Les Sèches, yeasted flatbreads from the cantons of Neuchâtel and Vaud, can easily be thrown together for lunchtime, an afternoon snack or a typically Swiss-style apéro.
During the summer, I started making Les Sèches for my family and friends, based on a recipe I found in a cookbook from our local library. These flatbreads date back to the 1860s in Suisse Romande, and are cousins of the famous gâteaux au beurre (butter cakes) of Valangin–which I have yet to try… With little or no butter spread on top of Les Sèches, especially in comparison to the gâteau au beurre, their name literally means “the dry.” According to Patrimoine Culinaire Suisse, Les Sèches started out in home ovens, when a small piece of dough was used to test whether the oven was hot enough to cook an entire loaf of bread.
The toppings can vary for Les Sèches, but I prefer them simply with a little butter and some cumin seeds (and a glass or two of wine at an apéro). My favorite neighborhood boulangerie also tops them with finely chopped bacon, another traditional alternative. I’ve also read about a sweet Sèche with sugar sprinkled on top, but I make so many sweet snacks for my children, it’s nice to have a savory alternative once in a while!
Sèches with butter and cumin seeds
Recipe adapted from Recettes du terroir neuchâtelois: De nos arrière-grand-mères au nouveau millénaire by Francis Grandjean (2002).
Makes 3 flatbreads
Contains: wheat, milk
For the dough:
250 ml very warm water
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon butter for each flatbread
bacon, finely chopped
1. Add yeast to the very warm water. Wait a few minutes and allow it to dissolve, and then stir gently until it’s completely incorporated into the water.
2. Separately, whisk together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle of flour mixture.
3. When the yeast has dissolved, pour the mixture into the well, and also add the softened butter. Stir everything together to form a soft dough.
4. Knead the dough for a few minutes until it’s smooth and elastic. If the dough is sticky, you can add a little extra flour. Place the dough in a bowl, cover it with a towel or some plastic wrap, and let it rise for an hour or two.
5. Once the dough has doubled in size, divide it into three equal parts. Form the individual pieces into balls, and use a rolling pin to roll out the balls into a thin circle that’s about 11 inches (28 cm) in diameter (about 1 mm thick). Press the dough into a pan lined with parchment paper (if you don’t have one the exact size, you can just use a cookie sheet).
6. Spread about 1 teaspoon of softened butter on each flatbread and sprinkled with desired toppings, such as cumin or finely chopped bacon.
7. Bake for about 5-7 minutes in a very hot oven at 250°C (480°F), just until lightly browned and a little puffy. They are best served slightly warm or within 24 hours.
Have you made Les Sèches before or do you buy them at your local boulangerie? What are your favorite toppings? Please share your thoughts in a comment below. Many thanks!