15 September, 2011

Salt and Pepper Skillet Breads (Gluten free)

If you've read any of my past posts, you know I love bread. Along with potatoes and brown rice, it's the foundation of most of my meals. It's hard for me to go for more than a few days without it, and I really prefer to eat some every day.

I make Asian-inspired curries quite a bit, so I got thinking about a brown rice chapati that might taste good enough to eat with them as well as on its own. I experimented a bit with the basic recipe, which is pretty simple, usually calling for finely ground whole wheat flour, salt and water. No yeast, which seems to be causing some allergies lately.

The first few tries using brown rice flour were edible but I had a problem holding together the dough without the gluten. Even though I used a metal egg flipper to transfer it from the board to the pan, it was breaking apart before I could get it in there. And it was hard to pat out into a round too.

I discovered that by adding just 1/4 tsp of xanthan gum per cup of flour, the chapatis would hold together and be easier to pat out, and the addition of a bit of baking powder would make a lighter, flakier bread.

The taste was pretty acceptable, a bit like a softer rice cracker, but also a bit bland. I solved the problem by adding a bit more salt and black pepper, with the goal to make them taste a bit like those salt and pepper chips that I first met, and formed an attachment with, in Japan.

Eureka, pretty tasty, savoury and chewy/flaky. Now the only problem is to stop eating them once I start, a bit like those chips of melting memory.

These are easy and fast to make once you get the hang of them. Remember to flour the board and use the palms of your hands (edges down) to cup around the breads to make the edges more even as you form them. You can also pinch any cracks or splits together with your fingers. Don't be too fussy, though. These are nice when they look rustic.

The good thing about these for those of you cooking in kitchens without ovens, or maybe camping or cooking outdoors, is that they "bake" in a cast iron frying pan. I'll warn you, though, there is smoke, so if you're in an apartment with one of those finicky alarms, then be prepared. But don't let that scare you -- just take appropriate venting measures.

Savoury Salt and Pepper Skillet Breads
The recipe makes about 8 small breads, but you can halve it for 4

2 cups brown rice flour
1 tsp salt (more or less, to taste)
1/4 -1/2 tsp ground black pepper (or to taste)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1 cup water

Mixing the dough:

Put all the dry ingredients in a big mixing bowl and stir until they are mixed together.  Add the water and mix it around with a fork until the dough starts to come together. If there are a few crumbles don't worry. Gather the dough together with your hands and knead it a few times until it forms a smooth ball, still in the bowl. Lightly flour a wooden board and knead the dough together for a few moments until it is smooth and a bit elastic. It won't be very elastic but it should hold together.

Forming the breads:

Divide the dough into half and each half into four balls.Take one ball at a time and put it on a floured board. Flatten it a bit and even out the edges by cupping your hands around the edges as necessary. Use the tips of your fingers to push and dimple the bread which will stretch it out until it is about 1/3 inch in thickness. The breads will be about 5 inches/12 cm. in diameter, but you can make smaller ones if you like.


 While you are forming the breads, heat a cast iron frying pan on high to medium high heat. Just before you put each bread in, put a teaspoon or two of oil into the pan and spread it around by tilting the pan. Cook the bread on the first side for a few minutes until it is puffed and browned but not black. Turn it over and cook for about a minute on the second side. Remove it to a plate to cook while you cook the other breads, if you can wait. If not try to juggle eating the bread while you cook the second one, something that I guarantee you can get quite handy at with practice.


While each bread cooks, you can form the next on the board so you can keep the production up and not have to slow down the process, but if you get tired, don't despair. Just cover the bead dough balls in the bowl, put them in the fridge and fry them later, so you can have fresh hot bread whenever you like. It's much better eaten the same day it's made, as it toughens up a bit overnight.

Note: I tried this with guar gum the last time I made it and it was even flakier though just a bit harder to form. I made slightly smaller breads to compensate.