Grilled Flatbread, 101

Like rings on a tree, I recall past years and seasons not by what I was doing at the time, but what I was eating.  If 2010 was the summer of kebabs and 2011 was the summer of canning, then 2012 will surely be remembered in our house as the summer of grilled bread.

Perfect for the outdoors, rustic and homemade grilled flatbread is one of those deliciously easy yet sought after skills to keep in your culinary kit, filed under the “Smug Ways To Impress Your Guests” tab. We’ve been grilling up flatbread at least once a week this year, sometimes as an appetizer and othertimes as the main event.  After all, the versatility of flatbread is part of it’s charm.  You can top it lightly and simply, slice the flats up small with a pizza cutter and serve it as a nibble, or top with heartier ingredients and bolder flavors, tear each flat in half home-style and let it be dinner.

When done well, perfect grilled flatbread is tender, pillowy soft and slightly chewy with gorgeous grill marks and a slightly smoky flavor. When done poorly, dreadful grilled flatbread can be anything from doughy and undercooked to crumbly and charred, flavorless, bland and generally disappointing.  The good news is that with a simple, basic recipe and a few hints and tricks that I’ve picked up along the way, you will quickly and easily master the technique to perfect grilled flatbread, and then you’re laughing.

Well, maybe not laughing, per se, because your mouth will be too full of delicious grilled bread. But possibly closed mouth smiling or grinning from the belly.

Grilled Flatbread, 101

Make ~ 6 medium flatbreads

  • 1 tbsp active dry yeast
  • 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 bottle beer (330 mL)
  • 3 cups all purpose flour, plus more for board

Measure the yeast, sugar and salt into a fairly large mixing bowl.  Pour in the bottle of beer.

Hint & Trick # 1:

Why beer and not water or another lubricant? The beer provides a nice hit of sweet, yeasty flavor to the breads which makes up for the quick rise.

Stir things around to dissolve the sugar and set this aside for a few minutes to ensure that your yeast is active.  Basically, you just want to see it begin to “bloom”, which means that the yeast pellets will swell and expand, eventually becoming a raft. However,as soon as you see a few collections of orbs swell on the surface of the beer, you know the yeast is active and you can move on. If the yeast doesn’t bloom after 10 minutes, it means it is inactive and sadly you will need to start again with fresh yeast from a different container.

Add the flour to the beer and stir with your hand until a scrappy dough starts to form.

Continue working the flour into the liquid, kneading as you go, until a soft and very sticky dough has been formed. The flatbread dough will be much stickier than a traditional kneaded bread dough that you might be used to, but that’s okay; the end product stays incredibly soft and pillowy with the added moisture causing lovely poofing and puffing during the bake.

Cover the dough with a tea towel and leave it to rise in a warm place for 1.5-2 hours, or until the dough has swelled and roughly doubled in size.

Flour your work area generously and divide the dough into 6 equal balls.

Hint & Trick # 2:

Dredge the outside of each ball lightly in flour to prevent it from gluing itself to the table. Remember, this is a very sticky dough. You don’t want to work too much more flour into the core of each flatbread, but you want the outside to be well floured or you’ll have a heck of a time.

Roll each ball of dough out partially. The dough will naturally shrink and spring back, so set these half-rolled doughs aside to rest for about 5 minutes. The gluten will relax and you can then lightly flour each side of the dough again and roll out to an elongated oval that is approximately 1/4″ thick.

Hint & Trick # 3:

Try to ensure even thickness and don’t roll the dough too thin. If there are any areas which appear translucent, is too thin. If you must, err on the side of a thicker dough (up to 3/8″) because if it is too thin in spots it will char, crack and eventually break on the grill.

Heat your grill up to medium-high heat.

Hint & Trick # 4:

Technique won’t save you if your grill is the wrong temperature. Too hot and the breads will char on the outside before they can cook through; too cool and they won’t puff up, the exterior will brown and become brittle. You want the temperature to be between 400-425ºF and each flatbread will cook in no more than 2 minutes per side.

Carefully lay your flatbread dough (in batches) on the grill, being sure to spread it out evenly without areas that are folded over or stretched to thin. Use both hands and be careful with the raw dough.  When cooking the flatbreads, close the lid so that the warm air can circulate inside like a bread oven  Let the bread cook in the ambient heat for about 2 minutes before lifting the lid and flipping the dough.  You can tell it is ready to be flipped when the “raw” side is bulbous and hilly with air bubbles and most of the dough is light and opaque with just a few darker, raw looking spots. On the underside, it should be just starting to turn golden with clear and attractive grill marks on the outside.

Cook on the second side for another 1-2 minutes before removing from the grill.

I like to top the breads with a variety of toppings while they’re still piping hot or warm, but they can be served at room temperature and will be just as delicious.

Hint & Trick # 5:

 In terms of what to layer on there, the only limit is your imagination. However, I do believe that a simple combination of no more than 4 ingredients is usually best and you don’t want to overload the bread. If your toppings are dry, don’t forget a drizzle of your best olive oil.

A few of our favorite combinations include…..

…juicy summer fresh tomatoes with sliced buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil, a drizzle of exceptional olive oil and some flaked salt and freshly ground pepper.

….creamy Macedonian feta cheese with prosciutto and watercress, a drizzle of olive oil and freshly ground pepper.

….salty kalamata olives with creamy goat cheese, a drizzle each of honey and exceptional olive oil with fresh mint.

A few other great combinations include;

  • Slivered dried apricot, blue cheese and toasted almonds
  • Smoked sausage, goat cheese and scallion
  • Slivered sundried tomato, brie and scallion
  • Roasted garlic, roasted red pepper and provolone
  • Crumbled chorizo, queso and smoky ancho oil with fresh chili
  • ….anything else your heart desires!!!

You will master the art of grilling bread in no time, I promise you that, and with a little bit of experimentation you can enjoy bringing your al fresco summertime meals to a whole new level!

  • Nanco

    Those look and sound amazing. I’m going to try them this weekend!

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      Nancy – thank you for the warm words! They really are delicious and I would totally encourage you to give the recipe/technique a shot. If you do, please let us know what you thought!