Tuesday, August 29, 2006
5 FOODS YOU HAVE TO EAT BEFORE YOU DIE, AND HOW TO MAKE HOMEMADE PITA BREAD
It was tough to choose, so I just decided to go with what came to mind first:
1.) homemade crusty sourdough bread
2.) Denman Island Chocolate, especially the hazelnut variety
3.) a sandwich made with homemade white bread, (vegan) mayonnaise, a ripe tomato still warm from the garden (it HAS to be freshly-picked from a garden and NOT the hothouse variety), and a little salt
4.) homemade ravioli with porcini mushroom filling
5.) hot homemade cornbread with Earth Balance and blackberries you just picked
NOW, ABOUT THAT PITA BREAD.....
I hadn't made homemade pita for some time, but yesterday I decided to try it in my new oven because I needed some for a recipe I was trying out for the newsletter. As you can see from the picture above, it worked beautifully! It's really very easy to make and better than any you can buy. You need a pizza stone or a cast iron skillet or griddle (at least 10-inch) or some unglazed tiles (you can buy slightly chipped ones at a tile store very cheaply) and a good hot oven.
The pitas (which are pretty large) are cooked one at a time, unless you have enough unglazed tiles to cover a whole oven rack, in which case you can do 2 at a time. But they take only 3 minutes to cook, so, even though you have to be there during the whole baking time, it goes fast.
BRYANNA'S HALF-WHOLEWHEAT PITA BREAD
makes 8/ 9" pitas
2 1/2 cups warm water
2 tsp. dry active baking yeast (or 1 1/2 tsp. instant yeast)
3 cups wholewheat bread flour
1 T. salt
1 T. olive oil
3 cups unbleached white flour
Dissolve the yeast in the water. Add the whole wheat flour and mix briefly. Let this "sponge" stand for about 30 minutes. Add the salt, oil and unbleached flour, and knead for about 8-10 minutes. Don't add too much flour-- the dough should be silky smooth and not tough. You can knead the dough with a little oil instead of with flour if necessary to keep it from being too dry.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl, oil the top, cover, and let stand in a warmish place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours. Punch it down and divide into 8 equal pieces on a floured counter. Keep the balls of dough covered when you aren't working with them.
Roll each piece out on a floured surface with a rolling pin to about 9" in diameter (they don't have to be perfectly round). For maximum "puff", try to avoid stretching the dough. I just roll out from the center toward the outer edge, turn the dough a quarter-turn and repeat, doing this until it is the right size. The thickness should be even all over. You'll get the hang of this after a while and it will go very fast.
Keep the rolled-out pita on a floured counter or floured cookie sheets and cover them.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F., with your unglazed tiles or pizza stone or cast iron pan or griddle on the rack at the lowest position (remove other racks).
My old method of transferring the pita to the hot surface was to place the pita to be cooked on a well-floured cookie sheet, pull the rack out as far as it will go and just flip the cookie sheet over to upend the pita onto whatever hot surface you are using. (If it lands with a wrinkle or two, just quickly straighten it out and shut the oven door.) If you are deft, you can just slap it onto the hot surface with your hand! Now I use a well-floured small baker's peel or cake and pizza lifter or even large bench scraper.
When the oven is up to temperature, place a pita bread (or 2, depending on how much room you have on the tiles/stone) on the hot surface, as directed above, quickly shut the door, and set the timer for 3 minutes.
Turn on the oven light and watch it puff up before your very eyes! (At first, your efforts may not puff perfectly, but you'll get the hang of it! You can still use them even if they don't puff.)
When the timer "dings", take the pita out carefully (use a large bench scraper or small baker's peel to take it out (or check out this nifty inexpensive cake and pizza lifter), and either place the hot pita bread (which will deflate immediately) in a large open paper bag, or wrap loosely in a clean large tea towel. Stack them up as you go. The pita should not get brown or crispy! You want them to stay flexible and soft.
That's it! Eat them within a day or so (place in plastic bags after they cool thoroughly) or freeze them. If they have puffed properly, when you cut them in half, they will have a "pocket".
Another way to enjoy them is as "Zatar bread":
Brush the bread with a little olive oil and sprinkle with the zatar, a delicious Lebanese spice mixture of lemony-tasting reddish sumac, sesame, thyme and sometimes other herbs.
Notes about sumac and zatar (or zahtar or za'atar):
Both can be purchased at North African or Middle Eastern markets, or online .
Amazon.com and the Great American Spice Company carries zahtar (go to "spice blends, w-z" for zatar, and "spices and herbs, r-s" for sumac).
Here is a link to an authentic zahtar recipe with a variation that does not require sumac, and an good explanation of the spice mixture and its uses. Here are two more recipes: #1 and #2.
Posted by Bryanna Clark Grogan at 12:45 PM