In our first book, we covered the classic European baking tradition, and that meant lots and lots of bread from France, a country where I love to eat anything, but especially bread. Sweet Provencal Flatbread with Anise Seeds is a marvelous example of a bread that is so versatile that it can be split to make great sandwiches today, and then dunked, stale, into strong cafe au lait tomorrow morning. You can mix a whole batch with the sugar, orange zest, and anise seeds, or roll a little of those three into a plain dough to make just a pound’s worth (see end of post).
Twenty minutes before baking time, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F, with a baking stone on the middle rack. Place an empty broiler tray on any other shelf that won’t interfere with rising bread.
Ingredients for a full batch:
2 1/4 cups lukewarm water
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (2 packets) (can decrease, see http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/?p=85)
1 1/2 tablespoons salt (can decrease, see http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/?p=139)
1 tablespoon whole anise seeds for the dough, plus more for topping
1/3 cup sugar
Zest from half an orange, removed with a microzester
6 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (can swap out 1 to 2 cups whole wheat or rye)
Flour for dusting
Water to paint on top crust
Mix all ingredients together in a bucket or mixing bowl, cover loosely and allow to rest at room temperature for 2 hours. Refrigerate for up to two weeks, removing portions as needed for daily loaves. The wet dough can be used at room temperature but is easier to handle when cold.
Cut off a pound of dough (about the size of a grapefruit) with a kitchen scissors or a serrated knife. Gently form a smooth ball by generously dusting the ball with flour and stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go (see videos). You can already see how beautiful the orange zest is going to make the finished breads– the flecks can bee seen already:
Using your hands, a rolling pin, and enough dusting flour to prevent sticking, flatten the ball to a thickness of 1/4-inch. In the book, we specify 1/2-inch, but I wanted to bake these with no resting time so my wife and I could have these flatbreads with lunch today (we ate outside, just like in Provence…). The thinner the flatbread, the less resting time. Like pizza (1/8-inch thick dough), these don’t need to rest after you roll them out.
Keeping your work surface well-dusted with flour, use a pizza cutter to make eight triangular flatbreads, like so:
Use a pastry brush to paint the triangles with water and sprinkle with anise seeds:
Slide them onto the pre-heated baking stone (or place the cookie sheet or silicone pad on the stone). Pour 1 cup of tap water into the broiler tray and quickly close the oven door:
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until richly browned and firm. The olive oil keeps this bread soft enough to be split for egg salad sandwiches with farmer’s market Roma tomatoes and carmelized onions:
If you want to start with a plain white batch, cut the sugar, anise, and zest by three-quarters and sprinkle it onto a one-pound piece of dough that has been rolled-out to 1/4-inch thickness. Roll up into a log and re-form into a ball, then roll out again to form triangles. Bake as usual.
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