Week Twenty-Eight: Breads With Nuts
When I started thinking about almonds, and interesting breads that could be made with them, the possibilities seemed endless. Almonds are perhaps the most-used nuts in baking, as their mild flavor blends well with myriad other ingredients, though it can easily stand on its own. They can be used whole as an ingredient or as decoration, they can be sliced or chopped and used as a filling or a flavoring, or they can be ground into a fine meal and used as the base structure of a baked good, as in these gluten-free blueberry muffins I previously made.
But nothing really excited me – yeast breads with almonds seemed a little strange, but almond quickbreads were a little expected – until I remembered a recipe for a seductive almond curry on Melissa Kronenthal’s excellent blog, The Traveler’s Lunchbox. (Yes, I’m still on that Indian food kick. At this point, however, it’s become less of a “kick” and more of a “deeply abiding love”.) Almonds and curry, how lovely! I was also reminded of a favorite curry addition of mine, the chickpea.
I wanted to utilize the almond’s ability to become a flour, an attribute conveniently shared by the chickpea. One of my favorite breads so far this year was farinata, a chickpea-flour bread made in Northwestern Italy and Southeastern France (there, called socca). I decided to make a sort of farinata variation, using part chickpea flour and part almond meal, and spicing things up with some flavorings borrowed from the almond curry: sesame and poppy seeds, cumin for smokiness, and a healthy dose of red pepper. I meant to use coconut milk also, as I had some languishing in the refrigerator, but I actually forgot to use it. Next time!
I actually had loads of problems with baking this bread, as my cast iron pan seems to have developed a devilish little spot that consistently sticks to things, and refuses to become seasoned properly. Curses! So eventually, I had to abandon that pan entirely, and resorted to cooking the bread in a nonstick pan on the stovetop, pancake-style. This actually worked reasonably well, if a bit non-traditional for a bread of this type. I think this style bread benefits from the extremely high heat achieved with cast iron in a very hot oven, as you really can’t get such a crisp crust with such a tender interior any other way. But in a pinch, the stovetop method will produce something edible.
In the end, this bread was just okay. I’m not sure if it was the lower heat that the stovetop method produced, or if the flavors were just not that compatible, but I wasn’t impressed. Things tasted a bit muddied, nothing really stood out, and the flavors which should have been balanced in a lovely equilibrium were simply not. I think I was trying for too much at the same time, and the bread would have benfitted from a little restraint. And the inferior cooking method didn’t help, either.
We all have off days, and this was one of mine. I’m giving you the recipe as I (should have) made it, with the oven method of cooking, but I don’t really recommend you try the ingredients as written. Yet the concept of this bread intrigues me, so I do urge you to play around with it, make it your own! Almonds and chickpeas seem like such a great combination, I’m don’t think I’m done with this one yet! I hope you have better luck with it than I did!
Almond Chickpea Flatbread
Makes 2 to 3 nine-inch rounds
1 cup chickpea (gram) flour
1 cup almonds, toasted (or almond meal)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon cumin, toasted and ground finely
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted
1 1/2 teaspoons poppy seeds
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper (such as cayenne)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil, plus 2 to 4 tablespoons for oiling pans
1 1/2 cups water
1. Set an oven rack in the top third of the oven. Set a cast iron pan (see note 1 below) in the oven, and preheat to 475º F.
2. If using whole almonds, grind them in a food processor in pulses until finely ground, but not until they make a paste. Set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, ground almonds (or almond meal), salt, cumin, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and peppers together. Add the water and 1/4 cup olive oil, and whisk until smooth. The batter should have the consistency of heavy cream. If needed, adjust with extra chickpea flour or with extra water. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, or up to 3 or 4 hours. Any longer than that, and the batter should rest in the refrigerator, but can sit there for up to 24 hours.
4. Pour 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil (depending on the size of the pan) into the hot pan. Carefully tilt the pan to coat with the oil. Pour the batter into the hot pan to the desired depth (see note 2 below). Keep in mind the bread will not rise in the oven.
5. Place the pan on the upper oven rack, and bake for about 5 minutes, or until firm to the touch.
6. Turn the broiler on, and broil for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the bread begins to brown darkly in spots. Remove the bread from the pan, and place on a wire rack to cool slightly. Repeat the oiling, baking, and broiling procedure for the remaining batter. Cut into wedges, or irregular shapes, and serve immediately. These are best eaten fresh and warm, but may be cooled and frozen, wrapped tightly.
1. You can use any size cast iron pan. Cast iron will best retain heat, and produce the best result, but if you don’t have one, or if you would prefer a giant, thin bread, you can use a pizza pan with a rim. A cake pan will also do the trick. But if you don’t have any of those, a rimmed baking sheet will do if all else fails; it will just end up rectangular. In any case, you should heat the pan up with the oven. Be warned that the high heat may warp a metal pan.
2. You can make the bread any thickness you like, from crêpe-like thinness, to a hearty half-inch thickness. Generally, though, thinner breads will cook more evenly. For thicker bread, you may want to reduce the oven temperature to 450º F.
3. If you have more than one pan, you can absolutely cook more than one at a time.