For the Flakiest Flatbreads, Laminate Your Dough

Parathas, msemen, and shao bing all rely on a quick lamination technique that produces rich flatbreads with distinct layers.
Chewy Layered Paratha on a platter.
Photo by Joseph De Leo, Food Styling by Lillian Chou

When I think about the many bready things I tend to cook, I usually classify them in my head according to how they rise—or, in the case of flatbreads like matzo, tortillas, and roti, how they don’t rise.

Traditional loaves rely on either commercial yeast or a natural leaven, a.k.a. a sourdough starter. Quick breads, such as soda bread and banana bread, get their loft from a chemical reaction between acidic and alkaline agents that produces bubbles of gas—usually a combination of baking soda and baking powder, sometimes with the addition of another acid, like buttermilk.

But one of my favorite types of bread sits somewhere between unleavened bread and pastry. It’s quick-laminated dough.

You’re probably already familiar with laminated doughs. And if you’ve ever made your own puff pastry or croissants (or, if you’re a masochist, kouign-amann), you definitely know the basics. First, you mix up a dough: sometimes with yeast and sometimes without; sometimes lean and sometimes larded with fat and sugar. You then shape it into a rectangle, upon which you place a softened block of butter. A long series of folds and resting periods ensues before the dough is ready to use. When it bakes up in the oven, steam (and, in the case of croissants, yeast) causes all of those layers to expand, giving you a dramatic rise full of flaky, paper-thin bits of buttery dough.

But there’s an easier way to laminate dough to give lots of layers—without dealing with the fuss of puff pastry. Breads like msemen, mlaoui, parathas, fesali, buss up shut, and shao bing all follow the same general principle as puff, but with a much quicker procedure.

Quick lamination usually goes like this: After making a basic dough, you’ll roll it out—either divided into portions already, or left as one giant sheet, stretched as thin as possible. You’ll want a super-smooth surface for this—not a craggy old cutting board that will snag and tear the dough. After you’ve rolled out the dough, you’ll spread it with softened butter, ghee, or oil (or, as is the case with shao bing, a mix of flour and oil). Then you’ll laminate: Some recipes call for you to fold the dough like an envelope or a triangle, sandwiching the layers of dough and fat, before rolling the dough flat again and cooking; others have you roll it up into a giant cigar, cut it into pieces, coil those into snail shapes, and roll it flat again.

Whether you’re rolling or folding, quick lamination accomplishes the same effect: distinct layers of dough, separated by a bit of fat, albeit without the precision of the meticulous layers in puff pastry. Even better? They don’t take all day to prepare, and they’re still delightfully flaky and satisfying.