Flatbread is rising
As artisan bread baking continues to evolve as a craft in North America, a growing movement exists to transport the best of bread into the pizza category.
James Beard Award winner Jim Lahey, for example, brings a simple yet magical flavor profile to the table when he creates his immensely popular Pizza Bianca, made with King Arthur flour, coarse salt, a teaspoon of instant dry yeast, and topped with drizzles of extra virgin olive oil and a sprig of fresh rosemary.
The owner of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City stretches the dough nearly 6 feet on the bench and then presses down with his fingertips into the wet dough, working in dimples as he moves the dough toward the edges. After baking for 10 minutes at 520 F, Lahey completes his work of art. “I never tire of making Pizza Bianca,” he says.
Romel Tovar, marketing manager for Grandaisy Bakery, with two retail locations in New York City, says that in a place known for great pizza, flatbread pizzas are taking the city by storm.
“People have really responded to the flatbreads we make,” Tovar says. “Five or six years ago, we introduced a cauliflower flatbread, and it’s still our No. 1 vegan pizza. Our latest introduction is butternut squash, which we slice very thinly to put on the flatbread with some gruyere and breadcrumbs. The gruyere cheese doesn’t overwhelm. It plays really well with the butternut squash, and that pizza is very popular as well.”
Consumer studies continue to reveal that customers now appreciate the crust of pizza as much or more as the toppings. So it makes sense that better crusts are driving new sales in the pizza category. Plus, the trend has given rise to the popularity of flatbread pizza chains.
One such example is The Flatbread Company, founded in 1998 in Amesbury, Massachusetts. This 14-store retailer specializes in flatbread pizzas made on fresh dough using 100 percent organically grown wheat that is milled into white flour with the wheat germ restored. The Flatbread Company promotes a local connection to customers by relying heavily on local farms and producers, including goat cheese from Valley View Farm in Topsfield, Massachusetts.
One of Flatbread Company’s most popular flatbread pizzas in the Northeast is the nitrate-free pepperoni and mushroom, which is topped with whole milk mozzarella, Parmesan and organic wood-fired cauldron tomato sauce. Consider that pepperoni still ranks as consumer’s favorite pizza topping, according to point-of-sale research from Lavu, followed by mushroom, sausage, onion and spinach.
Most of Flatbread Company’s retail stores are found in New England, although one of its shops is located on the Hawaiian island of Maui. This Pa’ia location features locally inspired flatbread pizzas such as free-range pork shoulder, organic mango barbecue sauce, Maui pineapple and a blend of Hawaiian goat cheeses.
More than Pizza
Flatbreads offer a world of tasteful opportunities for bakeries and cafes serving sandwiches and pizzas, whether the flatbread is focaccia (Italy), lavash (Middle East), pita (Greece), naan (Asia) or tortillas (Mexico and Central and South America).
Even national chains are joining in the movement. Corner Bakery Cafe launched a new line of flatbread sandwiches in summer 2015 that includes Caprese, chicken Caesar and barbecue pork. “Our new menu category has disrupted the traditional flatbread,” says Ric Scicchitano, executive vice president of food & supply chain at Corner Bakery Café.
The key to any successful flatbread offering is a unique blend of signature flavors that appeal to the local demand of the neighborhoods you serve.
It is also worth noting that flatbreads aren’t just for pizzas and sandwiches.
Lavash is a wonderfully versatile flatbread for dips or wraps and is thinner than pita bread. When baked, lavash is crispy and light — perfect for dipping or making thin-crust pizzas. It is sometimes called Armenian cracker bread. It also comes in a soft version, and other applications include thinly rolled sandwiches. The Lavash Cafe in Columbus, Ohio, offers eight varieties of Middle Eastern sandwiches rolled in either lavash or pita bread.
Naan bread is slightly different in that it is typically baked until golden brown and puffed. It is lightly leavened by a natural yeast starter and is often baked in a tandoor oven, which is signified by a rounded top and is made of brick and clay. The bread is baked over direct heat produced from a smoky fire.