Note: To make this bread, I used the buddy burner candle and tin can stove from my last two tutorials. In case you missed them here’s how to make a buddy burner candle, and here’s how to make a tin can stove.
Bread is considered the staple of life, yet the knowledge of how to make bread is relegated to stores, bakeries, or bread machines. Normally bread needs an oven, usually powered with electricity, gas, or wood. But in an emergency, you might not have a working oven.
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If that’s the case, you want bread that is quick to make, has few ingredients, and can be cooked over any heat source. Enter the handy tortilla, or chapatti, also known as flatbread. This type of bread can be cooked anywhere you have a heat source, a flat surface, a frying pan, and the necessary ingredients.
Equipment for Making Flat Bread
• Mixing Bowl – I use a 4 cup glass Pyrex dish.
• Mixing Spoon – Any non-bendy spoon will work. I usually grab a large-sized soup spoon.
• Flat Surface – Either a countertop or a large wooden cutting board.
• Rolling Pin – Or you can use a glass wine bottle full of water and securely capped.
• Frying Pan – Preferably with a fairly heavy bottom for good heat distribution.
For emergency practice, use a tin can stove and candle on a non-flammable surface. If this is your first time making this type of bread, I would recommend trying it on a regular stove so you can learn how the bread will behave and what to expect.
Optional: A plate, covered with a spare tea towel, to transfer your cooked bread to. Cover the fresh bread with the tea towel to keep it warm and soft.
Ingredients for Flat Bread
This recipe makes ten 5-inch tortillas. If you need more, add more flour and water, and an additional quarter teaspoon of salt per cup of flour used. Each additional cup of flour will make 4-5 more tortillas.
• 2 Cups of Flour – I use fresh-ground whole wheat flour for this batch. You can use a mixture of white and whole wheat, just plain white, or just plain whole wheat. Just don’t use a self-rising flour as no leavening agent is required.
• ½ tsp of Salt – I prefer using a moderately fine grind sea salt, but plain table salt will work fine.
• ¼ – ½ Cup of Water – I used just over a quarter cup as my wheat was fresh ground. If you are using pre-ground, or stored flour, it may need a bit more water. If you dump in the water in its entirety, you may need extra flour. I prefer adding the water a little bit at a time.
How to Make Emergency Flat Bread
Time Needed: 40 minutes (10 min prep, 15 min rest, 15 min cooking)
Dump most of your flour into your mixing bowl. Keep a small amount aside to use when rolling out the dough. or grab extra flour when you reach that step.
Add a small amount of water and stir. Then add a bit more and stir. Continue until your flour takes on a crumbly appearance, or starts to clump together. This was reached with ¼ cup of water for me.
Using your hands, knead the dough against the bottom of the bowl until it feels smooth and elastic (3-5 minutes). At this point, all the flour should be absorbed into the dough, and there should be no residual stickiness. If the dough feels sticky, add a bit more flour and continue kneading.
Cover your ball of dough and let it rest for 15-30 minutes. This permits the gluten to relax, which will make rolling out the dough easier and enable you to roll the dough quite thin.
Start heating your cooking pan.
Divide your dough into walnut sized lumps, or slightly smaller. With two cups of flour, you should get 8 – 10 dough pieces.
Spread flour on your rolling surface and press the first lump of dough into a flat circle.
Using your rolling pin, roll out the dough until it is as thin as you can make it. This is usually reached when the dough springs back when you try to make it thinner. The thinner it is, the quicker it will cook.
Check the temperature on your frying pan, it should be hot enough to make a drop of water dance when dropped on it. When your pan is up to temperature, flip your first tortilla onto it and start rolling the second one.
I multi-task rolling and cooking. For the first one, you may want to just focus on cooking.
After placing the chapatti on the frying pan, keep a close eye on it. When the edges start to curl up or appear dry, flip it. When the second side starts to bubble, flip it again. At this point, bubbles should start forming and the bread will “roil.”
When it slows, flip it and more bubbles should appear. With the correct heat, the bubbles can all join into one massive “pita pocket” bubble. The more bubbles, the lighter your bread will be.
For more info on cooking and a how-to video, check here.
When your cooking chapatti slows its bubble growth, and hopefully has a bit of nice browning on each side, flip it onto your tea-towel covered plate, and cover. Then roll and cook the rest of the batch.
Chapattis are best eaten fresh, and are the most flexible on the same day they’re cooked.
Variations: For a fun and more nutritious version, you can add freshly ground flax-seed, roughly a quarter cup per 2 cups of flour. When adding flax, or another seed, be aware that the seeds will break up the gluten network so that it doesn’t catch the air in the same way. When adding flax, you won’t get full pocket bubbles. Use different wheat flours, blends, or combinations for more fun.
This emergency bread is easy to make, effective, and contains very few ingredients. You can make as much as you need for a single day, or for a few days. The small batch-size prevents waste, and means that you can enjoy the bread while it is fresh. Working with two people will speed up the process, so grab a family member and teach them how to cook while you roll the dough.
This recipe is very hard to get wrong, but super easy to get right. If you’ve never made your own bread, start with this recipe. If you feel you’ll want to make bread in an emergency, the best time to learn how is now!
If you like this bread, you should also try peasant bread, a delicious food that anyone can make.