Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Asian-Style Flatbread (Pancakes)

 - with or without optional Sourdough Starter

The setting:
On the boat, in port, at the dock, with another day of rain, and waiting for a delivery via airfreight. 

The story:
The activity began with an extra quarter-cup of sourdough starter, but without a plan to use it. I just knew that I wanted to play be productive in the galley instead of heading outside for a walk. I know, I know, I can be such a weather wimp – well, sort of... sometimes. Ordinary rain is fine, even pleasant, but heavy, pelting downpours are totally for ducks! Today felt like a comfort food "soup-and-something” kind of day, so why not make a sourdough “something” to enjoy with our Asian ginger chicken soup. Mmmm, just thinking about it perked up my tastebuds.

I was inspired by a recipe for Asian-Style Flatbread found in my latest favorite cookbook, the Soup & BreadCookbook by Beatrice Ojakangas. Her flatbread is more of a quickbread pancake or maybe a fluffy tortilla, with added yeast to contribute some light airiness. Surely sourdough would be a positive addition, at least it was worth a try. Let the fun begin.

Some Working notes:

1. The ingredients, all ordinary galley items, came together quickly in the mixing bowl, but the dough was too sticky to work. This might have been due to the wet weather or even the too-loose consistency of my sourdough starter. It required several small additions of flour, added one heaping tablespoon at a time, to achieve the recommended “slightly stiff” batter.

2.  The “lightly floured” surface and rolling pin still wanted to grab the dough, so I sprinkled a bit more flour onto each dough ball, kneaded it in briefly, and proceeded with more success. Evidently the dough wasn’t “stiff” enough initially, once again I’ll blame the weather or the starter.

3.  Size/thickness matters. I rolled out the first round too thick. It puffed nicely in the pan, but the outside surface overbrowned while the interior was still wet. Rolling the second disk thinner helped, but it still seemed undercooked. Covering the pan with a lid for part of the cooking time handled the problem nicely, creating a crunchy, browned exterior with a soft but cooked interior.

4.  Oiling the pan at the start produced an attractive golden crust with distinct sesame flavor on side one, but added little to side two. Try adding more oil to the pan for side two, or spray the uncooked side of a flatbread before flipping to improve appearance and taste.

5.  The dough needed more salt. The original recipe suggested serving the flatbread with a soy sauce and mayonnaise dipping sauce, so perhaps Ojakangas held back on the salt to balance the taste. We dipped our flatbread in Asian Ginger Chicken Soup, in Ponzu Sauce, in Thai Sweet Chili Sauce, in Thai Peanut Sauce. All were fine, but we preferred it plain… or topped with a slather of butter and a quick grind of sea salt.

The results:
I tore a piece off of the first disk and thought, “Meh, no big deal.” I nibbled on the second flatbread and found it better cooked and maybe a bit more fully flavored. Fast forward to the fourth and final pancake, the double-oiled fully-cooked version with added salt – YUM! We almost fought over the last torn piece with dueling forks. These sesame-flavored, onion-speckled, airy, pancake-like breads were judged to be “keepers”, delicious and unexpectedly popular with the Capt.

Oh yes, I’ll make these again, with or without the added sourdough starter. That extra bit of sourdough remained hidden in the background, contributing little to the flatbread's flavor or rise. No big deal, it was an interesting experiment. Sourdough or not, what’s not to like about a flatbread recipe that takes under one hour to go from mixing bowl to table?

Asian-Style Flatbread  
Adapted from the Soup & Bread Cookbook by Beatrice Ojakangas

Yields 4-6 flatbreads

2 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
½ cup warm water
¼ cup sourdough starter (optional)
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour, divided (more or less depending on consistency of starter)
½ teaspoon salt (I increased to 1 scant tsp)
½ Tablespoon sesame oil
small knob of ginger, freshly grated (optional, I used a 1-inch piece)
¼ cup green onions (scallions), white & green parts, minced

Additional flour for rolling
Additional sesame oil for cooking

Preparing the dough:

  • Add the warm water to a medium-size mixing bowl and sprinkle the yeast over the water. Add ½ cup flour and the salt; whisk by hand or use a mixer and beat until smooth. Stir in the sourdough (if using), oil, ginger, green onions and enough of the remaining flour (or even a bit more) to make a smooth, slightly stiff batter. 
  • Separate the dough into 4 to 6 portions and place on an oiled platter. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes. 
  • Roll each mound of dough into a ball, working quickly with floured hands to avoid sticking. Use a floured rolling pin and a lightly floured surface roll each ball into a thin roundish disk, about 8-inches in diameter. 
Cooking the flatbread:
  • Brush an 8-inch or 10-inch nonstick skillet with some sesame oil and warm over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add one rolled disk to the skillet and cook on the first side until golden, about 2 minutes. Add a bit more sesame oil to the pan (or brush onto the uncooked side of the dough), then flip and cook the other side until golden, roughly 2 more minutes. (Note: I covered the skillet with a lid for the first minute on each side to be sure the insides were cooked through.
  • Transfer to a plate or baking rack and cover with foil to keep warm. 
  • Repeat with the remaining dough rounds. Serve warm as the flatbread becomes more cracker-like as it cools. 

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