Flatbreads are a lovely appetizer at a dinner party. The trick is planning ahead: if you make your dough and prep your toppings well ahead of time, assembly and baking takes only a few minutes. Easy peasy, right? This recipe is made with a yeast dough, with a slow, cold fermentation, somewhat similar to some pizza doughs. (The cold fermentation helps develop flavour.) Also like a pizza, the flatbreads are baked at a high temperature, which yields a crisp crust and nice caramelisation on top. Figs, blue cheese and rosemary are a natural combination for the topping; the leeks add sweetness, moisture, and depth. But really, you can top your flatbreads with anything you like.
For the dough:
1 packet active dry yeast
3 and ½ to 4 cups bread flour or all purpose flour
1 to 1 and ½ cups warm water
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus additional olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
For the topping
8-10 ripe black figs, trimmed and cut into eighths or sliced into rounds (I like the dimensionality from cutting the figs in eighths)
100 grams (about ¼ pound) sharp blue cheese (such as a French or Spanish blue), crumbled
Several sprigs fresh rosemary
1 leek, white and pale green parts sliced into 1 cm half-moons
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup Sauternes or other semi-sweet wine
1/4 teaspoon salt
Additional flake salt, such as Maldon’s
Dissolve one tablespoon of the flour in ¼ cup warm water, stir in the yeast, cover with a damp cloth and allow to bloom for 10-15 minutes, or until the mixture has started to bubble and expand. In a large mixing bowl combine 3 and ½ cups of the flour with the salt. Mix in the yeast mixture, ¼ cup olive oil, and ¾ cup warm water, adding water or flour as needed until you have a nice, springy, soft dough that does not stick to your hands when you knead it. (I use my hands to do this – generally, I don’t recommend using stand mixers to make bread because you run a risk of getting the consistency wrong.) Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board or your kitchen counter and knead vigorously for five to seven minutes, or until the dough feels supple and silky.
Rub the dough with additional olive oil, put in a clean bowl, cover with a damp dish towel, and put in your refrigerator to rise. When the dough has doubled in bulk, you can punch it down but otherwise leave it in the fridge for a minimum of six hours and up to overnight.
At least one and a half hours before you intend to use the dough, take it out of the fridge, oil your hands, and shape dough into five or six balls. Cover with plastic wrap (cling film) and allow to rest.
While the dough is resting, you can prepare your toppings (e.g., slice your figs, crumble the cheese, and sauté the leeks). Sweat the leeks in a saucepan over medium-high heat with ¼ teaspoon salt until leeks are transparent. Add the wine, increase heat and cook, stirring frequently, until all liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Celsius (about 475 degrees Fahrenheit). Roll the dough balls into oblongs about ½ cm thick and place on an oiled cookie sheet or baking tray. Put toppings on as follows: first scatter the leeks, then add the figs, leaving a 1 to 1 and 1/2 inch border around the edges. Sprinkle with rosemary sprigs and the blue cheese. Brush the exposed edges with additional extra virgin olive oil.
Bake for 7-10 minutes, or until flatbreads are crisp and golden. Sprinkle with coarse salt, cut each bread into thirds, and serve immediately.
Makes 5-6 flatbreads.