Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pita Bread

I love figuring out how to make things at home from scratch. A lot of people think it's insane; why make something when you can buy it premade by someone else? Well, cost for one thing, and the sheer joy of attempting something and succeeding at it for another. Also, I really enjoy working with my hands and watching step by step as the thing is assembled. I could wax on about the joy of being self sufficient, but I'll save that for another post.

Tonight I made pitas. This was not my first attempt at making them, but it was the first time they turned out just right. I have in the past prepped the dough and let it sit in the fridge for anywhere from 3 days to a week. And the pitas wouldn't puff very well. This time, however, I only let the dough rest overnight. This resulted in the dough not drying out as much and so the pitas puffed much better. That's my theory at least.

I also attempted making one on the skillet instead of in the oven. It didn't puff nearly as well but got that kind of crunchy crust that you get when you fry bread. I think however, that I'll stick to using my baking stone in an incredibly hot oven. (As an aside, though I'm a bit perplexed by the fact that the weather isn't too summery yet, I am rather glad because I've been able to keep baking without making the house unbearable. Yeah, no AC).

I used the recipe from the Bread Bible, which is truly an awesome book for anyone interested in baking bread. It's basically the same recipe as for pizza dough except that you knead the bread longer and let it rest a bit more. When I say rest, I really mean rise. With pizza dough, I let it rise for an hour or so in the room and with pita dough, I stick it in the fridge and keep a bit of an eye on it to make sure it doesn't get too crazy and rise too much (you just push it down if it does so. It's just air.).

To actually make the pitas, you divide the dough up into about 8 or 9 pieces (this makes really big pitas). I just tear them, though probably you're supposed to use scissors, something about tearing the gluten strands versus cutting them. You flatten it into discs, cover it, let it rest (and by rest here I just mean rest), come back after 20 minutes or so and roll it out. The breads are supposed to be 1/4 inch thick, but I'm pretty sure mine never are. I think this affects their puffing later on, but I just can't seem to get the edges super thin. After you roll them out, let them rest (just rest) for ten more minutes, then one by one toss them (er, place them gently) on the baking stone, which should have been preheating in the oven for an hour. Close the door and wait three minutes, then open it, take out the puffed pita, toss then next one in. Wait three minutes and repeat until you're out of dough.

See, that was so easy. And they taste much much better than any pitas I've ever purchased, even when they don't puff so much. When they get stale (and they will, unless you go on some sort of crazy pita binge. . .which is incredibly easy to do), brush them with some olive oil and sprinkle with some salt (I've been using this expensive Italian sea salt and herb mix that I got from my boss), put them on a baking sheet in a moderately less hot oven and bake for, I dunno, 15 minutes or so. You may want to flip them, sometimes I do, sometimes I completely forget that they are in there and then smell something and run to the oven yelling, oh shit! But they always turn out fine.

Cost breakdown, since we're in a recession and all and people are interested in that sort of thing:
Flour: 3 cups (or about a pound): 76 cents
Olive oil(trader joes brand): 1 oz: 18 cents
Salt: golly, I dunno, let's say 1 cent
Yeast (bought on sale for $1): 14 cents

Yeah, so that's 95 frickin' cents. A bit more if you make them into crisps later on. Which will still be incredibly cheaper than buying a bag of pita chips from the grocery store. And less packaging and all that too.

Here's the first one out of the oven:

Look at that delightful little puff!

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