Fig and Brie Flatbread #TwelveLoaves September

When I was a kid, my parents made me cassette tapes from several Disney albums to listen to in the car.  I mean real albums: records.  45s and 78s, that spun, some wobbly and warping, on a turntable at a speed that, when I was much smaller, seemed unreal.  But the cassette tapes were for long car trips, and we all learned every word in every song (this wasn’t so bad, according to my parents, with the Disney songs.  One of the other tapes – a John Denver greatest hits album – wasn’t so lucky.  I requested it so many times that the tenuous black strip of tape got tangled in the player, and even after attempts to repair it by winding it manually back into the plastic casing, one day it mysteriously disappeared.  I’m still convinced that my dad, sick to death of hearing the plaintive desire for country roads to take us home, chucked it out the window).

Interestingly, one of my favorite songs from that collection was from a movie I’ve never seen: Disney’s The Happiest MillionaireThe song, “Fortuosity,” was a happy ditty about luck and opportunity, and “fortuitious little happy happenstances,” and I loved it.  It’s an idea that I like, and the song itself comes back to me every once in a while at random moments, most often when I think about the word “fortuitous,” with which the song obviously plays, and when I remember road trips with my family.

Food Blog September 2013-2570This is a long-winded way of introducing the idea that this week’s post, and this month’s Twelve Loaves challenge, aligned entirely by fortuitous coincidence.  Last week I asked N. to grill up some leftover pizza dough, which I smeared with double cream brie, nestled in some halved figs straight from the farmers’ market, and drizzled with barley malt syrup and sprigs of fresh thyme.  Then I checked the Twelve Loaves challenge only to see that September’s theme is Farmers’ Market food.  Fortuosity indeed.

Food Blog September 2013-2566The idea for this combination – creamy cheese, soft, sweet figs, and a hit of herby freshness, came from a party N. and I attended recently.  Our hostess, who works with N. (we should have them over soon, N., if you’re reading this…), had quartered some black mission figs, settled them in around a wedge of brie, and dosed both liberally with honey and thyme.  My spin was based on the desire to use more of the barley malt syrup I bought for last month’s bagel experiment, and the obsessive love we have for homemade pizza, which means there is frequently a ball of dough either in the fridge or in the freezer, hoping to be put to tasty use.

Summer 2013-2503

Visitor to our thyme bush. I named him Algernon, because he looked like he might be impersonating someone.

We loved this combination.  The barley malt syrup is a roastier contestant than, say, maple syrup, and was therefore a welcome balance.  It is sweet, but there is an almost bitter edge to its flavor – no doubt the malt part.  It is, in fact, just a lower grade extract than what brewers use for beer, so the darker component makes good sense.  Drizzled judiciously across the blistered surface of our cheese and fruit studded flatbread, it enhanced both main players.  Though Los Angeles played some mind games with me last week, cooling off just as I published a post asserting that autumn hadn’t arrived yet, it has warmed up again.  Since this flatbread cooks on the grill, it’s perfect for a warm evening when you can’t bear the idea of firing up the oven.  But if you don’t have a grill, and you’re willing to risk the house-heating power of indoor cooking, I’ve also included directions for the oven.  Food Blog September 2013-2574

Food Blog September 2013-2569
Fig and Brie Flatbread
Serves 3-4 as an appetizer; 2 as a main course
Directions for grilling adapted from Elizabeth Karmel and Bob Blumer’s Pizza on the Grill
12 oz. ball of pizza dough, purchased or homemade (I’m still working on perfecting my recipe; once it’s foolproof, I’ll post it for you)
Olive oil for stretching dough
6-8 fresh black mission figs, halved from stem to blossom end
8 ounces brie cheese, cut into thick slices
2 tablespoons barley malt syrup or your favorite honey
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (in small sprigs is fine – the stems are tender enough to eat near the end of the sprig)
  • If your dough is in the refrigerator, remove it about half an hour before you intend to cook it and let it rest, unwrapped, on a lightly floured or oiled surface.
  • While the dough rests, preheat your oven or grill.  For a gas grill, this will take about 10-15 minutes with the burners set on high.  Once the grill has preheated, turn down the burners to medium.  For a charcoal grill, this will take a little longer – perhaps up to 30 minutes for the coals to begin turning gray.  For an oven, preheat to 500F (or as close to this as your oven will go!).
  • Once you’ve got your heat source preheating, prep your toppings.  Halve the figs, slice the cheese, pinch the thyme into individual leaves or small clumps.  This is all going to go pretty quickly once we start cooking, so you’ll want to be ready.
  • When the dough has rested, set a 9×13 inch glass baking dish bottom side up on your counter.  Rub the bottom (now facing upwards) with olive oil, then push and stretch your pizza dough out on the bottom of the dish so it hangs over all edges, creating a rustic but relatively even rectangle.  If it springs back or threatens to tear as you stretch it toward the edges of the dish, let it rest a bit longer and then try again.
  • Bring your dough, still on the bottom of the baking dish, out to the grill.  If the dough is sturdy enough to lift without tearing, pick it up by two ends and lay it across the grill grates, flopping the sides drooping below your hands toward the back edge of the grill, in the same motion you would use to swing a tablecloth over a table.  If the dough is not so sturdy, put some gloves on, and carefully invert the baking dish only an inch or so above the surface of the grill. The dough will slowly disengage and drop gracelessly onto the grill grates.  Once dough and grates are in contact, close the lid of the grill and leave it closed for about 3 minutes, or until the bottom side of the dough is well browned with nice grill marks.
  • Use a pair of long-handled tongs to transfer the flatbread to a pizza peel or a rimless baking sheet.  Use the peel or baking sheet to help you flip the rectangle of dough over and slide it back onto the grill, unmarked side down.  Close the lid of the grill and leave it closed for another 3-5 minutes, or until the whole thing is browned, marked, and nicely puffed.  I like the look of a few big airy blisters on the surface.
  • If you are using an oven, flop your dough onto a preheated pizza stone or the bottom of an oiled cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes.
  • Once your flatbread crust is browned and blistered to your liking, transfer it from the grill or oven to your cutting surface.  Smear the whole top of the dough with the slices of brie cheese (I used the back of a spoon.  You could also use a spatula).  Nestle the figs in, spacing them evenly over the surface.
  • Drizzle the barley malt syrup over the top of the flatbread in a thin stream.  Don’t overdo it – the stuff is sweet.  You might not need the full 2 tablespoons.  You just want a light zigzag of caramel over figs and cheese alike.
  • Sprinkle on the thyme leaves, slice, and consume.

* You could, I suppose, top the dough either before cooking, if you are using the oven method, or immediately after flipping, if you are using the grill, and cook the toppings.  I didn’t do this, because I wanted the freshness of the figs, and knew the heat of the bread itself would be enough to melt the cheese.  If you choose to cook the toppings and you are using a grill, add the toppings after flipping, but turn off the burners on one side of the grill to create indirect heat, and cook your topped flatbread over the unlit burners for 7-10 minutes. This will allow the toppings to cook and the cheese to melt without burning the dough.

Garlic Fontina Flatbread

Food Blog May 2013-1256I have a thing about garlic bread.  Achingly soft butter, a scattering of herbs, pungent, sharp garlic paste, spread thickly on sourdough baguette and broiled until the butter bubbles and browns and the garlic takes on a toasty depth; what’s not to love?  I make it in the oven, I make it on the grill, I’ve even tried turning it into a sandwich.  But all too often, the process of toasting leaves the edges of the bread blackened and the crust just too crunchy for my taste.  I want crisp toastiness, but I don’t want mouth-scraping shards of bread shrapnel.

Food Blog May 2013-1233Enter flatbread.  I don’t mean the dry, cracker-like stuff carelessly sprinkled with toppings and served up as an appetizer.  I mean something a little puffier, a little richer, a little cheesier.  A few months ago, I dabbled with a Food Network recipe for Spinach and Cheese Flatbread, and was delighted by the elastic dough that bubbled up into a soft-but-crisp rectangle.  It is chewy and golden, but not quite as sturdy as a pizza dough.  The bottom, slapped against a well-oiled sheet pan, gets just crisp enough to support all but the most ridiculously sized slices (don’t ask me how I know this.  Thank you), so you aren’t left with a square that wilts as you hold it.

Food Blog May 2013-1236As soon as I ate the FN version, I realized this was the answer to my garlic bread dreams.  The dough would be smeared with a loving, excessive layer of garlic-butter-herb-are-you-drooling-yet?-paste, sprinkled with fontina, which melts beautifully and has a mild funk I really enjoy, and baked until crispy toasty nirvana resulted.

Food Blog May 2013-1238My results approached sublimity, and the shortcomings were entirely human error, which seems fitting.  The paste didn’t spread very evenly because this is a soft dough: it threatened to tear when I applied a spatula, so I ended up smearing and dolloping my mixture with my fingers.  You could easily solve this by melting your butter instead of just softening it, and then pouring the mixture evenly over the dough.  Then, because I was afraid the butter and garlic would burn at pizza-cooking temperatures, I was pretty liberal with my cheese application, which meant that the toasty roasty golden color I was expecting didn’t quite happen.  Another minute or two in the oven might have helped, but we were hungry.  A little less cheese might have helped too, but seriously, less cheese?  Totally unreasonable.

Food Blog May 2013-1229Food Blog May 2013-1231Food Blog May 2013-1232In any case, the bread itself was puffy and buttery and decadent.  The garlic loses some of its pungency during baking, but retains that addictive sharpness and bright tingly aroma that makes it so good.  The dollops of butter became dimples of puddly richness that, upon reflection, reminded me a little bit of the center of a really good bialy.  The bottom of the crust is like an old-style pan pizza: golden with burst air bubbles and just oiled enough to leave your fingertips in need of a napkin.

Food Blog May 2013-1251This is a great happy hour snack.  Since it heats up the house, it gives you a great excuse to sit out on your patio, or deck, or picnic blanket, or camp chair.  It pairs well with a crisp, summery wine, and equally well with a frosty pint of beer (or maybe, since, you know, Cinco de Mayo, a classic Corona with lime, or a salt-and-cayenne-rimmed margarita).  You can use any combination of herbs you like.  I chose what was happening right outside my back door:

Oregano – I love the fuzzy leaves on this little guy. Food Blog May 2013-1241

Basil – back in late fall, I relocated a few stalks of basil from the supermarket clamshell container to a vase of water, and instead of wilting, they grew roots!  I shook my head, still in Oregon mindset, while planting them – they would never make it through the winter – but this is Southern California, so of course they did, and are now flourishing.  I’ve read that plucking the blossoms off encourages them to keep producing leaves, so every day or so I faithfully scatter the delicate white blooms. Food Blog May 2013-1244

Parsley – my parsley plant is looking a bit wild these days; it has bolted thanks to the heat. Food Blog May 2013-1246

But if you peer down inside, amidst the sunburned jungle, you can see there are still some stems worth serving! Food Blog May 2013-1249

As for additional toppings, you could add sundried tomatoes or thin rings of bell pepper or even jalapeno to the butter paste if you want to get fancy about it, and it would certainly fare well dipped into a bubbly saucer of marinara, if that’s your thing.  Either way, I think you should make this.

Maybe today!

Are you making it yet?

Food Blog May 2013-1255 Garlic Fontina Flatbread

adapted from Food Network’s Spinach and Cheese Flatbread

For the dough:
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (it should feel just slightly warmer than body temperature when you dip your finger in to test it)
2 ¼ – 2 ½ cups bread flour
1 tsp salt (I like coarse sea salt)
1-2 TB olive oil


For the toppings:
8-10 cloves garlic, minced (about ¼ cup in all)
1 stick very soft butter (1/2 cup)
2 TB each chopped fresh parsley and basil
1 tsp chopped fresh oregano
¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1-2 cups grated fontina cheese


  • Sprinkle the sugar and yeast over the warm water, stir gently to combine, and set aside to proof for 5 minutes or so.  The yeast will begin to bubble and smell like warm bread.
  • In a large bowl (I use the bowl of my electric stand mixer), combine 2 ¼ cups of flour, the salt, and the olive oil, and whisk together briefly.  The olive oil will create little streaks of moistness, like barely dampened sand.
  • Once the yeast mixture is bubbly, pour it into the flour and mix with the paddle attachment or a wooden spoon just until a sticky dough comes together.  Then, if you are using a stand mixer, switch to the dough hook and knead on medium speed for about ten minutes.  If the dough is still relentlessly sticky by minute six, smearing tackily across the sides of the bowl and schlopping stubbornly on the bottom, add an additional ¼ cup flour to make it more manageable.  If you don’t have a stand mixer, plop your dough out onto a floured board and knead by hand.
  • After about ten minutes, the dough should be smooth and elastic, though still fairly sticky.  That’s okay.  That stickiness will keep it moist and supple and lovely.
  • Place the dough – more or less sticky as it is – into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Set it aside in a warm place until doubled.  This may take about an hour and a half, but my kitchen was about 80 degrees on the day I made this, so it only took mine an hour to puff triumphantly.
  • Gently deflate the dough and let it rest for ten minutes.  Then, stretch and spread it carefully on a well-oiled baking sheet.  If it stubbornly snaps back against itself and refuses to form a nice rectangle, let it rest another ten minutes and try again.  The gluten needs to relax a bit after all that rising work it has done.
  • When you have the shape you want, cover the dough with a clean kitchen towel and leave it to rise again for half an hour, until it has doubled yet again.
  • While the dough rises, preheat your oven to 450F and prep your toppings.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the butter, garlic, herbs, and red pepper flakes into a chunky paste.  I haven’t added any salt here, because the cheese is salty, but if you are a sodium fiend sprinkle in some salt to taste.
  • Approach your risen dough with caution: you may be able to smear on the garlic butter paste with a spatula, but you may have to carefully coat the surface with just your hands.  It will depend on the texture and elasticity of your dough.  If it won’t spread the way you want and you get frustrated with it, microwave the paste for a few seconds until the butter is melty, then pour the mixture on instead of smearing.
  • Top your buttered dough with an even sprinkle of cheese, keeping in mind that where the cheese completely covers the buttery garlic paste, not much toasting will occur.  I’ll leave determining quantities and coverage up to you and your preferences.
  • Place your topped flatbread into the oven and bake for 15-18 minutes, until the edges of the dough are puffed and nicely browned, and the cheese has turned golden and sizzles.  Let it cool on a countertop for 5-10 minutes, just to let the cheese cool from molten temperatures a bit, then slice and serve.

Food Blog May 2013-1252