Let Them Eat Cake/Pita, Plastiki-style

April 19th, 2010, posted by Max Jourdan Tags: Food, Max Jourdan

Thirty days at sea and maybe fifteen more to go before landfall. There are some pressing concerns; water is being consumed too fast, toilet paper running out, the furling system starboard side is broken and the foresail ripped. (I spent the other day sowing hank on straps using a needle the size of a harpoon. ‘Don’t go stabbing yourself and getting blood all over the sail,’ grumbled Dave T. as I drove the needle straight through into my hand.) But 10 degrees above the Equator and we spend our time arguing about who finished the jam or ate the chocolate. Who is using more water than he rightfully should? Who is getting more sleep, a precious commodity, than others?

As far as I am concerned, running out of bread is the most serious problem we are currently facing. Just look what happened to Marie Antoinette when she suggested to a bread-starved, revolutionary rabble that they should eat cake. Qu’ils mangent de la brioche. I’m not saying this as a Frenchman, but because bread is hot-wired into the Judeo-Christian makeup. Unleavened loaves of passover, the feeding of the multitudes and ‘bread’ being the very body of Christ. (Though how anyone could espouse and worship the cruel and egotistical God of the Book of Job is beyond me). Bread is part of the ritual of our daily lives, it provides sustenance, pleasure and even bonds people together. Out at sea, the smell of freshly baked bread or the sight of a juicy sandwich reminds everybody of home and provides an instant boost to crew morale.

When you run out 1300 miles from nowhere, there’s no popping out to the local store to pick up a loaf. An ocean crossing is all about being self sufficient, from mending sails and water pumps to baking bread. Unfortunately, we’ve only got a solar oven. (Delusional dream of some wacky hippy baker). The wrapping and instructions displayed a perfectly roasted Thanksgiving turkey. It’s so hot out here you could fry eggs on the plastic deck, but I still haven’t got the temperature above 120 degrees Celcius.

I’m not much of a baker. Bread of all shapes, sizes and flours is abundant in my neck of the woods. ‘What bread can we bake with no oven and a miniature grill?’ I asked Jo. We ran through the naans, flatbreads, galettes, rotis and chapatis of our culinary desires. Olav vainly suggested the chunky Norwegian black rye bread of his youth. In the ended we opted for Pita. The kind of Lebanese style pita bread used to make shwarmas. (I conjured up in my mind the lamb shwarmas at Ranoush Juice on the Edgware Road. Stuffed with hot meat. Dripping with fat, tahini and lemon juice. The diesel smells of London streets mingling delightfully with each mouthful.)

Pita Bread. Plastiki -style. Makes 6 pitas

A word of advice: If you haven’t got an oven, don’t bother trying this at home.

2 1/2 cups of whole meal flour
1 cup water
1/4 cup of water and live yeast mixture
1/4 cup of finest olive oil you can afford
extra flour for kneading

Mix all of the above ingredients together, trying not to drip sweat into the mixing bowl. Knead for 10 minutes. (Visions of Napoleonic bakers manufacturing the first baguettes in the deserts of Egypt spring to mind. The idea for the baguette shape was to allow the troops to carry bread in their trouser legs.)

Make a ball with the dough. Cover with a cloth and let sit for 1 or 2 hours. When the dough has risen, make six small balls from the one and roll out not too thinly. Sprinkle each with flour.

Now for the difficult part. Turn the grill on to its lowest setting. One by one, slide individual dough patties under the flame. The pita bread will quickly puff up, dangerously close to the flame. Using whatever various implements you have at hand, move the patty around under heat making sure no part of it comes into contact with the flame. Small pieces of tin foil strategically placed on the highest parts of the pita bread will ensure the heat is refracted back and will avoid any burning. Once you have baked one side, flip over and repeat. Do not speak to friends, family members or crew until you have achieved your goal. Constant monitoring will reap rewards.

Serve pipping hot. Garnish with olive oil, slices of boiled egg and sausage. Add salt, pepper and chili sauce to taste.

Lunch was served late on the aft deck. 42 degrees in the shade. Mouthfuls of steaming pita bread and hell fire chili sauce lifted our souls out of the mire.

3 comments  | Comments are closed



  1. Dan Dubno says:

    Well, you could try making matzah. It really is “the bread of affliction” if you make it as badly as I just did. Just two kinds of flour, mixed with some water… knead it for a few minutes… then grab an egg-sized portion of dough… and flatten it out as thinly as possible… stab it thoroughly on both sides… and cook at approx 450 degrees f for about 3 minutes… it makes either a very nice cracker-type matzoh or it sort of tastes like hardtack if you make it too thick. I have to say, your bread larder seems rather sufficient, so it’s difficult to feel terribly nervous that you won’t hold out. Well, I’m not sure baguettes will hold up in your trouser-legs if you get ‘em wet…

  2. francesca says:

    ..tin foil? are you sure? from some pretty boxite mine?
    can you not balance on some metal cutlery in a tin? or just make rising flatbread in a frying pan?
    Surely we could give up tinfoil today without too much suffing.

  3. TomB says:

    You can try Navajo Fry Bread. You don’t need an oven just a skillet. I’ve included a recipe.
    Navajo Fry Bread Recipe – How To Make Navajo Fry Bread
    by Cynthia Detterick-Pineda

    Fry bread is wonderfully lumpy (puffed here and there). It can be served as a dessert or used as a main dish bread. Our family will often take them and stuff them, much like one might use bread or tortilla to dip into their food.
    1 cup unbleached flour
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon powdered milk
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1/2 cup water
    Vegetable oil for frying
    Sift together the flour, salt, powdered milk, and baking powder into a large bowl. Pour the water over the flour mixture all at once and stir the dough with a fork until it starts to form one big clump.
    Flour your hands. Using your hands, begin to mix the dough, trying to get all the flour into the mixture to form a ball. NOTE: You want to mix this well, but you do NOT want to knead it. Kneading it will make for a heavy Fry Bread when cooked. The inside of the dough ball should still be sticky after it is formed, while the outside will be well floured.
    Cut the dough into four (4) pieces. Using your floured hands, shape, stretch, pat, and form a disk of about 5 to 7 inches in diameter. NOTE: Don’t worry about it being round. As Grandma Felipa would say “it doesn’t roll into your mouth.”
    Heat the vegetable oil to about 350 degrees F. NOTE: You can check by either dropping a small piece of dough in the hot oil and seeing if it begins to fry, or by dipping the end of a wooden spoon in and seeing if that bubbles. Your oil should be about 1-inch deep in a large cast-iron skillet or other large fryer.
    Take the formed dough and gently place it into the oil, being careful not to splatter the hot oil. Press down on the dough as it fries so the top is submersed into the hot oil. Fry until brown, and then flip to fry the other side. Each side will take about 3 to 4 minutes.
    Indian Fry Bread can be kept warm in a 200 degree F. oven for up to 1 hour. They refrigerate well and can be reheated in a 350 degree F. oven for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.