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Flatbreads For Your Holiday Party

wolfgang"How do you make such delicious flatbreads?" That's a question we're asked all the time in my restaurants when we serve those thin, crispy pieces of freshly baked bread.

"It's even easier than pizza," is my answer. And that's no exaggeration, because flatbread is nothing more than thinly rolled-out pizza dough without the usual toppings.

Everybody, it seems, loves to bite into a wafer-thin piece of golden-brown bread, hot from the oven and almost as crunchy as a cracker. It's a perfect treat to start a meal or serve with drinks at a party -- which is why it's also an ideal recipe to have at the ready as the holiday entertaining season moves into full swing.

During the holidays, it seems like there are always unexpected guests arriving, and it's nice to have something on hand to offer them. I like to have a batch of pizza dough ready in the refrigerator to roll out and bake into flatbreads. Or, even easier, I'll bake up a batch when I have a little spare time, and then store the cooled flatbread pieces in an airtight container at room temperature, where they'll keep for several days, ready to serve.

And what do I serve with them? That's the beautiful thing about flatbreads: They're so versatile.

One of my favorite toppings is thinly sliced prosciutto, the famous Italian cured ham, drizzled with a little extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkled with some chopped fresh chives or parsley or a julienne of fresh basil leaves; any other kind of ham, salt-cured or smoked, is also good, and so is thinly sliced smoked salmon. I also like to mash soft, creamy fresh goat cheese with olive oil and chives to make a spread for the flatbreads; or I'll put some cream cheese, chopped smoked salmon, a squeeze of lemon, and chopped chives in the food processor to make a salmon spread.

More conveniently, you can buy ready-to-use toppings in your supermarket. Look for containers of the olive-anchovy spread tapenade (also easily made at home in the food processor), sesame-chickpea hummus, or artichoke dip, for example.

Even more variety can come from the flatbreads themselves. In the recipe I share here, I suggest topping them before baking with chopped fresh herbs; thyme, oregano, and rosemary are good choices. You could also try some red chile flakes. Or just sprinkle on some freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Want even thinner, crispier flatbreads? Instead of flattening them by hand, try rolling the dough through a pasta machine to make oblongs. If you like, cut them into triangles or squares before you bake them.

As you see, there's no end to the fun, delicious options. And that's what enjoyable holiday entertaining is all about.

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CRISPY FLATBREADS

Makes 16 to 24 servings

1 packet active dry yeast

1 teaspoon organic honey

1 cup warm water, 105 to 115 degrees F.

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting

1 teaspoon sea salt, plus extra for sprinkling

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing

Freshly ground black pepper

Finely chopped fresh herbs (optional)

In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast and honey in 1/4 cup of the warm water.

In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour and salt. Add the oil, yeast mixture, and remaining warm water and mix on low speed until the dough comes away cleanly from the sides of the bowl and clusters around the hook, about 5 minutes. (Alternatively, make the dough in a food processor fitted with the stainless-steel blade. Combine the flour and salt in the processor and pulse the machine on and off a couple of times. Add the dissolved yeast mixture and remaining water and process until the dough begins to form a ball.)

Turn out the dough onto a clean work surface dusted with flour. With clean hands, knead the dough -- repeatedly pushing down and away with the heel of your hand, then folding the dough over and rotating it a quarter turn -- until smooth and firm. Gather up the dough, transfer to a bowl, cover with a clean, damp kitchen towel, and leave at warm room temperature to rise for about 30 minutes, until it stretches when lightly pulled.

Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces, each weighing about 6 ounces. Form each piece into a ball by pulling down on the side and tucking it under all around the dough; then, on a smooth, unfloured surface, roll the ball under your palm until the top feels smooth and firm, about 1 minute. Cover with a damp towel and let rest for 15 to 20 minutes. At this point, the balls can also be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 2 days.

To bake the flatbreads, first place a pizza stone on the middle rack of the oven. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.

Spread some flour on a plate. Dip a ball of dough into the flour, shake off excess, place the dough on a clean, lightly floured surface, and start stretching it: Press down on the center, spreading the dough into even circles as thin as possible, at least 9 inches in diameter. If you find this difficult, use a small rolling pin to roll out the dough. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Lightly brush each rolled-out piece of dough with olive oil. With the tines of a fork, tap the dough in several places to prevent air pockets from forming. Season the flatbread with salt and pepper to taste and, if you like, some fresh herbs.

Using a lightly floured baker's peel or a rimless baking sheet, and taking care with the very hot oven, slide the flatbread rounds onto the pizza stone and bake until deep golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. With the peel or baking sheet, transfer the flatbread to a cutting board and cut into wedges with a pizza wheel or large, sharp knife. Serve immediately.

(c) 2009 WOLFGANG PUCK WORLDWIDE, INC. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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