Friday, September 10, 2010

Grilled Flatbread

Despite dire hurricane predictions, I went to Provincetown, on the very farthest tip of Cape Cod, with my cousin over Labor Day. The whole weekend turned out gorgeously sunny and cloudless, with the exception of a rainy Friday night…which we made the most of by grilling out on the deck.

Now, since I have no outdoor cooking options at home in Brooklyn, when I am near a grill, I want to use it as many ways as I can. This dinner involved grilled pork loin with marmalade glaze, grilled asparagus, grilled corn on the cob, mashed potatoes with shallots and sour cream (not on the grill—not everything can be on the grill), and grilled flatbread.

I’ve loved making bread on the grill for years, but always consulted a recipe. In the “rainy day” spirit that ultimately anticlimactic Hurricane Earl begat, I decided to wing it by making up my own, all seat-of-pants-like. Gentle reader, it turned out awesome. The process does take a couple hours, although 75% of that time is spent waiting for the dough to rise. (It has to rise twice; I strongly suggest reading through this whole recipe before you start so you can time-manage.)

Stir 1 packet dried yeast (2 ¼ tsp) and 1 tsp. sugar into 2 cups room-temperature buttermilk in a medium to large bowl. After 5-10 minutes, the yeast should be more or less dissolved and the mixture should be bubbly. If you’re not sure, you can always stir it again and let it sit a couple more minutes.

With a wooden spoon or plastic spatula, stir in ½ cup cornmeal followed by ½ tsp. iodized salt.

Gradually stir in 2 cups flour, then ½ to 1 cup more if necessary—you’re looking for the mix to transition from liquidy batter to a soft, barely formed dough. It should have a discrete shape rather than sticking to the sides of the bowl.

Now begins the fun part: kneading. (Do not be intimidated! It’s fun, I tell you!) Sprinkle some flour on a large cutting board or clean countertop, flop your proto-dough onto it, and sprinkle that with more flour.

To knead, press down with the flat of your palm, flattening out the dough. Fold the bottom edge of the dough in toward the center, then press down again with the flat of your palm. Rotate the dough a little and repeat the folding-in and pressing-down until the dough is taut enough to resist when you try to fold the edge in. You want it to go from floppy to firm and elastic; once it doesn’t have that give, stop kneading or it will get tough.

Yay, you made dough! Form it into a ball, and put it in a large bowl that you’ve splashed a tablespoon or two of olive oil into. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let it sit at room temperature, away from direct sun and draughts, for about an hour. The dough should puff up to about double its size, and when you can press your thumb into it and the imprint stays, you’re good to go.

Now comes more doughy fun! Punch down the center of the dough, deflating it, and turn it out onto your kneading surface, with more flour sprinkled on it.

Using a pastry cutter or a non-serrated knife, divide the dough into 8 pieces. The best way to ensure evenness is to cut length-, then width-wise, then diagonally in each direction, so you end up with evenly angled wedges.

With each piece, fold the pointy part back onto the fat part of the dough, and roll it into a ball. Place the balls on a lightly floured surface with an inch of space between them, since they’re going to expand again. Cover them in plastic wrap and let them puff up for about 30-45 minutes.

When your dough balls are almost done rising, sprinkle cornmeal on a baking sheet, and pour about ¼ cup olive oil into a small bowl. Fire up your grill, to about medium-high if it’s gas. You could also use a grill pan over medium-high burner heat.

For each dough ball, pick it up and dust it with flour. Using a rolling pin (or a clean glass bottle), roll it out into a pancake-like circle. Carefully peel it off the counter and place it on the baking sheet. Brush olive oil on the surface facing up. Repeat this for another ball or two until your baking sheet is filled; then flip them onto the hot grill, oil side down. Lower the lid and cook for a couple minutes; they’re ready to flip when you can easily slide a spatula underneath them. Lower the lid and cook the other (cornmeal) side to the same extent. (It will be spotty while the first side was stripey.)

Stack the cooked flatbreads on a plate. Repeat this batch process with the remaining dough balls, dusting more cornmeal on the baking sheet for each batch. That's it!

This bread is delicious just warm on its own, torn apart with your fingers and dipped in olive oil. But there are an almost infinite number of ways to enjoy it. Here are a few:

  • Cut into triangles and dipped into hummus, olive tapenade, or any other dip you like
  • Sprinkled with grated Parmesan, topped with sliced roasted peppers and capers, and baked at 350° until the cheese is melted
  • Cut into triangles, toasted to crispiness, and served as an accompaniment to your favorite soup
  • Sliced in half as a pseudo-Cuban hot sandwich with turkey, ham, Swiss cheese, and sliced pickles, cooked like a grilled cheese
  • Cut into triangles, lightly toasted, and topped with a scoop of seafood salad or tuna carpaccio
  • Folded into a gyro pocket shape filled with grilled chicken, feta cheese, tomatoes and parsley
Please suggest your own variations in the comments!


  1. You wrote "begat". That's a funny mistake. I think you meant "began", because whoever heard of the word "begat"?

    I tried the recipe with my folks, with whom I'm staying. Unfortunately, my mom doesn't like olives and thinks "tapenade" sounds dirty, peppers give my dad heartburn, "capers" also sounds dirty, my dad says "soup is not a meal", my mom thinks seafood tastes too fishy, my dad won't eat anything Swiss, and, again with the dirty--"feta". I have to agree with them on that one.

    Anyway, they did enjoy it popped in the toaster and topped with "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter." So thanks four the grate recipe tip!

  2. You know what's an all-American toasted bread product that your parents might enjoy? Pop-Tarts. With capers. Or I'm sorry, "tiny green balls." That sounds much less dirty.