My eldest has this uncanny ability, these antennae, tuned to the chord of chocolate. Just last week, I tucked two trays of chocolate chip cookies in the oven, well after bedtime. I was very stealthy, and very quiet, and admirably smoooooth with those sheet pans. I caught the timer, both times, before it beeped. I set down those trays ever so gently.
It took all of two minutes before there he was, all wide eyes and questions. I ask why he's up and about, so late. By way of explanation, my was-never-even-remotely-into-superheroes son replies, My Spidey sense was tingling!
I lack his chocolate instinct. (Also, his deadpan. He earned himself a warm cookie and milk, for provoking guffaws after eleven.) But I have a similar sixth sense for our days. I don't always heed it. But I have it. And in early October, it began tingling away.
There was no one thing that set it off. Just more a matter of many littles, accumulating. Calendar squares too inked up to read. Back-to-back stuff. Things AM to PM. Wild productivity, within the margins. The triumph that follows, when a day doubles its output. The lofty exuberance that signals impending doom. Think housing market, December, 2008. Now think one year later.
My, that was melodramatic. Our month wasn't all that, or even much. Just days fuller than is our custom. Evenings, also. Nothing huge. Pretty normal. Plebeian, even, against the status quo. And all good full, fun full, happy full. But full, just the same. Full for us, anyway. Everyone has their own bandwidth, and ours is a little more telegraph than wireless. Our cacophany's another person's quiet. I know this. And I know us. Tingle, tingle. I saw the cold coming.
It was a whopper, eight days down, many of them raw-throated and ragged. But only a cold, in the end, nothing ginger tea by the gallon couldn't fix. Well, tea, and warm butterscotch pudding. And ginger twinkles. Very restorative, both.
And several more Rylants, read deep in blankets. And leisurely analysis of Julie Morstad's How To. (Ohmygosh, THIS. How did I miss this? Why did no one tell me? Hold placed, fingers twitching.) And discussions of double-digit addition and negative numbers and good mathy bits. Math doesn't require much speaking, turns out. Chalk and marbles and grunts suffice nicely.
The horses were not the problem. The horses were wonderful. She so wanted to see the horses, was thrilled to brush them, ride them, feed them. But they were the ninth thing, that week, and the last thing, and on a Friday. Which, in retrospect, probably wasn't entirely unrelated to Monday's sore throat. And Wednesday's raging fever. And the eight days of down.
And given the chance, I'm not sure I'd change a thing.
It is hard to know, sometimes, when to retreat, and when to plow ahead. When to double down, give it your all, go Nike *rah-rah* and just do it. And when to mindfully step away. I tend to be all about noses and grindstones, packing it in, piling it high, but am learning, I think (I hope), to trust my Spidey sense a nudge more. At least to tune in. At least not to turn it off, swiftly and automatically. Progress.
I embarked on doomed flatbread, anyway.
Mind, no bread can truly be doomed, because warm + fresh + bread ≠ doom. But flatbread can come pretty close. In my (in)capable hands, anyway.
I've attempted flatbread for years, with varying degrees of failure. My learnings: The line between fashionably charred and inedibly burnt is a fine line, indeed. The physics of convincing 1/2" of dough to go from raw to cooked on a griddle is far more complex than baking a loaf in the oven. Never mind that it's, like, pre-historic technology. Tough is not just possible but probable when negotiating these two bad ends. So is cold-sticky-raw inside, nasty-burnt-bitter outside. And maybe I'm being overly picky here, but charcoal goo lacks a certain appeal. No matter how fresh or warm.
So last month, when the flatbread itch arose, as it tends to do in Fall, that still small voice screamed Retreat! and Don't bother!! (It can get a little screechy, sometimes.) Had I been even remotely in touch with reason, or linear regression, I wouldn't have gone there. As it happened, the itch found me on one of my more stubborn days. Still, my Spidey sense was pretty deafening, and channeling Dante, Abandon all hope...
Imagine, then, my surprise.
Because there, that day, was the flatbread I've tried for (and failed at, miserably), for I can't say how long. This time, I began with Sanjeev Kapoor's naan, a new-to-me take on India's classic. Among the vast family of flatbreads, naan is the one I most admire, its texture, height and pliability about the most perfect mash-up I know. That said, I've made naan before. Dozens of times. See above.
Kapoor's naan was like no naan I'd made. It wasn't dramatically different, just an accumulation of small tweaks, which somehow added up to brilliant. There's an egg, and baking powder and soda both, and more liquid than seems advisable. I add an unorthodox smidge of yeast, as I like the extra loft it brings, and I've found that there's great latitude in the mix of yogurt and milk. (Use what suits.) The dough comes together quickly in a mixer, and can sit as little as an hour (or as long as six). During its rise, its sticky subsides, and transforms into a soft, supple thing, easily tamed and shaped with a flick of flour, the wrist, and gravity. Once flattened, the dough takes all of five minutes to cook on a cast iron skillet. Cook, here, being a very loaded verb, implying "achieve appropriate level of done" and not "blacken beyond recognition while failing to reach an internal temp of tepid."
The end result is not just not bad, but so much better than I'd dared hope. Tender and downy with a faintly sweet twang, and a crumb that verges on creamy. Burnished and dimpled and dappled with crisp. Pillowy. I come back to pillowy. Were pillows something suitable to eat. We like ours with lemony hummus, and any dal, and soups of all stripes. They are supple enough to roll around eggs, strong enough to swipe and dip, and special enough to make leftovers seem brand new, again. A neat trick. And must be sampled, without fail, smudged with butter and steaming still, ideally standing stoveside. Because to miss out on that would just be sad.
Almost as sad as never having found (FINALLY) a winning flatbread formula. I will assume (because I always do) that the rest of you solved this particular problem long ago. I will assume I have some seriously flawed flatbread gene. But if, perchance, you too have not quite hit upon a flatbread you love, stop asking whether to fight the good fight, whether to plow ahead. Just do the following and when you break bread, give thanks to Kapoor, and problems with easy answers, and slamdunk soft warm buttered happy.
A Flatbread for All-Occasions (a.k.a. Naan)
adapted from How to Cook Indian, by Sanjeev Kapoor
This is a generous, easygoing recipe. I've used half wheat and half white flour, to great effect. I've cut half the milk with buttermilk, and replaced it entirely; both excellent. I've made it without the egg; still good. Let it rise an hour, or four. Or even overnight in the fridge. I usually use olive oil, as that's what I have, and no one complains. Quite the opposite, in fact. Hoots and hollers abound, whenever this is part of supper.
I typically make these stoveside, in a cast iron skillet, and keep warm in a 200° oven. However, one of this recipe's many delightful touches is directions for oven-baking, wonderful for a crowd, or batch-baking. Both routes are included, below.
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (or half white, half wheat)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. yeast
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 cup milk
2 Tbs. plain yogurt
2 Tbs. olive or vegetable oil
Place flour, baking powder, baking soda, yeast, salt and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, and whisk to combine. Warm milk slightly: leave at room temp for 1 hour, or microwave for 20-30 seconds. Your aim is milk at the temperature you'd hand to a small child. Add egg, milk, yogurt and 3 Tablespoons of warm water to dry ingredients, then fit mixer with dough hook, and mix 5-7 minutes, until dough is cohesive, elastic and smooth. Dough will be wet and soft. Either move your dough to an oiled, fresh bowl, or do as lazy Molly does, and scrape your dough from the sides, dribbling oil around the bowl as you go. Cover and rest in a warm place, 1-4 hours. If allowing to rise longer, refrigerate.
To cook on the stove: preheat oven to 200°. Set a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet on the stove, and heat gradually over medium-high heat, 3-4 minutes. While skillet is heating, tip dough out of bowl onto a piece of floured parchment or clean floured surface. Divide into 8 equal portions and, with floured hands, shape into balls. One at a time, with floured fingers, flatten each ball into a 6" circle, around 1/4" thick. This is not rolling pin territory; simply use your fingers to stretch the soft dough into a rough circle (I pick up each ball and rotate it, slowly, letting gravity do most of the work.) Uneven is good. Set dough circles, one at a time, in the hot skillet, and cook 2-3 minutes on one side, until edges are beginning to turn opaque, and underside is a nice caramel bronze. Adjust temperature as needed, to prevent burning, and form the next flatbread as the prior one cooks. When finished and finely browned on first side, flip with tongs, and continue to cook on reverse, another 1-2 minutes, just until thickest part of flatbread is cooked through. Total cooking time is 4-5 minutes. Place in preheated oven, if you wish to keep them warm, or schmear them with butter and send them out to their adoring fans.
To bake in the oven: preheat oven to 400°. Tip dough out of bowl onto a piece of floured parchment or clean floured surface. Divide into 8 equal portions and, with floured hands, shape into balls. With floured fingers, flatten each ball into a 6" circle, around 1/4" thick. (See shaping notes, above.) Place flatbreads on a lightly greased baking sheet, and bake 15-18 minutes, or until brown on both sides, crisp in spots, and tender within.
Serve immediately, hot and dripping with butter, alongside soups, stews, dips and children. These reheat beautifully for several days, slipped into a toaster oven for a few minutes. They also freeze like a charm. A double batch is a grand thing.