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The Lilith Blog 1 of 3

June 18, 2020 Susan Barocas

Making Flatbread to Nourish the Body and Spirit

Since humans first tamed fire and turned grain into flour, we have been making bread. In the earliest form, breads were simple. Mix one or more flours with water. Pat out into a flat cake. Cook on a hot rock or a stone hearth around an open fire. That’s it. So simple, so basic to survival. And something shared by all peoples on Earth throughout history

IMG_3292As we’ve seen during this pandemic, baking bread is about more than just survival. There’s something about the bread-making process that is compelling. It’s elemental, grounding, nourishing in the most essential ways. If you haven’t (yet) baked bread during this time, your Facebook feed and Instagram have almost certainly been full of pictures of all kinds of breads people you know have made when forced to stay at home. Sourdough, which takes daily attention to keep the starter alive, has been particularly popular. It’s hard not to draw some symbolism from that.

We are now also in a time of social and political upheaval and change. This makes the qualities of bread’s emotional sustenance even more important, especially when understood together with the centrality of bread in nearly every diverse culture, historically and in our world today. Bread, in various forms, is something all peoples share. 

This awareness led me to conceive a Lilith online class focused on basic flatbreads. Participants gathered over Zoom one recent Friday afternoon before Shabbat. As I talked and mixed, kneaded and rolled out each flatbread, I felt myself becoming calmer, more centered in the moment and even more content, regardless of the many people watching the presentation. I hope at least some of those feelings came through on people’s screens. (You can watch here.)


I ate my Shabbat dinner that night outside on my rowhouse deck in a DC city neighborhood—just a salad and two flatbreads from the class, one with cumin, mint and garlic in the dough topped with labne and black sesame seeds, and the other brushed with olive oil, a generous sprinkling of my homemade za’atar (see Susan’s Lilith blog …) and pieces of beautiful, edible red nasturtium from my deck garden. (See both pictured with this story.)

We know that bread—lechem in Hebrew—is central to Jewish life, as demonstrated by the blessings we say before and after eating it, as well as rituals around bread such as Shabbat and holiday challot. During the tashlich ritual at Rosh Hashanah, we use bread crumbs thrown on flowing water to carry away our sins of the old year so we enter the new year ready to do better.

Bread is mentioned hundreds of times in the Torah, the first when Adam ate from the forbidden tree. God then tells Adam that now in order to have bread–food–he will have to earn it “by the sweat of your brow.” It is the moment when humans, leaving the Garden of Eden, become responsible for feeding themselves.

Abraham, in what has become a model of hospitality, immediately offers bread to three visiting angels who come to his tent disguised as travelers, and he instructs Sarah to hurry to make unleavened cakes for the guests. And, of course, we know how central bread in the form of matzah is to the Exodus and Passover.

Torah aside, what I realized that Shabbat evening under the slowly darkening sky was how complete I felt eating the flatbread that I had made with just flour and water, as women have made it for millennia. With that simple meal, I felt deeply, indescribably connected to Shabbat and to the long history of food entwined with my ancestral Judaism.


About Making Flatbread

Unlike sourdough and most other yeast breads, flatbreads are quick and easy to make, and once you do it yourself, you won’t want to use store-bought again. In just 20 minutes, you can have fresh flatbread for schmearing, dipping and wrapping all kinds of food. Flatbread also makes awesome pizza crust. 

On any given day, the temperature and especially the humidity–will affect the flour-to-liquid ratio. You want your flatbread dough to be fairly soft and just a little moist. If it starts cracking as you try to mix it, add more moisture a little bit at a time. If it’s too sticky wet to work with or form into a ball, add flour, again a little at a time. Adding milk, butter or yogurt to the flatbread dough as in the second recipe will usually yield softer and fluffier resultsIt’s really delicious fun to mix chopped fresh herbs, dried herbs and/or spices into the dry ingredients for either of these recipes, or lightly brush finished flatbread with olive oil and sprinkle any of these on top. Try different combinations, too. Some options include za’atar; garlic powder or garlic salt; powdered cumin or toasted cumin seeds; anise seed; everything spice; minced onions, shallots or garlic; dried or chopped fresh mint, thyme, chives or rosemary…really, anything that sounds good for you will most likely work. 

To make round pieces, roll your dough out from the center, rotating around the dough. Or, roll straight in front of you, then start turning the dough 90 degrees each time you roll it out. Try to use only as much flour as you need to keep the dough from sticking to the surface. And remember that perfect circles aren’t necessary; a rustic look is fine.

When cooking the flatbreads on your stovetop, a cast iron pan comes closest to imparting at least a little of a smoky taste, although a non-stick pan will work as well. How high the cooking heat is will affect your results. Medium heat is best for more pliable bread; higher heat results in crispier pieces that are more likely to break if you want to fold or roll them, but are good for serving flat. If any big bubbles rise during cooking, use a spatula to gently push them down so the flatbread cooks more evenly.

Flatbreads freeze well, each piece separated by waxed paper or parchment and then put into a plastic freezer bag or container. When ready to use, take out what you want (no need to defrost) and reheat in the oven at 350 for a few minutes or on each side in an iron skillet or nonstick pan over medium heat until hot.


FLATBREAD #1

  • 2 cups white, whole wheat or spelt flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup water

With a fork or whisk, mix the flour and salt together in a mixing bowl. Add any herbs or spices if using and mix well. Add the water and stir with a wooden spoon until the flour is mostly incorporated, then switch to using one hand to finish blending in all the flour to form a moist, but cohesive, dough. Knead the dough in the bowl briefly for 1-2 minutes until you can form it into a ball. Cover the bowl with a slightly damp cotton towel and set aside to rest for 10 to 20 minutes. Since there is no yeast, the dough will expand only slightly.

When the dough is ready, cut it into 6 to 12 pieces depending on the size you want each finished flatbread to be and quickly shape each piece into a ball. Work with one ball of dough at a time and leave the others covered. 

Continue with shaping and cooking instructions below.<

FLATBREAD #2

  • 2 cups white, whole wheat or spelt flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda          
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk or non-dairy substitute such as oat milk
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil

Over medium heat, warm milk and 1 tablespoon oil in a small saucepan for a few minutes until hot, but not close to boiling.

In a mixing bowl, use a whisk to combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices or herbs you are using.

Use a wooden spoon to stir the warm milk and oil into the flour mixture until completely blended.  Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead about 4 to 5 minutes until soft and smooth, adding small amounts of flour to the kneading surface as needed. Form into a ball, set the dough back in the bowl and let it rest for 10-20 minutes, covered with a slightly damp cotton towel. 

Continue with shaping and cooking instructions below.

Shaping and Cooking Flatbreads

Dust your smooth work surface with flour and place one piece of dough in the middle. Sprinkle the ball with flour on all sides so that it doesn’t stick to the surface. Start by flattening the dough ball into a circle with your hand, then gently roll it out with a rolling pin or even a smooth glass bottle until it’s thin and flat, about 1/8” thick. As you roll the dough, be sure to unstick it from your counter occasionally and flip it over as you work, very lightly sprinkling with just as much flour as you need for each piece not to stick. 

Place a non-stick skillet or cast iron pan on medium heat. Once the pan is hot, you have the option of brushing it with olive oil before adding the circle of dough. Cook until the dough about 2-3 minutes until it has light to medium brown spots and starts to shrink away from the edges of the pan, then flip and cook the other side. Roll out the next piece as each piece is cooking. Repeat this process until you’re finished with the pieces of dough. Keep cooked flatbreads warm under a dry towel or in a slightly warm oven until serving.

Alternatively, flatbreads can be cooked on an outdoor grill either directly on the grill over medium heat or on a baking pan set on the grill until very hot before the flatbreads are laid on it. 

Susan Barocas is a writer, chef, cooking instructor and speaker who served as guest chef for three Obama White House Seders. All recipes are the property of Susan Barocas and may not be reprinted or shared without her permission.


  • Jeff Landaw

    excellent article. Great program