For many years I’ve been fascinated by variations on yeast-free yogurt flatbread recipes (in some versions of parathas, yeast-free naans, and roti canai) that follow a loose formula of a cup of yogurt, a couple cups of flour, some salt, fat, and water. Sometimes there’s baking powder, sometimes there’s not. It’s kneaded together as you would a yeasted bread dough and left to rest for about 30 minutes, sometimes an hour, during which a transformation occurs and the dough becomes springy and smooth and very lovely to work with, like a freshly-opened can of Play-Doh. Once rolled thin, they’re pan-fried, and look, they’re fiiine. But they’re never as good as I want them to be.
With yeast scarce, I decided to revisit these flatbreads early in our Inside Days and see if I could make headway with them using scallion pancakes as my guide. The core of scallion pancakes is similar — a simple, yeast-free, dough, also kneaded and left to rest before you roll it out. But instead of frying them right away, you brush them with oil, sprinkle them with scallions, and roll the pancake into a tight cigar, and then the cigar into a snail. This snail of wound dough is left to rest again, and then rolled into the final pancake. The hidden layers of flour and oil help the layers lift and separate into flaky layers as you fry the pancakes. And this layering, it turned out, was exactly what my yogurt flatbreads were missing.