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How-To

Flatbread Baked with Soul

Fine Cooking Issue 35
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American Flatbread is a return to bread’s roots, an endeavor not to mass-produce bread, but to explore the possibility of how good bread can be,” says George Schenk. The exploration began 14 years ago with an oven improvised from rock and field­stone, and it continues today in a refurbished horse barn in Waitsfield, Vermont, where George’s committed crew knead, assemble, and bake about 1,000 flatbread pizzas a day for a handful of specialty markets.

A former entomologist and ski bum, George attributes the success of his flatbread baking experiment to three ­essentials: “good ingredients, good technique, and good tools.” His ingredients are the finest: ­organic flour, vege­tables, and herbs, pristine water, ­local cheeses. His technique is simply to keep the scale small and personal. His primary tools are a mammoth cauldron for ­simmering tomato sauce and a ­community-built clay oven that he designed.

But there’s a fourth element as well: a good spirit, or, in George’s words, “the song of the baker’s heart,” that is, what we think about as we’re cooking. “Food has memory,” he says. “It remembers the process, it ­remembers the hand that made it.”

Every Tuesday, regardless of weather, George cooks up a batch of tomato sauce in a 250-pound cauldron over a wood fire.
Ingredients get VIP treatment: water for the dough is fetched from a nearby spring; toppings include home­made sausage and Vermont asiago and mozzarella.
The igloo-shaped oven has no ther­­mo­­stat. Instead, the baker controls the heat by adding precisely split maple logs as needed.
On Friday and Saturday nights, the bakery becomes an informal restaurant, and the line forms early for made-to-order flatbread, with its crisp crust, chewy rim, and bubbly cheese topping.

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