Unless you’re a total carb-o-phile, or you share a household with eternally hungry teenage boys, you may not get through a loaf of preservative-free bakery bread before it gets stale. That means, sadly, that extra bread winds up in the trash. Not anymore! This essential kitchen tip can help you freshen stale bread and reduce food waste.
To start: One way to extend the shelf life of fresh bread is to store it in the fridge or the freezer. The cold will preserve a loaf’s lifespan, but it will also rob the bread of its crisp exterior and chewy crumb. What to do about the problem created by our preservation solution?
Don’t worry, we’ve got a solution to that too. The easiest way to freshen a stale loaf of bread is simply to stick it in the oven. Take your loaf right our of the freezer or refrigerator and pop it into a 475°F oven. After to three minutes, the loaf will be hot and crispy again.
This method is best suited for bakery bread. Unlike its more processed counterpart, pre-sliced sandwich bread, bakery bread doesn’t contain any preservatives. That means it will become stale or moldy in just a few days if left out on the counter. Sandwich bread, on the other hand, is often happy on the counter top for up to a week.
Once it’s out of the oven, you can use the bread in recipes, like this Tuscan Ribollita, or just enjoy it with a smear of good butter.
Blue Apron is teaming up with chefs across the country to support Feeding America®. To participate, head over to our social media channels. Share our Facebook post or tag a friend on Instagram, and Blue Apron will donate an additional $5 to Feeding America, up to $50,000. Thanks to Caroline Schiff and the team at Gage & Tollner for sharing their savory sourdough pancake recipe.
Do you ever crave old-world elegance? You’re not alone. That’s exactly what the team at Gage & Tollner was hoping to revive when they set about re-opening this century-old Brooklyn establishment.
The original Gage & Tollner was a cornerstone of dining in Brooklyn. It served meat and seafood to celebrities and locals for over a hundred years. It officially closed in 2004, and the building saw a series of short term tenants before lying dormant. Finally, a team of established New York City restaurant veterans stepped in to breathe life into this historic space.
Gage & Tollner’s triumphant reopening was set for Spring 2020. When the team realized that the COVID-19 pandemic would force them to delay, it wasn’t long before their thoughts turned to their sourdough starter, Edna Lewis. If they left her alone, she’d perish. Pastry Chef Caroline Schiff took it upon herself to keep the starter alive, and she’s been creating quite a few projects in the meantime.
This is Caroline’s recipe for a savory pancake made with sourdough discard. She encourages you to get creative here. You can swap the scallions for a quarter cup of chopped kimchi, grated carrots, or herbs. A handful of cheddar cheese with some sliced jalapeños is also delicious. As long as it’s about a quarter to a third cup of stuff, you’re good to go.
Sourdough Pancake by Caroline Schiff
Makes one 8” pancake
3 Tbs neutral oil like canola or grapeseed, butter and ghee will also yield delicious results
1 cup active but unfed sourdough discard *this works best with same day discard at room temp, but older stuff is ok too! Just let it come to room temp and give it a stir
Pinch of kosher salt
2 tsp white sesame seeds
1/4 cup sliced scallions
1. Heat the oil in an 8″ nonstick or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat.
2. Season the discard with a good pinch of salt and add it to the hot pan. Swirl the pan to spread the oil out in an even layer.
3. Top with the sesame seeds and scallions in an even layer.
4. When the edges start to set, and you see bubbles forming (about 3 minutes), carefully flip the pancake using a large spatula or tongs. You can peek at the bottom as it cooks; if it seems like it’s getting a little too dark, just reduce the heat a bit.
5. Gently flip and fry on the other side until crisp, another 2 to 3 minutes or so.
6. When the pancake is golden and crispy on both sides, remove from the pan, slice into wedges and enjoy hot, maybe dipped in some soy sauce or sriracha depending on your fillings.
There are a lot of good reasons to bake bread at home. For baking enthusiasts, the process can be a source of comfort. For novice bakers, now is a good time to take on a new challenge. Whether you’re looking to tackle a kitchen project, or just in the mood for a sandwich, a homemade loaf is the way to go. These are the recipes that Blue Apron Test Kitchen Chefs (and friends!) turn to when the bread box is empty.
A Peasant Bread with a Beautiful Crust
This peasant loaf from Serious Eats is a great option for an intermediate baker. Misting the loaf while it’s in the oven gives the finished bread a satisfyingly chewy crust.
— Diane Casner
An Easy No Yeast Flatbread Recipe
This flatbread recipe from Bon Appetit is a perfect solution for a busy weeknight. It doesn’t call for yeast, it has a short rest time, and it only requires light kneading. The ingredients are also pretty basic, so you can whip it up without much planning.
— Sarah Entwistle
A Super Savory Cheese Bread
Looking for something a little more exciting? This blue cheese swirl bread from TheNew York Times is soft, fluffy, cheesy, and beautiful.
— Alex Saggiomo
A Not-Too-Complicated Sourdough
If you’ve been curious about keeping a sourdough starter, there’s no time like the present. The Perfect Loaf has bread recipes, starter instructions, and ideas for how to use your sourdough discards.
— Laura Henderson
A Slightly Sweet Oat and Raisin Loaf
This recipe from America’s Test Kitchen gets rolled in oats before it heads into the oven. It gives the finished product a toasty, crunchy exterior. The slight sweetness from the raisins makes this a great option for morning toast.
The responsible thing to do right now is to stay put, so that’s what the Blue Apron Test Kitchen is doing. Just because we’re cooped up at home, that doesn’t mean we’re not cooking. For now, you’ll find us in our home kitchens, chopping, frying, and baking up a storm.
This week, Chef Ashley Giddens pre-heated her oven and spent some time with her pantry staples. Here’s the story, in her words:
I always have a bag of oats in my pantry. To be honest, I’m not sure why it’s there. I don’t even eat that much oatmeal! It just feels like one of those things I should always have.
Recently, grocery stores have been all sold out of my favorite sliced bread. In search of a substitute, I flipped through my favorite bread book: Bread Illustrated from America’s Test Kitchen. The first thing to catch my eye was a loaf of oatmeal raisin bread; I had never even thought of putting oats into a sliced bread, so I was intrigued. Best of all, the recipe called for things I already had stocked: oats, bread flour, yeast, salt, milk, butter, brown sugar, and raisins.
This recipe was super easy to make. My favorite part was rolling the whole dough loaf in raw the oats before baking, which resulted in a super crunchy and gorgeous exterior. The next morning, I sliced and toasted two pieces. My husband had his with a simple gloss of butter, and I opted for a more *extra* approach with cream cheese, cinnamon, and a pinch of sea salt.
Avocado toast: a foodie breakfast trend that became a serious classic. Now that the trend is a trend no longer, it’s time to explore the full range of possibilities that the healthful yet delectable breakfast presents to us.
Besides the creamy avocado topping, the best part of avocado toast is its willingness to be customized. Sure, it’s delicious when left simple (mashed avocado, salt), but you can add on to this great start based on your tastes and cravings.
At the simple end of the spectrum: herbs and spices. Freshly torn basil will remind you of summer; minced cilantro leaves will remind you of guacamole. A sprinkle of za’atar nods to the Middle East, while a dose of Aleppo pepper (one of our favorites, as you’ll see below) balances out the avocado’s fattiness.
So, what are you waiting for? Grab your ripe avocado and two pieces of good whole grain or sourdough bread. The rest of the ingredients pictured below are some of the other toppings you might want to add.
Once you have the ingredients, cut your avocado open around the pit. If you’re not sure how to accomplish this move, watch our video. Scoop out the flesh into a small bowl. Mash the avocado and season it well with salt. A little lemon juice never hurts either.
Toast two slices of bread. Spread the mashed avocado to the edges on each slice. Sprinkle with a bit more salt. If you want, you can stop right there.
If you want to choose your own adventure and continue, here are two things you can do:
Use Aleppo pepper or Piment d’Esplette to add a little kick to your toast
Fry an egg and slam it on top. When the gooey yolk meets the avocado, great taste happens.
How will you top your avocado toast?
Get the whole recipe below.
INGREDIENTS 2 slices of your favorite bread 1 ripe avocado 1 teaspoon piment d’esplette Optional: 2 eggs
If you’re using them, first start the eggs: heat a small pan over medium-low heat and add oil to cover the bottom. Add the eggs and cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until the whites are set but the yolks are still runny (or until they reach your desired degree of doneness). While the eggs are cooking, season them with salt. Remove the eggs from the heat.
While the eggs are cooking, toast the bread. Prepare the avocado by scooping the flesh out of the skin and mashing in a bowl with some salt.
Spread the avocado on your toast. Top with salt, piment d’esplette if using. If you’ve made the eggs, put one on each piece of toast. Eat!
Stop what you’re doing. Put down what you’re eating. The best biscuit recipe you’ve ever encountered is at hand, and it’s time to make biscuits for breakfast. To pair with the rich, flaky breakfast breads, we’ve got a pared-down version of homemade strawberry jam.
What makes a great biscuit? The quality of its flakes. That means that when you pull apart the two halves of a biscuit, the crumb tears into flakes. Biscuits should be light, yet rich. The outside should be crisp and golden, while the inside must be soft and, as already mentioned, flaky.
To achieve these requirements, a few tips. First, you must use cold butter and buttermilk. By keeping the butter very, very cold (as in, straight from the fridge), you make sure that little crumbs of it remain isolated in the dough, separating the flour into “layers.” Keeping the buttermilk cold helps preserve the cool temperature of the biscuits–until they hit the oven. Then, when the butter crumbs finally melt, the flour “layers” turn into those precious flakes.
We cut our biscuits out with a small round cutter–but you could use a glass.
While the biscuits are baking, cube a lot of strawberries, and let them simmer with sugar in a pot. They’re reduce and thicken, and that’s your jam. Pull the biscuits from the oven. You must eat them warm. Split them in half, spread with butter, and dollop on the jam. Yum!
Get the whole recipe below.
Homemade Biscuits with Strawberry Jam
INGREDIENTS 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 4 teaspoons baking powder 1/4 teaspoon baking soda 1 1/4 teaspoons salt 1 tablespoon sugar 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces 1 cup cold buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 450°F.
In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar.
Using your hands, “cut” or “crumble” the butter into the flour mixture by rubbing the butter and flour mixture together until the butter is very thin and evenly distributed.
Using a spatula, wooden spoon or your hands, stir in the buttermilk and gently mix just until a dough forms, trying not to mix too much as this will toughen the dough.
Place the dough onto a floured surface and roll or press out until about 1” thick. Using a biscuit cutter or an inverted drinking cup, cut out 12 3” discs by pressing the cutter straight down as you cut—do not twist the cutter as this compacts and seals the edges of your biscuit, making them less light and flaky. (If you have extra dough, you can reroll it, but the biscuits won’t be as light and fluffy.) Place the cut out biscuits on a greased sheet pan and bake, on the middle rack and turning the pan halfway through, for 14 to 17 minutes, or until lightly browned and cooked through.
Serve with your choice of garnish, butter, jam or make egg sandwiches with them!
You may think of French toast as a delicious, crave-worthy breakfast, and the gooey fried bread definitely does fall on the list of best-ever brunch and breakfast recipes. But French toast also functions as an ingenious waste-not solution for stale bread, much in the same vein as these 8 dinners that breathe new life into old bread.
While the French weren’t the only cooks to revitalize leftover slices of good bread in a mix of milk and egg before crisping the slices up in a pan, they did christen this dish pain perdu, which means “lost bread.” In fact, a more accurate name would be “not-lost bread,” since by making French toast, you actually save slices of bread that might otherwise have gone into the trash.
We try our best not to waste food here at Blue Apron, and so we admire French toast’s ability to make the most out of an extra ingredient. To make our super simple French toast, all you do is whisk together some milk and eggs, with sugar, vanilla extract, and cinnamon for extra flavor.
Leave the bread in this custard mixture for at least 5 minutes or up to 20. Then, get frying. We melt butter in a frying pan over medium heat and let slices cook for about 3 minutes per side, until fully brown.
Serve with real maple syrup, perhaps some fruit, and plenty of crispy bacon!
To conclude our three-part series on bread, we’re actually going back to the beginning:
Flatbreads are the first breads. So, while yeast and quick breads have their own delectable attributes, they’ll never be able to claim what flatbreads definitively can, being “the original” bread.
What’s a bit less clear about the history of flatbread is whether the leavened or unleavened type came first. It doesn’t really matter – both have their own, delicious stories – but it’s worth noting that the two distinct types exist. So if some actually do contain yeast, what, then defines a flatbread? According to Naomi Duguid, author of Flatbreads and Flavors, “it’s loose.”
The closest we come to a definition is that flatbread is flatbread because of the way that it’s cooked. Long before there were ovens – or stationary cooking equipment at all – nomadic tribes needed to make food quickly and while on-the-go. Waiting for the consistent cooking temperature that’s required to bake a loaf of bread was pretty much out of the question. Instead? They used hot stones. In this way, flatbread’s inception is baked into various cultures around the world, based on items from their natural environments.
“Flatbreads are fabulously ingenious solutions for turning all kinds of seeds and grains in to something you can eat,” says Naomi, who has a long and intimate relationship with an international variety of breads. As a food anthropologist, teacher, and author, Naomi believes food is a lens through which to view new people and places. No matter how far-flung a bread’s origin, though, “bread, for me, has always been the taste of home,” says Naomi, “something I’ve always felt connected to. It’s always been ‘normal’, not exotic, not even special. It’s a home thing.”
So, it is with this down-to-earth view that we’ll go around the globe to explore the original bread–flatbread–that still permeates a vast array of people and cultures.
Regardless of your religious affiliation, you’ve likely heard of matzo. And, perhaps, you’ve heard the story of matzo’s creation, which is now a staple food at Passover feasts (to honor the Jewish exodus from Egypt, during which there wasn’t time to let bread rise, there is a pause on consuming leavened bread during this holiday and people eat the thin, cracker-like bread as everything from soup topper to standalone snack). Fast forward to a modern-day anecdote: On a trip to Israel, Naomi met an elder Iraqi woman who shared a secret about how to keep the local men from questioning whether the matzo has been made with leavened dough. Because there are sometimes there holes poked in the matzo dough, it can bubble up during the cooking process, looking very similar to a puffy, leavened bread. So, to avoid any culinary disputes, women will quickly “smack down” the matzo when it’s cooking to ensure its super-flatness (and argument-proof-ness).
Moving a bit east from Israel, let’s go to India for our next unleavened flatbread. Chapati (sometimes called roti, though “roti” is actually just a term for any type of flatbread in South Asia) is cooked in a hot, dry skillet. Like matzo, chapati can play an eye trick, appearing to be leavened as its center starts to bubble up and create a dome. But, warns Naomi, it is an illusion! And if you think about it, the illusion makes sense. In addition to whole wheat flour, the traditional chapatti flour, water is the other primary ingredient (sometimes salt or a little oil, too). And what happens when water faces high temperatures? Steam! So that balloon in the center of the pan is simply a little flatbread sauna, which actually helps cook the bread from the inside very quickly. When it’s patted down, you’re left with this simple, mild flatbread that pairs very well with many Indian, Pakistani, or Nepali dishes (regions where the bread is most commonly found).
Whether you prefer sweet or savory (or both) you can find a delicious crepe in many countries these days. Thought to have originated in Brittany, France, crepes are a slightly more complex flatbread, at least when it comes to ingredient count. While absent a leavening agent, they do contain more than just grain and water. Eggs, milk, butter, salt, sugar and oil contribute to their decadence (and that’s before you stuff them with an indulgent combo like ham and cheese or nutella and bananas). To make crepe batter, you can use a blender or food processor, but be sure not to overmix, as that can add too much air to the batter, and leave you with a puffy crepe that won’t quite uphold its expectation of delicacy. The transformation of this batter into the crepe itself can be a whimsical thing to witness, as a rozel (a small wooden and toothless “rake”) is used to rhythmically twirl the batter around a hot, greased pan. Just the kind of visual warm-up your stomach needs.
To round out the unleavened flatbreads, let’s look at what’s been cited as the most popular flatbread in North America: the tortilla. We all know there are flour and corn varieties (we may have even disputed the merits of each the last time we went out for Mexican food) but since we’re focused on the ancient in this post, let’s talk about the corn variety, which came first. While simple in its total number of ingredients, the process of getting these ingredients isn’t necessarily so easy. In order to be digestible, corn has to be treated–ground kernels by themselves aren’t going to make a very edible bread. As Naomi helps explain, there is a lime-based alkaline that helps unlock the nutrients of the corn, after which it can be ground. This initial, wet ground grain has a paste-like consistency, is called masa, and can be found in specialty Mexican stores in the refrigerated section. It can also be transformed once more. When masa is dried and turned into powered, it becomes masa harina, a fine corn flour much more easily found in general grocery stores. This type simply requires water to be reconstituted and turned into tortilla dough (or arepas!). No matter which corn version you chose to start with, you’re bound to end up with perfect canvas for carne asada, guacamole, and beans, or whatever you like to stuff your tacos full of.
Moving on to leavened flatbreads, we’ll head east again, as leavening knows no geographic boundaries. Ingera, the national bread of Ethiopia and Eritrea, is a sour, spongy flatbread that acts as a utensil as much as a food. The traditional grain used for ingera is teff, which is small, iron-rich, and gluten-free. The teff is mixed together with water to form ingera batter, which is left to sit for days and ferment. That fermentation process is what makes ingera a leavened bread. Naomi explains that ingera is traditionally cooked with a clay plate placed over a fire, onto which the fermented, liquid-y batter is poured in a spiral motion – starting at the edges and going in to the center. The dough is never flipped, and once a cover goes on, you “just let the steam do its thing.” While this whole process may seem simple – two ingredients, no flipping or fussing – Naomi reminds us: “When you have a complex dish, it’s easier to hide things. It’s much harder to perfect something so basic.” So the next time you head out for Ethiopian food (highly recommended), be sure to pause and appreciate the perfectly prepared ingera delivered to your table.
Like “roti,” nan (or naan) is just another word for bread in many countries. Nan is frequently found throughout West, Central and South Asia, and takes on a number of variations depending on where in the world you are. But the one common thread – and what distinguishes it from roti – is how it’s cooked. Nan is traditionally made in a tandoor, which is a circular oven with fire at the bottom. Watching nan cook may be almost as enjoyable as eating it. The practiced technique involves slapping the dough up against the sides of the oven and letting it just stick there, so the bottom gets cooked by direct heat and the top by the surrounding convection heat. Like ingera, nan is also never flipped, which allows its top side to become a tender and chewy contrast to a slightly crispy bottom. Another contributor to this delicious softness? Yogurt. Many nan recipes will include this little bit of dairy, which makes the dough smoother and easier to stretch out. Try it with palak paneer or chicken tikka masala.
While still considered a flatbread, this leavened bread takes the cake in the height competition when matched against the others we’ve discussed. From in Italy, focaccia is for all intents and purposes a version of pizza. Rolled out and flattened by hand, focaccia dough often receives a little hole-poking before going into a hot stone-bottom or hearth oven. Naomi recalls a fond focaccia memory: while traveling in the mountains of Portugal, she happened upon village with a big, solid stone structure that contained an enormous wood oven. Local women sat around baking loaves of wheat-rye bread. But while these voluminous loaves were pushed to the back of the oven – where the temperature was high and even – they didn’t waste any of the dough or the real estate in the front of the oven. As they broke off much smaller, uneven pieces of the dough and drizzled them with honey, the almost-immediate aroma drew quite a crowd. Local children had come running over, asking for a taste of what was perfectly cooked and just an arm’s reach into the mouth of the giant oven. A slightly risky grab, perhaps, but can you blame them?
So there you have it. Quick bread, yeast bread, and now flatbread–all three part of the diverse and historic story that is bread, a food that much of the world depends on and delights in. Breads feeds both our stomachs and souls, and, if we let it, bread can also be something that challenges us to ask “why,” just like Naomi. So let us all follow her lead, if only briefly, and take a note from her culinary playbook. Here’s to being inquisitive about our food, where it comes from and who’s behind it. Especially when it comes to bread.