Thursday, July 8, 2010

Herbed Pita Bread

I know many of you are scared about trying to bake bread at home. Some bread is difficult. But others are simple. Your quick breads -- the ones that don't use yeast -- are obviously the most simple. But even some yeast breads can be relatively fool-proof! I recommend starting with something user-friendly, like pita bread. Not only can pita dough withstand some overstretching and overworking, it's also plum fun to make -- it blows up like a balloon right there in your oven!

This is not my tried and true pita recipe. I couldn't put my hands on my tried and true version, so, I tried this alternate version. The alternate version worked quite well, and must have more salt than my other version, because the pitas did store a bit better than my normal pitas. This recipe is herbed -- which is a nice change, but not one that I particularly loved in a pita pocket. It smells delicious to bake herbed bread, but it tricks your mind into thinking that you're baking a pizza or something else entirely. And, once you get your head stuck on pizza, I don't care how tasty the reality is, it just comes up short against the pizza. So, were I to make this again, I would probably drop the herbs, personally. But, try it and see for yourself!

Look - I know 1 T of salt seems like an awful lot. But, this produces a fair amount of dough. So overall, each pita pocket has very little salt in it. And, salt is the only way your bread is going to stay reasonable soft for more than a few hours. So, don't try messing with the salt levels in this recipe unless you are prepared for the results.

Pita with Herbs
The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion

2 c warm water (110-120 degrees)
1 T sugar
1 T active dry yeast
5 1/2 - 6 1/2 c flour
1 T salt
2-4 T olive oil
2 T fresh basil, or 2 tsp dried
2 T fresh oregano, or 2 tsp dried

Combine 1/2 teaspoon of the yeast, 1 cup of water, the sugar, and 2 cups of the flour. Do not skimp on taking the temperature of the water -- this is probably the most important step in making bread. Too hot, and you'll kill the yeast; too cool, and you won't activate the yeast. They're cranky little things! I use a candy thermometer to test my water.

Cover the bowl and let it sit at room temperature for at least 4 hours, or in the refrigerator for 8 to 12 hours.

Dough before I let it sit for 4 hours:

 Delicious dough, full of air holes, after I have let it sit for 4 hours:

When you're ready to make the dough, add the remaining water, yeast, oil, herbs, flour, and salt. Mix and knead until you have a dough that's firm, but easily kneaded by hand (or, if you're me, by machine). Give it a rest for about 5 minutes to relax the gluten and make it more cooperative about being shaped.

Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Flatten each piece with your hand and then roll each piece with a floured rolling pin, or a pin with a cover, on a floured surface into a circle about 6-inches in diameter and 1/8-inch thick.

Sprinkle baking sheets with cornmeal, and place two pieces of dough on each. Or place dough on pieces of parchment paper. Let the dough circles rest here for at least 15 minutes while you preheat your oven to a hot 500 F.

When the pita circles have finished resting, place the baking sheet on the oven bottom or, if this is not possible, on the lowest rack. Close the oven door and keep it shut for 1 minute. Don't peek or the pocket may not form. It's this initially fast, hot searing of the outside dough of the pita that makes it separate from the inside. The carbon dioxide gas created by the yeast expands inside and accentuates the separation until the pita blows up like a balloon and the pocket is created.

At the end of the minute, place the sheet on a rack higher in the oven and continue baking anywhere from 3 to 7 minutes, until the pitas have blown up into balloons and are lightly browned.

Here's what I did with mine this week -- since this makes so much dough, and one can only eat so many pitas in a day, I pinched off the dough I wanted for each serving. So, for example, I was using these pitas in my lunch for the week. So, in the morning, I would take a piece of dough out of the fridge and bring it to room temperature as I showered and otherwise got ready for the day. Before I left for work, I would pop the dough into a pre-heated 500-degree oven (forget about rack's just lunch for one) and, 7minutes later, a fresh pita pocket! Delicious, and easy. And, it lets you use up your dough without baking them all at once. (Pitas do not traditionally keep very well, so I find it best to bake them as needed.)

Here are action shots of a pita pocket being baked! Again, care was not given to the rack placement, and they still puffed up just fine.

No comments: