Monday, August 3, 2009

Five-Minute Bread

When my wife Ali and I were traveling in Ladakh, in Himalayan India, last fall, we stayed with a family that made fresh bread nearly every morning. That sounds like a lot of trouble and a major mess, but these no-knead traditional flat breads are a snap to make. Once you have a supply of dough in the refrigerator, you can have hot bread in less than five minutes-- if you have a gas range. This recipe is a simplified version; see a note on the original version, below.

Begin by making a simple dough the night before. In a bread bowl, add 1 teaspoon of dry yeast to 1 1/3 cups of water and 1 cup of unbleached white flour (or up to one-third whole wheat) and stir well. Allow the yeast to proof for an hour or so, then add another 3 cups of flour. Stir vigorously for 2 or 3 minutes, or until the dough is well mixed. Cover the bowl and set aside overnight.

To make the breads, tear off pieces of dough and shape them into balls that are slightly larger than golfballs. Allow the balls to rest for a minute to heal any seams. Meanwhile, heat a flat skillet over a medium flame. Flatten the balls into disks of about 1/2 inch thickness, using your hands and then rolling. Place a disk on the hot pan-- no oil is needed-- and heat both sides about a half-minute to develop a dry skin. Then set the skillet aside and, using tongs, place the disk directly on a burner. Move it about to heat it evenly, allowing a bit of charring. As the moisture within turns to steam, the little loaf should begin to puff up. Flip it over and cook the other side, again moving the loaf to avoid burning. If you see steam escaping through a hole so that the bread won't puff up, try pinching that spot with the tongs. Continue making the breads one at a time. You can refrigerate leftover dough for up to five days. In Ladakh, the practice is to slice the loaves around the perimeter to make two breads; they're typically served with butter and apricot jam.

In the Ladakhi version, you make two disks rather than one, rolling them thinner. Spread a bit of butter in the center of both, and join the the two with buttered sides meeting. Pinch around the perimeter to seal well, and proceed with baking as above.

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