Old World Tuesday: Lavash, Part I: The Dough

March 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

Today we are going to be making the classic Azerbaijani flatbread called lavash. Lavash is also a staple in Azerbaijan’s immediate neighbor Armenia (and perhaps other countries), and in both cases it plays the same role as tortillas: it is used as a wrap for grilled meats and the like.

Though it’s a flatbread, lavash is not unleavened – it is made with yeasted dough that is allowed to rise, rolled out thinly without the second rise, and cooked on a griddle (I will be using a large cast-iron skillet for this). Lavash dries out really fast, so it should be wrapped in plastic pretty soon after it is baked.

As I was making the dough and taking the pictures, I decided that this post was also a good opportunity to provide a step-by-step overview of the hand-kneading process, in case this is something you’ve never done and would like to learn. Plus, I realized today, I take a distinct pleasure in photographing bread dough in action from different angles over and over again.

Because, while doing that, I pretty soon accumulated way too large a number of pictures, I decided that it would be best to divide the lavash saga between two posts, with the first one focusing on the dough, and the second one focusing on the baking, which will be taking place tomorrow. (This doesn’t have to be a two-day process, although it can be – the dough only needs to rise for 3 hrs in a warm place, however, you may opt to place it in the fridge overnight to allow more flavor to develop. Or because, like me, you are lazy, and don’t want to do both in one day).

This recipe is from Flatbreads and Flavors. Yeah, I know. I never actually made this back home.

Dissolve 1/2 t of dry yeast and 1/2 T of brown sugar in 3/4 C of warm water. The picture doesn’t look too appetizing, but bear with me!

Mix it with 1 1/2 C of unbleached white flour and 1/2 t salt.

If using a mixer: mix everything with a paddle attachment until everything comes together.

If mixing by hand: mix with a wooden spoon until too stiff to mix by hand.

I find my bowl scraper extremely useful and I recommend it to everyone.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface.

Roughly shape into a ball. We are now going to transform this seemingly dry lump into smooth, elastic, pliable dough.

The basic principle behind kneading is in folding the dough onto itself and pressing down, while making sure to be adding plenty of flour to prevent the dough from becoming unworkably sticky. I am now going to do so repeatedly until the dough reaches the desired stage. In the picture above, I am folding the dough in half,

and pressing down.

It now looks like this.

I am going to turn this 45 degrees,

fold in half onto itself and press down again.

Notice how this is starting to look more like dough and less like a lump.

See how it’s sort of beginning to look smooth and elastic as we go? Be sure to keep adding flour so it doesn’t stick to your hands or the surface. This is a simple truth of which I was ignorant when I was mixing up the my first ever batch of dough. Don’t be me!

Up to this point the dough was being kneaded with one hand, so I could keep snapping pictures with the other. But here I laid down my camera and went for it with both hands. But I was still doing the same thing – folding it over, and pressing down, while adding flour as needed. Am I repeating myself?

At last, at this point, I decided I was done. You want to stop before your dough starts to tear.

The last thing I did was shaping the dough into a ball.

Now let’s check if it is really elastic. We are going to pinch the dough, and see if it springs back.

See? It springs back. It’s done.

Now pour some oil into a bowl, and coat the bowl well with your hands.

Drop the dough into the bowl,

and turn it in the bowl several times until well coated and slick.

See? This dough is nice and shiny – it’s been well coated!

Now this is not like the no-knead bread which is quite a bit more moist, and this dough needs to be well covered to prevent it from drying out. Which is why I like to cover my bowl with saran. Sorry, Earth!

At this point the dough needs to be left to rise – either leave it in a warm place, such as next to a wood stove or inside the oven with a light on (but it will eventually rise no matter where you put it) for 3 hrs, or refrigerate overnight. Wherever you put it, it is fully risen when it has doubled in size and the surface is dotted with bubbles.

See ya tomorrow!

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