Our recipe for soft beer flatbread will not disappoint you. It might impress you. And it can deliver immense satisfaction, the kind that can only be obtained from warm, aromatic and tasty bread.
If I had to make a guess, I would say that while you are grilling flatbread number two (out of 16 the recipe yields) you will simultaneously be devouring flatbread number one. This may occur again around flatbread number five after which you’ll try to remind yourself that it is too late to mix another batch of dough and wait for it to rise.
You might restrain yourself as the thought crosses your mind. Or you might not.
Beer, bread and soft beer flatbread
The urge to make soft beer flatbread tomorrow was sudden and overwhelming. It came to me while I was reading a book in bed a few nights ago. I do recommend A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage if you haven’t already read it. It takes you from the very first human settlements and the advent of the first civilized drink – beer, to modern day Coca-Cola and globalization. It is not a brand new book, first published in 2005 so the dominance of health consciousness marking the last decade is not discussed, just the rise of bottle water consumption (and how bottled water is frequently found to be of inferior quality to tap water). Regardless, it is a fascinating book and I am glad that I came across it, even if late.
The opening chapter on beer tells the story of the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt where beer was used as form of payment, was the reason for the emergence of record keeping (writing) and people used to greet each other by saying “bread and beer”.
A typical wage in those times was recorded as ‘bread and beer for one day” and ancient Mesopotamian texts revealed that state rations (the primary source of food for many people) were ‘the standard issue of bread, beer, dates and onions, sometimes supplemented with meat or fish and with additional vegetables”.
That was it. This one phrase triggered a mental image of indulging in a simple ‘standard issue’ meal of fresh bread, dates, onions and beer. Go figure. I also thought that the bread should definitely be flatbread and the onions could be caramelized and accompanied by some cheese, goat cheese. They did domesticate goats and sheep in those parts of the world and learned how to make cheese. The next day I went to Trader Joe’s to get Medjool dates and goat cheese.
Almost every country has their own flatbread heritage. Sometimes the flatbread is soft, puffy and small – like pita or naan; sometimes it is crispy, thin and larger in size – like lavash and tortilla. Sometimes it is leavened with yeast, sometimes it is not. And of course there are hundreds of variations.
I contemplated using a recipe for Bulgarian purlenki that I have from my grandmother. One of few recipes I have in her hand writing. She made them with beer. Purlenki are the version of flatbread Bulgarians make. They are soft and leavened with yeast. Except for the yeast is moist and is sold in little cubes. Not something I could buy here. So I asked Chris for help and he gave me a great recipe for grilled soft beer flatbread that yields one hundred and sixty pieces per batch. He uses it when people order the Mediterranean buffet for bigger events.
Don’t worry, we scaled it down and it works perfectly:)
I wanted to use a dark and sweet ale. There was no hopping thousands of years ago nor were there modern kilning methods. We had a seasonal brown ale at home, recently introduced by Odell Brewing and bearing the poetic name Settle Down Brown. Pleasure to drink by the fire at the end of a cold winter day, especially if you happen to have a wood burning fireplace. It is also a very attractive candidate to use in recipes, being sweet and malty.
In partnership with the brown sugar in the recipe it gives the soft beer flatbread a darker color. I haven’t exactly studied the history of bread, but I am pretty sure that white bread is a very, very new phenomenon on its timeline.
I assure you – this is a complete meal. Tear a piece of the soft beer flatbread while it is still warm. Brush some olive oil on it, add a bit of goat cheese, a bit of caramelized onions and a piece of date. Yield to the ensuing simplicity and wonder of the flavors in your mouth and chase with a sip of beer. Settle down and keep going, keep going… Pure happiness my friends, I really mean it.
Now on my radar is to make this awesome soft beer flatbread with sprouted wheat flour which is supposed to be more nutrient rich and easier to digest and see what happens. If the results are better than from using all purpose flour I will update this post or put together a new one.
But this is going to have to happen next month at the earliest because we have already eaten our fair share of bread for February. Way ahead of schedule. I am serious though, the Perrines do not eat a ton of bread. We mostly drink ours. Beer and bread are one and the same and we allocate our fermented carbs consumption in line with the craft beering lifestyle:)
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- 1 cup beer (use a malty, low bitterness dark beer such as a brown ale or dunkel)
- ½ cup warm water
- 1½ packet of active dry yeast (equivalent of ⅜ oz)
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 4 cups all purpose flour
- 2 tsp salt
- ⅓ cup olive oil (plus more for brushing)
- Serving suggestions: 1 large red onion + 1 tbsp olive oil + 1 tbsp brown sugar to make caramelized onions; a dozen Medjool dates, pitted and sliced, goat cheese, olive oil
- Begin by warming the beer (do not exceed 100℉).
- In the bowl of a stand up mixer fitted with the dough hook combine the yeast, brown sugar, warm water and warmed beer. Stir and let sit for 5-10 minutes.
- Once the yeast begins to foam up, in a separate bowl mix the flour with the salt.
- Add to the yeast & beer mixture and mix until the resulting dough separates from the sides of the mixing bowl and forms a ball.
- Prepare a clean, lightly floured surface and place the (should be slightly sticky) dough on top.
- Knead (to your heart's desire:) or for approximately 3 minutes, adding flour if needed.
- Shape the dough into a ball. Divide it into two. Continue dividing the dough into two until you end up with 16 small pieces.
- Shape them into small balls and flatten them into palm size rounds by pressing between your palms or laying them onto the working surface and pressing down with the knuckles of your fist.
- Arrange the flat rounds onto two quarter size baking sheets (8 per sheet) and brush them with olive oil so that they do not dry out on the surface. Cover well and let sit in a warm place for at least 40 minutes. Once they dough has risen about ⅓ over the original size and is very soft to the touch you can begin grilling the flatbread.
- Use medium heat on your grill or heat up a stove top cast iron grill pan over medium heat.
- Grill each side for about 2 minutes. Lightly brush each flatbread with olive oil once done and place in a basket lined with a cotton towel. Cover to keep warm.
- If making the caramelized onions, begin by slicing the onion very thin. (Do this while waiting for the flatbread to rise.) Over medium heat in a small pan mix it with the olive oil and the brown sugar and let cook until it is soft and begins to caramelize. Transfer to a serving bowl and keep covered until needed to avoid drying out.