Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Thin flatbreads were the original breads, and are still a major source of nourishment in many countries throughout the world. The essential characteristic of flatbreads is that they cook very quickly, in as little as two minutes, on a simple hot surface, whether a pan, an oven floor or wall, or a mass of hot pebbles. The heat is often very high—pizza ovens can run at 900°F/450°C—and this means that tiny air-pockets in the dough are puffed up by rapidly vaporizing steam, essentially leavening the dough without the necessity of fermentation (though many flatbreads are made with leavened doughs). This puffing, and the breads’ thinness, make them tender; and since neither requires a strong gluten, flatbreads can be made from all kinds of grains. Despite the short baking time, the high temperatures develop a delicious toasted flavor across the extensive surface of flatbreads.