Flatbread plays an extremely important role in the cuisine’s of most cultures around the world. It is the building block, the basis, of many a meal worldwide. Flatbread fills the belly, nourishes the body, and feels good in mouth and hand in all its soft/chewy/crispy/crunchy glory. It can be eaten alone (it’s so convenient on the go — a great stroller snack), or it can accompany stews, curries, meats, veggies — whatever you like. Flatbread is like rice, the perfect white shirt, and the name Michael*: It goes with everything.
Compared to its highly risen counterpart (e.g. a typical yeast-risen loaf), flatbread requires minimal or no time to rise and much less fuel to cook, making flatbread extremely economical in terms of time and resources. Flatbread can be baked in a hot oven for a few minutes, or it can be cooked on the stove or over an open fire on a pan, griddle, or even the (clean) metal end of a gardening hoe.
I have always loved flatbread in all its renditions: focaccia, lavash, hoecakes, naan, pancakes, paratha, pita, poori, thousand-layer bread, titiyas, and tortillas, to name a few.
My son, who is allergic to gluten — a dominant, ubiquitous ingredient in most of today’s bread products ’round the globe — counts this flatbread as one of his all-time favorite foods. This bread is a big hit with friends and family who have no dietary restrictions as well.
This particular flatbread is leavened with non-aluminium, double-acting baking powder. DH can taste the aluminum whenever standard baking powder is used, and he’s not a happy camper when that happens. I myself am not keen on ingesting aluminum, especially when an alternative exists. Rumsford non-aluminum, double-acting baking powder, which is what I use, is commonly sold at well-stocked, mainstream supermarkets.
Of course, baking powder is a relatively new product, and I’m well-aware that in all likelihood, yeast was the rising agent for most ancient flatbreads. I continue to work on a yeast-risen flatbread, and that will be the subject of future post once I have a good yeast-risen flatbread to share.
For now, though, double-acting baking powder remains my choice of leavening agent. I love how baking powder rises a second time (hence the term “double-acting”) when activated by heat. That’s absolutely perfect for gluten-free dough, which, when risen with yeast, can collapse easily if disturbed. Double-acting baking powder enables me to handle the dough without fear, since the bread will rise afterward in the oven.
It goes without saying that gluten-free baking has its own special requirements and defies conventional baking expectations. In my household, we refer to gluten-free (not to mention dairy-, egg-, tree nut-**, peanut- and sesame-free) baking as “baking on Mars.” The old rules just don’t apply.
This recipe can be doubled.
*Or so my Aunt Marie says.
** tree-nut free, except for coconut.
1 c Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All Purpose Baking Mix
1 c rice flour
1/5 c glutinous rice flour
3 t aluminum-free, double-acting baking powder
1 t sea salt
1 t sugar
1 t xanthan gum (see notes for xanthan gum-free version)
scant 3/4 c water, possibly more
2 1/2 to 4 T coconut milk (see notes regarding amount of coconut milk to be used; also, see notes for coconut-free version)
2 T extra virgin olive oil
Ingredient Sources – What I Use
rice flour – Erawan
glutinous rice flour – Erawan
double-acting, aluminum-free baking powder – Rumsford, Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free line, Trader Joe’s
in-house line, Whole Foods in-house line
sugar – Florida Crystals; Sugar in the Raw; C&H Washed, Raw Sugar
xanthan gum – Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free line
coconut milk – Chao Koh, Arroy-D, homemade
extra virgin olive oil – Costco Kirkland Signature
Preheat oven 525 F to 550F (the hotter the better). Place large, covered cast iron pot (I use a 5 qt pot) into preheated oven for 30 minutes.
In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients. Add scant 3/4 c water, coconut milk, and oil. Mix with chopsticks till dough begins to coalesce, then finish by kneading dough by hand. (If dough is too dry and flour does not coalesce with kneading, add a bit more water and knead till it does. You probably will not add more than a total of 4/5 c water.) Aim for a conventional-feeling dough, only more tender. It will feel elastic. It should be damp to the touch, but easy to handle with lightly floured hands.
Divide dough in half. Divide each half into 6 equal parts. Roll each part into a ball. (You should have 12 balls total.) Lightly flour hands. Slap each ball hard between your palms to desired thickness, stretching the dough with the fingers of both hands to even out thickness and thin out bread. (Some people like thinner, crispier flatbread, while others like thicker, softer flatbread.) Lightly dust shaped pieces of bread with rice flour if you’re stacking them so they don’t stick together.
Have plate of formed flatbread pieces, wooden spatula, wooden stick*** (opt), and oven mitts ready.
After preheating completed, remove covered pot from oven. Remove pot lid. Using careful fingers and a wooden spatula, quickly but carefully stick flatbread onto sides and bottom of pot, using wooden spatula to slap bread securely to sides of pot sides. (If the pot is hot enough, you should see the bread start to puff out in places.) Promptly put lid back on pot. Put covered pot back in oven. Bake 6 to 7 minutes (6 for thinner flatbread, 7 for thicker ones). Remove bread from pot immediately and place on warmed plate. Opt: Wrap/cover bread with cloth towel.
Bread will be slightly golden in color, with crispy, patches of light brown on the bottom. Cut one open to check if done. Fully cooked flatbread will look “bready” (i.e. have bread structure) on the inside. Undercooked flatbread on the inside will look somewhat gel-like. Serve hot and eat immediately.
dozen pieces of flatbread (enough bread to serve as a side dish for 4-5 people, or enough bread for two people if that’s all they’re eating)
Like most flatbreads, Hippo Flatbread is best eaten hot and fresh out of the oven.
How much coconut milk you add (2 1/2 to 4 T) depends on the flavor and texture you want. For bread that strikes a nice balance between a tender crumb and a crispy crust while offering a hint of rich flavor, add 2 1/2 T coconut milk. For a softer bread that’s much richer and more buttery in flavor, add 4 T coconut milk.
For a tasty, more golden-looking variation, replace 1/3 to 1/2 c Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All Purpose Baking Mix with an equal amount of corn flour. (I use corn flour from Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free line.)
Obviously, the thinner you pat the dough, the crispier it will be. The thicker the piece, the softer the bread will be.
Do not omit glutinous rice flour; the resulting crumb will be coarse if you do.
Because bread is not directly exposed to the heating element, it will not appear slightly charred as some conventional flatbreads typically do. This will not affect the flavor and mouth feel at all.
My 5 qt Le Creuset cast iron pot fits about a dozen pieces of flatbread (one batch) to the sides and bottom of the pot.
***I use a wooden stick to loosen bread from the pot after the bread has been cooked. The wooden stick I use is the wooden part of a Le Creuset silicone brush; I simply remove the silicone brush, revealing the wedge end of the stick, which removes bread beautifully. Sometimes, though, the bread will fall off the sides of the pot on their own.
This recipe is easily doubled. Just double all the ingredients and bake as instructed. Be sure to preheat oven again, then put covered pot back into oven for 20 minutes or so before loading it up more raw flatbread.
Coconut-free version: Omit coconut milk, add additional 1 T of olive oil, and slightly increase water. Resulting bread will be slightly coarser and not as rich and buttery in flavor, but still quite edible. I haven’t tried making it with soy milk or any of the other kinds of non-dairy milk yet, but I would imagine it would be just as good. The addition of non-dairy milk tenderizes the bread and adds a bit of richness to the flavor.
Xanthan gum-free version: Omit xanthan gum. Slightly increase Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All Purpose Baking Mix and Erawan rice flour. Resulting dough will be considerably more tender and less resilient, and will require gentler handling. Because of this, the dough you pat and shape with your hands likely will be thicker (since thinner ones made from less resilient dough are more apt to falling apart). Thicker bread means you’ll need to increase the cooking time to 7 to 8 minutes. Be sure to flour your hands and dust the flatbread pieces while patting and shaping the dough to avoid having the pieces stick together or fall apart in your hands. The taste will be similar and the texture will be almost the same as the original recipe. (FYI: In this recipe, I add xanthan gum to improve the elasticity and resilience of the raw dough. This addition enables me to handle the dough roughly and make it thinner (i.e. I roll a golfball-size ball in my hands and then literally slap the ball into a flat oval almost the size of my hand. Sometimes I’ll use my fingers and tug the oval to elongate it and thin it out further). This recipe relies on baking powder and heat to give the bread its characteristic uneven, bubbly (mini-)rise and structure; xanthan gum is not employed here to maintain bread structure the way it’s used in yeast-leavened breads like Neat Bread and Hippo Bread.)