Thursday, March 5, 2009

pita bread

pita bread

Oh, am I so happy to finally have a great pita recipe. You see, pitas themselves aren’t hard to make. Most recipes very closely, or even exactly, resemble a standard pizza dough and they’re not much more difficult to assemble. No, the trouble comes when you pop them in the oven and pray for the kind of puffiness you can pop some falafel into and end up with flatbread. Delicious, warm, toasty flatbread, but definitely not a pita.

pitas, risingpita breadsrolling the pitaspita, baked and puffed

But this works! These babies puffed up like a mouth-watering poori bread in the oven, coming out closer to balloons than pizzas — at last. The technique, which should be 100 percent attributed to Rose Levy Beranbaum’s brilliance, and not my own, puts indiviuals pitas on a searing hot baking stone (or if you’re me, and have busted another one I don’t want to talk about it a cast iron skillet) and bakes them for just three minutes. I found that spritzing the tops with water guaranteed a perfect puff, but really, that’s all there is. It’s that easy.

cooling on a towel

This may also be the perfect starter bread, for those of you intimidating by the bread-making process. A long rise in the fridge lends itself to a developed flavor we associate with high-end artisanal breads; it also does the hardest work for you. The ingredients are as simple as any bread can be and with a baking time of three minutes per pita, it’s hard to argue that it will keep you tied to the kitchen for long. Best part — even if yours don’t puff, you’ll still have a most delicious flatbread, and with a little extra effort,the most delicious hummus to dip it into.

perfect pockets

One year ago: Almond Biscotti

Deb went on vacation and all I got were these lousy pita breads! Wondering why your comments aren’t being responded to at the speed that you’ve come to expect? It’s true, we’ve flown the coop and we’ll be back at the end of the week. But come on, we left you homemade pita bread — you shouldn’t have to miss us at all.

Pita Bread
Adapted from The Bread Bible

3 cups plus a scant 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (16 oz./454 grams)
2 teaspoons salt (1/2 oz./13.2 grams)
2 teaspoons instant yeast (6.4 grams)
2 tablespoons olive oil (1 oz./27 grams)
1 1/4 cups water, at room temperature (10.4 oz./295 grams)

1. About 1 1/2 hours before shaping, or for best flavor development, 8 hours to 3 days ahead, mix the dough.

Mixer method: In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all the ingredients. With the paddle attachment, mix on low speed (#2 if using a KitchenAid) just until all the flour is moistened, about 20 seconds. Change to the dough hook, raise the speed to medium (#4 KitchenAid), and knead for 10 minutes. The dough should clean the bowl and be very soft and smooth and just a little sticky to the touch. Add a little flour or water if necessary. (the dough will weigh about 27.75 oz./793 grams.)

Hand method: In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except for a scant 1/4 cup of the flour. With a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until all the flour is moistened. Knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together.

Sprinkle a little of the reserved flour onto the counter and scrape the dough onto it. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, adding as little of the reserved flour as possible. Use a bench scraper to scrape the dough and gather it together as you knead it. At this point it will be very sticky. Cover it with the inverted bowl and allow it to rest for 5 to 20 minutes. (This rest will make the dough less sticky and easier to work with.)

Knead the dough for another 5 to 10 minutes or until it is soft and smooth and just a little sticky to the touch. Add a little flour or water if necessary. (The dough will weigh about 27.75 oz./793 grams.)

2. Let the dough rise: Using an oiled spatula or dough scraper, scrape the dough into a 2-quart or larger dough-rising container or bowl, lightly greased with cooking spray or oil. Press the dough down and lightly spray or oil the top of it. Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap. With a piece of tape, mark the side of the container at approximately where double the height of the dough would be. Refrigerate the dough overnight (or up to 3 days), checking every hour for the first 4 hours and pressing it down if it starts to rise.

3. Preheat the oven: Preheat the oven to 475°F one hour before baking. Have an oven shelf at the lowest level and place a baking stone, cast-iron skillet, or baking sheet on it before preheating.

4. Shape the dough: Cut the dough into 8 or 12 pieces. Work with one piece at a time, keeping the rest covered with a damp cloth. On a lightly floured counter, with lightly floured hands, shape each piece into a ball and then flatten it into a disk. Cover the dough with oiled plastic and allow it to rest for 20 minutes at room temperature.

Roll each disk into a circle a little under 1/4 inch thick. Allow them to rest, uncovered, for 10 minutes before baking.

5. Bake the pita: Quickly place 1 piece of dough directly on the stone or in the skillet or on the baking sheet, and bake for 3 minutes. The pita should be completely puffed but not beginning to brown. The dough will not puff well if it is not moist enough. See how the pita puffs, then, if necessary, spray and knead each remaining piece with water until the dough is soft and moist; allow to rest again and reroll as before.* (However, those that do not puff well are still delicious to eat.)

* After my first pita didn’t puff well, and I realized I was too lazy to spritz and reroll and rise each remaining pita, I instead spritzed each rolled-out pita with water two or three minutes before baking it. It worked magically — all of the remaining pitas puffed perfectly. Try this method first if yours don’t puff, if it doesn’t work to you, revert to Beranbaum’s suggestion of kneading the extra moisture in.

Proceed with the remaining dough, baking 3 or 4 pieces at a time if using a stone or baking sheet. using a pancake turner, transfer the pita breads to a clean towel, to stay soft and warm. Allow the oven to reheat for 5 minutes between batches. The pitas can be reheated for about 30 seconds in a hot oven before serving.

To cook the pitas on the stove top: Preheat a griddle or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly grease the surface and cook the pitas one at a time. Cook for about 20 seconds, then turn the dough and continue cooking for 1 minute or until big bubbles appear. Turn the dough again and cook until the dough balloons. If the dough begins to brown, lower the heat. The entire cooking process for each pita should be about 3 minutes.

Whole wheat variation: For a whole wheat version, use half whole wheat and half white flour. If using regular whole wheat flour, for best results, grind it very fine or process it in a food processor for 5 minutes to break the bran into smaller particles. Finely ground 100% whole wheat flour (atta), available in Middle Eastern food markets, is the finest grind available. Or, for a milder but wheatier flavor and golden color, try 100% white whole wheat flour. You will need to add 1/4 cup more water, for a total of 1 1/2 cups (12.4 oz./354 grams).


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