“Learning to bake bread is one of the things that saved me. I feel fortunate to have found a way to nourish myself and others.” –Edward Espe Brown
(and other flat bread variations)
Baking yeast-based breads seems to be a rite of passage or the ultimate merit badge for many cooks. Some people liken it as a break from a corporate consumptive society… a way of getting back to their roots. Many of us don’t have the space for a vegetable patch and a chicken coop… but anyone with an oven can bake a loaf of bread. For me, baking bread from scratch seems to be as much about the process as it is about the product. It is the ultimate soul food meditation. Yeast, a living organism, when added to flour and water creates a new living entity that we watch grow and mature during the rising process. And there is no cheaper therapy than kneading bread dough. Not to mention the fact that it is a fraction of the cost, and much healthier than its commercial counterparts which are pumped full of preservatives and air.
Flat breads like pizza dough and foccacia were the first yeast breads I was able to bake successfully. While every other loaf of bread came out so dense and brick-like, I could have donated them to a gym for weightlifting, my flat breads, based on a basic recipe from the now-defunct Veggie Life magazine, turned out lovely every time. Years later, after finally mastering some more complicated bread recipes, I remain stumped as to why flat breads never caused me any grief…. After all, the chemistry in making yeast breads is all the same. But so many people have had the same experience of flat breads being their first successful attempt at yeast based bread baking. So if you are a beginner at yeast breads, this is a great starter recipe. If you are an old hat, this is a good sturdy recipe to add to your repertoire. Either way you will love the speed of this recipe…. This flat bread only requires one 45-minute rise. Just as quick as having a pizza delivered! Contrary to popular opinion, pizza is NOT an unhealthy meal when done right…this is a great weeknight dinner alternative.
¼ cup lukewarm water
1 tbs. bulk yeast or one of those little yeast packages (for a really thick crust you can double the yeast)
3 cups of bread flour (you can substitute ½ a cup of the bread flour out with some whole wheat flour or use King Arthur White Whole wheat for the full amount)
1 tsp. salt
1 ½ tbs. sugar
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
1 ½ tsp. garlic powder
1 cup lukewarm water
1 tbs. olive oil (to oil the bowl)
½ tbs. of corn meal
1 cup of marinara, alfredo, or pesto sauce
8 ounces of mozzarella cheese (or feta, gorgonzola, or whatever else tickles your taste buds
Toppings, which can include, but are not limited too tomato slices, mushrooms, olives, peppers, onions, ham, pepperoni, grilled chicken, spinach, garlic, or anything else!
More grated Parmesan cheese for the top and for the table.
In a mixing bowl, pour in yeast and the ¼ cup of lukewarm water. You want the water to be warm enough to activate the yeast, but not so hot it kills it. Ideally, the water will be 90-110 degrees Fahrenheit. If you turn your faucet over to warm, and run your wrist under the tap the water should be neither too cold or too hot on your skin…if it feels the same temperature as your body you have got it just right. Stir the yeast and water until the yeast granules are dissolved.
Add the flour, salt, sugar, ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, garlic powder, and 1 cup of water. If you have a stand mixer, use your dough hook attachment to mix. If you don’t have a mixer available, mix with a strong wooden spoon (or any other stirring utensil that is equally tough) until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. At that point you can mix with your hands until the ingredients are fully incorporated. Turn out the dough on a floured surface (like a bread board) and knead a bit more…. But this recipe really doesn’t need much
Oil a bowl (the same bowl you mixed your dough in is fine) and place dough inside. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean dishtowel. I use a dishtowel that I have run under warm water than wrung out REALLY well. The warm damp environment the towel creates makes the dough rise faster. Put the bowl in a warm place (a spot on the counter that gets light from the window, on top of the stove while the oven is preheating, etc.) and let it rise for 45 minutes. During the last 10 or so minutes of rising, you can preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
Spread cornmeal over your cookie sheet or pizza stone (this is the best way to keep the crust from sticking without it getting soggy bottomed). Punch down dough and either roll it out on your cookie sheet or practice your “that’s amore” pizza toss. Use your fingers to poke little dimples in the crust. Top with sauce, cheese, and any toppings that appeal. Bake until crust is golden on the edges and cheese is bubbly…about 10-12 minutes.
You can half or completely eliminate the cheese to eliminate some fat. Low fat cheeses work well too, but non-fat cheese tends to melt poorly. You can also pat the top of the pizza with a absorbent paper towel when it comes out of the oven and can soak up about 1/3 of the extra fats and grease that will rise to the top from the cheese and whatever meats you are using.
To make a foccacia type bread to go as a side dish that goes great with pasta and salad, brush the dough with a little olive oil once it is spread out on the cookie sheet. You can top it with fresh or dried herbs (rosemary is wonderful), coarse sea salt, or grated cheese for cheese bread.
For a dessert pizza, you can cut out the Parmesan cheese from the crust, and replace the garlic powder with cinnamon. Brush the crust lightly with melted butter, and you can pie topping, fresh fruit, jam, cream cheese, and/or a cinnamon crumb topping.