Saturday, February 7, 2009
My Pita Experiment
Those of you who know me know that I am not so much a Martha Stewart kind of person. Cleaning is hit or miss, crafts are a big joke, and cooking is . . . well, cooking has improved over the last year since I quit working outside the home, but it's still not great. Simple recipes, easy stuff--mostly stuff from Cooking Light. Bread of any kind--that's not simple. Therefore, my bread gets purchased, not baked.
But recently, I've been reading these blogs from these women who stay home, focus on their families, home school their kids, and even bake their own bread. I started remembering the divine taste of the homemade bread that I used to get at the boarding house where my youth group stayed when we went to Ridgecrest all those years ago. And I started wondering . . . how hard is it, really?
So I tried an experiment. Something triggered me to start thinking about homemade pita bread in particular. I think I read an old post at one of the blogs where she mentioned baking pita bread and how good and easy it was. So I went looking for recipes online. I found one that seemed tailor-made for beginners. I already had all of the necessary ingredients on-hand--mostly due to easy recipes that called for just one tablespoon of all-purpose flour, or whole-wheat flour, but also because I got the bright idea to make homemade pizza last night (it turned out pretty well, I thought, but you'd have to ask Jeff, the pizza expert, to be sure). So today I decided to give it a try.
Step one: figure out if I need to activate my yeast according to package directions or if I can just toss it in the flour mixture like the recipe says. Nope, have to activate it. Okay, easy enough: mix 2 teaspoons of yeast with half a cup of hot water and throw in some honey. Wait for five minutes to make sure it gets all big and bubbly. While doing that, measure my three cups of flour. I think I'll go with 2 1/2 cups of all purpose and 1/2 cup of whole wheat. That way I can pretend they're healthy pitas without worrying about them not "puffing" because of using too much whole wheat. Done. Might as well go ahead and add the salt, too. Okay. Next? Check the yeast mixture. Oh, yeah, it's big and bubbly, almost out of the tiny little bowl I put it in.
Step 2: Dump the yeast mixture into the flour mixture. Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil--you can get great olive oil here. Stir with a wooden spoon. Oops, I don't have a wooden spoon. A plastic spatula will have to do. Stir until all the flour sticks to the mixture, none to the bowl. Okay, done.
Step 3: Dump the whole mixture onto a lightly floured surface and knead it for 10 minutes. (The recipe even provided kneading instructions, thank goodness!) Well, I just cleaned my countertop, so toss some flour on it and knead away. Oh, this is really really sticky. I don't think it's supposed to be this sticky. "Jeff!" I call into the other room. "Can you come help me?" Jeff comes running--if I call for help from the kitchen, it's possible there's a fire--and I ask him to dump some more flour on the counter and on the big messy ball of stuff in my hands. I didn't do it myself because I couldn't disengage my hands from the aforementioned big messy ball. My wonderful husband didn't complain or roll his eyes; he just dumped the flour and went back to the other room. Now the kneading works better. Much better. Ten minutes later . . .
Step 4: Make the formerly sticky mixture into a big ball. Coat a bowl with olive oil and toss the ball in. Spin and roll the ball to make sure it's coated with the olive oil. Hmm, another easy step.
Step 5: Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap and leave it alone for 90 minutes, until it doubles in size. No problem. I got stuff to do, see ya later! Sixty minutes later, I can't resist checking . . . it's doubled in size all right. It's tripled already. I guess it doesn't need those final thirty minutes.
Step 6: Punch the dough. Hmm, sounds a little violent, but okay. Consider the dough punched. Then divide it into eight equal parts, roll them into balls, and let them sit under a damp towel for 20 minutes to "rest." Why does dough need to rest? Oh, well, the recipe says let it rest, so it shall rest. Meanwhile, preheat the oven and pizza stone to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Step 7: After the dough is sufficiently rested, roll each ball out into a disk that is 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Okay. Oops, I think I forgot the floured surface part, this thing is sticking to my brand new rolling pin. Throw some flour on the counter and on the rolling pin and try it again. Much better. Once the first one is done, get started on step 8 while finishing step 7.
Step 8: Put the dough disk into the hot oven, on the hot pizza stone, for 3 minutes. Then take it off and replace it with a new one. (In the interests of full disclosure: Jeff came in to help with this step. He's heard too many yelps from the kitchen, followed by running water as his wife sticks her newly-burned hand under the faucet.) Meanwhile, keep rolling (step 7), but also keep an eye in the window oven because apparently it's really cool to see them "puff." Yep, it is kinda cool to see them puff up in the middle. I've wondered how they make pitas have the two layers.
In the middle of step 7/8, I realized that although my dough disks and baked pitas were the right thickness according to the measurement, they looked way too thin and spread out. So the final three or four pitas were a little thicker and more compact. They looked a lot more like what I've been seeing here, although they didn't really puff.
The verdict: Making pitas at home is simple, a bit messy, and a little time-consuming. The actual work doesn't take long; it's the rising and resting. But the final product was pretty good. Not as good as the pita bread we get from one local restaurant, but better than what we get from another.
Tonight I discovered the way to make fairly good pita bread into a very yummy dessert. Want to know the trick? Heat up one piece of pita bread in the microwave. Spread cool whip over it. Drizzle honey over that. Then roll it up like a burrito. A very messy but lick-your-plate-good dessert. It works best with the really big, thin pieces, of which there are none left now. Probably a good thing.