2017 is well on it’s way… how is it the end of March already?! I have landed on my word for the year, and I’m dreaming up all kinds of ways to apply it in my life. My word is G R O W. That’s yours?
Grow and dough kinda go hand-in-hand. It’s an easy connection, especially when yeast is involved. Watching dough expand in the bowl is fun! Well, I don’t usually sit there and watch it, it’s more like I check up on it occasionally. But just like a little plant in the garden or my young niece, I get excited over growth. I also get excited over pizza.
I think the easiest thing for me to make (and eat) is any kind of dip or spread. Homemade nibbles are such a unique thing to serve at a party, and you can tailor them to the season or meal so easily. People always remember a good homemade appetizer — it’s like a magic trick.
I’m a podcast fiend. I’m that girl that starts off every other sentence with “I was listening to this podcast the other day…” It’s probably annoying. I don’t know. But I learn so much, and now I’m addicted to several podcasts. On that I love is Splendid Table. I was listening to it the other day when they started talking about wines with cured meats and it reminded me of my days working as a dishwasher at Les Caves in Corvallis. The Caves kitchen crew would always talk about the fact that they are a “from scratch kitchen” and that was no lie. They made their own charcuterie, and it’s where I had my first bresaola. Bresaola (brez-oh-lah) is a cured beef, and it’s not like a chopped up and formed cured meat like salami or sausages, it’s like on whole piece of beef that has been salted and air dried. According to Pinterest is one of the easier cured meats to make at home! This is something I’ll have to try.
So with the memories of my first bresaola swirling around in my mind while I listened to Lynne talk to Joshua Wesson about wine. Joshua pointed out that red wine actually over powers cured meats, and a lighter wine, be it sparkly or lightly chilled, is a great choice for cured meats.
This bresaola is so beefy and full of savory flavor, I paired it with a slightly sweet, but not too sweet, Lions Lair 2013 South African Rosé. It was lovely! An appetizer that I probably would have paired with a Cab Sav, prior to listening to the Splendid Table podcast episode. The bresaola went really well with a lighter wine that didn’t destroy my palate and allowed the flavor of the beef to open up in new ways. With such a strong flavor, something sweet to wash it down with softens the salt and brings out the unctuous flavor like I haven’t experienced before.
When I had bresaola at Caves, it was served very simply.
Here’s what you do: have your sliced bresaola nearby and get your hands on some sliced baguette or other fresh artisan style bread. Slice up a lemon into wedges. A decent olive oil is best here, like a peppery or fruity one, whatever you can afford as a finishing oil. If you don’t have a fancy olive oil, stop by Olive and Vine if you are in the Portland area. If you simple cannot find or afford another ingredient, use the olive oil you cook with, but at least make sure it’s relatively fresh.
To build your perfect bite, layer a pice of bresaola on the slice of bread, squeeze the lemon over it and drizzle it with olive oil. Then, take a bite. It’s salty, it’s fatty, it melts in your mouth.
These are really fun to build as you go, so when you serve it, show your fellow at home happy hour friends how to make their bites.
A note on the price of this cured meat: bresaola can be a bit expensive, but a little goes a long way because it is such a strong flavor. For example, the bresaola I got from New Seasons was 29.99 per pound, but I asked the guy at the meat counter for 8 or 10 slices, which is plenty for two people (for each “bite” you could even use half a slice of bresaola to stretch it a little more) and that only cost around $2.50. It’s great like this, on its own, or as part of a larger antipasto platter of cured meats.
Bresola with the right kind of wine
Recipe Type: Appetizer
Author: Sugar Pickles
8 slices bresaola
1 lemon, cut into wedges
olive oil for drizzling
On a slice of baguette, layer a slice (or half) of bresaola. Squeeze lemon over the bresaola, drizzle with olive oil. Enjoy!
Excellent served with a chilled white wine or Rose.
This butter is crazy addictive. It will make you eat WAY more bread then you have any business eating. It is one of those things I physically have to remove from my sight to get me to stop. It’s THAT good! It’s especially good with any kind of soda bread situation for St. Patrick’s Day!
But seriously, make bread and make this butter, you won’t be sorry (okay, so your thighs might be sorry…) It’s super simple.
Chop some shallots. I have to use onion goggles because I am a wuss. My best gal pal, Aslan, got these for me. Thanks, they work!
When I was chopping these shallots I was remembering how Aslan and I would talk about dinner and cooking when we were both first married ladies. We cooked from our issues of Everyday Food Magazine (now discontinued, sniff!) and told each other about the messes and successes. That magazine was my monthly food bible for many years! Now, though I still use a lot of Martha Stewart recipes (but only the ones that work!) I try a variety of recipes, mostly from Pinterest or from my ever growing cookbook collection (latest buys were: Joy the Baker’s new book, Homemade Decadence, and Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust.)
Irish butter is so fitting here. Kerrygold is delicious!
I like to mix up most of the ingredients, then add the dill. It’s more delicate!
Put out like this to serve or in a small bowl. Slice bread or lay down some cracker action. BOOM. You are now Queen of the Butter.
Recipe from Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Everyday.
Recipe Type: Homemade Condiments, Snacks
Serves: 1 cup
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1/3 cup good quality mild goat cheese or soft farmers cheese
In a bowl, mix together the dill, chives, shallots and butter with a fork. Add in the dill when the mixture is mostly homogeneous. Gently mix in the cheese, in large crumbles, so that the mixture is a bit chunky.
Serve immediately with soda bread or crackers, or store in the fridge for up to a week. If you store in the fridge, bring it back to room temperature before serving.
I saw this recipe back in the summer, and while you could make this bread anytime, something about the combination of rosemary and raisins got me thinking fall or winter. But really, this would make excellent ham sandwiches with leftover ham from Easter Dinner.
Yes, I’m already thinking about Easter dinner. I don’t celebrate Easter, per se, but I cook on Easter without a doubt. Easter bunny? Sure. Chocolate? Hell yea. Ham, au gratin potatoes, pineapple upside down cake (or maybe this cake from the late Everyday Food magazine) the whole shah-bang is going down in my kitchen. This year I’m thinking the Parker House rolls will be replaced by this bread, formed into sweet, soft pillows. Are ya with me?
This bread tastes just like those sweet Hawaiian rolls I used to buy all the time (before I started reading the back of the package). I was so pleased that these tasted just like an old store-bought favorite, but even better! This bread also tastes like it has butter in it, but it’s actually olive oil! And it only has one long rise, so it’s done a little faster then most yeasted breads. Can this bread file my taxes and cure cancer too? Maybe for an Easter miracle….
A decent English muffin has been somewhat elusive around here. There are so many methods to try: raised, baking soda, cooked on the stove top or baked in the oven. I started with this recipe from Alton Brown that Joel found online. Then, I tried out the recipe from River Cottage Bread book, which I thought was sort of good, but not quite delicious enough. Then I found the recipe in this post from the Dahlia Bakery Cookbook, gifted to me by a thoughtful aunt. It was closer to that quintessential muffin, and had a perfect chewy texture. I love almost everything about these. The only thing I don’t love, is that they do take a little bit of fuss and precision. Also one thing kept bothering me, the fact that they are not cooked on a griddle with rings, as many other recipes I’ve tried. Not that this mattered, because the flavor was almost dead on. Alas, somethings just can’t ever be perfect. I baked this recipe a few times and then decided to add an egg, because it seemed that they were missing an eggy flavor that prevailed in other batches. The egg helped.
These rise up so pillowy and light. Sometimes they look and feel like a giant marshmallow to me.
After you let them do their first raise, you shape them. Cut into 12 pieces. I have vowed to weigh my pieces out next time, but for now I’ll spare you that anal retentive urge and just say: 12 pieces, cut.
Shaping can be a little tricky with these; you are basically rolling them into a ball, using a counter with a little flour/not too much flour/some indescribable magic amount of flour so that they stick to the counter but still roll around. The counter acts as a point of traction that allows the dough to roll smoothly into a ball. If you can’t get this technique down, it’s okay, just roll them into balls using your hands and pour yourself a drink. No sense in getting worked up about it, they will still be delicious.
I have to go on to tell you that I’ve tried so many english muffin recipes it get’s hard to track them all and trying and failing over and over can make you a bit crazy. Once when I was working at Les Caves, in Corvallis, the baker brought in their version of raised English muffins to cook on our griddle for brunch service. They smelled up the kitchen, puffed slightly on the griddle, and looked generally perfect. This was when I was near the beginning of my English muffin quest. I drooled and asked her if she would share the recipe with me as I stared from my place at the dish pit. She looked kind of surprised, and said, “Oh, well, it’s just a basic English muffin recipe.” I sort of receded and replied with a quiet “oh sure” but in my head I was screaming and shaking her shoulders with a crazed, “Basic!? BASIC? YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW LONG I’VE…” But in the kitchen such dramatics are not received well. So, this memory sticks in my head as my measure of a good English muffin. Have I found it in these muffins? No, I think that vision is still eluding me. But these are very good, and have been a favorite around here to all who eat them.
I just saw an episode of Good Eats on Netflix the other night. Guess what A.B. made? English muffins. A completely different recipe then the one I started with. Looks like I have another recipe to test. In the meantime, these are worth baking up and enjoying during brunch, with peanut butter, marmalade, or as a breakfast sandwich.
English Muffins, almost perfect
Recipe Type: Bread
Author: Sugar Pickles, adapted from The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook
1 medium Yukon gold or other waxy potato (5-6 ounces)
First portion of water: 1 1/3 cups at 68 degrees (cool tap water)
3 cups bread flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 large farm egg
1 tablespoon honey
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
Second portion of water: 1/3 cup at 68 degrees
Olive or vegetable oil for oiling your hands and the bowl
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the counter
2 tablespoons cornmeal
Cook your potato: Cut the potato in 1” chunks, leaving the skin on. Put the potato in a small sauce pan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook the potoato until it is tender, about 8-10 minutes after the water has been simmering.
Drain, and transfer to a bowl. Using a potato masher or a fork, mash the potato with the skins on. Measure the mashed potato. You only need a well-packed 1/2 cup (4 ounces) of mashed potato. Save the rest to eat later, or discard. Place the well packed 1/2 cup mashed potato in the fridge. When the potato is completely cool, you are ready to start the rest of the recipe.
Start your dough: Pour the first portion of water that is at or near 68 degrees F into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Use an instant read thermometer to check the temperature of your water if you are not sure. Add both flours, the cooled potato, egg, honey, salt and yeast. Mix on low for about 10 minutes. You should have a soft dough that is sticky, stretchy and wraps around the paddle. Scrape the dough down. Turn off the mixer and allow the dough to rest in the bowl for 5 minutes.
After the dough has rested, turn the mixer to medium speed and mix for another 1 or 2 minutes. The dough should be wound around the paddle and will be stronger and stretchier. Now, with the machine running, start adding the second portion of water (1/3 cup) about 2 tablespoons at a time. Wait until an addition of water is absorbed before adding more water. It is very important to add the water gradually, usually 3 additions does the trick. When all the water has been added, mix the dough for another 2 minutes until a soft, smooth, shiny dough is formed. Use your thermometer to test the temperature of your dough. It must be between 75-80 degrees. If your dough is not at this temperature, place it somewhere slightly warmer (or cooler, if it’s too warm) for awhile and check the temperature again later. You don’t want to start the “clock” on the rising time until your dough is at least 75 degrees. I’ve that at this point, I usually just put the dough in a large oiled bowl, turn the dough once to cover it with oil, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and put it in a turned off oven with the oven light on. This creates an amazing little warm box and it will work, more so then you might think! On top of the fridge works well too.
Once your dough is between 75-80 degrees, (put in the oiled bowl and cover with plastic if you haven’t already done so) place in a warm spot and let it rest for 30 minutes. If your kitchen is cooler then 68 degrees (like mine is often in the winter) let it rest in that little warm spot again. You don’t want it too warm, however.
After the 30 minute rest, uncover the bowl (don’t discard the plastic wrap) so you can “turn the dough.” Rub some oil on your hands before turning, the dough will be sticky. With the bowl in front of you, reach to the opposite side (the farthest side away from you) of the bowl and grab the dough from that side. Pull it up and stretch it upward, as far as you can, with out breaking it, then fold it over to the side closest to you. You will not be able to stretch very far at first, but will get farther as you keep turning the dough. Turn the bowl a quarter turn, and continue pulling and stretching until you go all the way around the bowl (4 turns). Then turn the whole bowl of dough over, cover it again with your plastic wrap, and return it to the slightly warm spot again for another 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, you are going to turn the dough again, using the same process described above. Then cover the dough and allow it to rest for an hour (this would be 2 hours total rising time). The dough will then get bubbly and often looks to me like a big soft marshmallow. This means it’s really good dough!
At this point you can either continue to bake the English muffins, or cover the bowl again with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, finishing the muffin process in the next day. If you just need to buy some time between this step and moving forward, you can also just pop the dough in the fridge for an hour or so.
To shape and bake the English muffins: Prepare two baking sheets by lining them with parchment paper. Combine the two tablespoons of flour with two tablespoons of corn meal in a small bowl and sprinkle all over the baking sheets. Set the pans aside.
Flour a work surface, such as a counter, and dump the dough onto it. If the dough has been in the fridge, I like to let it come up in temperature, so you may want to set the dough out on the counter an hour or two before you plan to shape and bake.
Using a floured metal bench scraper or a floured knife, cut the dough into 12 equal pieces. This is hard to do, mine usually end up with two large ones and the rest somewhat equal in size. To get twelve pieces, cut the large dough ball in half. Cut each half in half again (giving you 4 pieces of dough) cut each fourth into thirds, or three pieces, giving you 12 total pieces. To shape each muffin, take a piece of dough and place it on a lesser floured space on the counter. Fold it in half on itself, and adjust it so that the more floured side of the dough is facing up and a lesser floured side is facing down. Using your hand, make a loose cup shape, and in a circular motion, roll the dough around on the counter. You want the dough to get slightly stuck, so that it will form a smooth ball, but stuck more on the counter side, not your hand. It takes practice, so if you can’t get this to work, just roll them roughly into balls using the palms of both hands. Don’t worry if they don’t look perfect, they will still taste delicious.
Place 6 english muffins on each baking sheet, spacing them out evenly, and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Place them in a slightly warm place (I return them to the oven with the light on, but you need to remove them before you preheat your oven!) Let them rise until doubled, about an hour or two depending on if they have been in the fridge.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Put a rack on the top third and a rack on the bottom third. Bake the muffins for 8 minutes. After 8 minutes, remove them from the oven and flip each muffin over to the other side. Using a kitchen towel wrapped around your hand, or a hot pad, give each muffin a little pat/squash. You want to flatten it just slightly to give them a crinkled edge. But do so quickly, and be careful of the hot steam. Rotate the pans (front to back, top to bottom) and return to bake in the oven for another 8 minutes, until golden and baked through with a few brown patches.
Let cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before eating.
To Serve: Slice each (or split by puncturing laterally with a fork all the way around) English muffin in half and toast. I store these in a plastic bag in the fridge, and they’ve never gone bad on me. Joel prefers these with peanut butter, for breakfast almost everyday, but I love them with marmalade. We both agree they make excellent breakfast sandwiches.
I am a fan. A huge fan. I love every thing you’ve ever made. I’m obsessed with it, actually. I want to make your creations and eat them everyday and never stop.
Jim Lahey, do you hear me? I’m totally normal, I swear. I just really love good bread.
This bread goes against normal bread making notions when carrot juice is involved. It’s sweet and earthy. It’s light and crispy. It’s got nuts and seeds and a gorgeous color. It blows my mind, because the carrot juice is so right in here. I took a bite and thought, yes… yes. I see what you’ve done here. *mind blown*
Lahey’s method for no-knead bread is simple, though the first time I baked it, it felt complicated and time regimented. But now that I’ve done it a few times, I realized that it’s really quite flexible and easy to do. My timetable on this bread went far longer then Lahey’s, but because my house is kept fairly cool during the winter, it worked out fine. I even thew caution to the wind and refrigerated this dough overnight for awhile, so I could relax with some friends and not stand over an oven. If you ever need to put the pause on dough, consider using the fridge. The temperature will slow down the yeast and send them into hibernation mode again. So really, you are in control of that little bread baby, no need to freak out or clear your whole day.
Here it is after it’s long rise:
(I love that bubble.)
This bread is so easy, you really don’t need to do too much with it anyways. It reminds me of the approach Tamar Adler’s approach to cooking beans—just start it the night before and then it’s there for you in the morning. It’s so simple to cook these lovely things from scratch. There’s really no difficult task in it at all, other then remembering to do it.
I added a few things to Lahey’s recipe. First, sunflower seeds go into the dough, and the amount of currants is reduced to lessen the overall sweetness of the bread. Then, in addition to topping with cumin, I added sesame seeds and poppy seeds. I have decided that I do not bake with poppy seeds enough.
The seed mixture gets sprinkled all over a towel and then the sticky bread is turned over right on top of it. It has an excellent crust.
I love eating this bread toasted for breakfast, topped with farmer’s cheese or just butter. But I do wonder… how would it fair as french toast or a turkey sandwich? I think I better get back to the kitchen to contemplate my love for this bread a little longer. Recipe slightly adapted from Jim Lahey’s book, My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method.
Seeded Carrot Walnut Bread
Recipe Type: Bread
Author: Sugar Pickles, from Jim Lahey
Serves: 1 loaf
3 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting
1 1/4 teaspoons table salt
1/4 teaspoon instant or other active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed carrot juice
3/4 cup currants
3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
In a medium bowl, stir together flour, salt, and yeast; add carrot juice. Using a wooden spoon or your hands, mix until a wet, sticky dough is formed, about 30 seconds. If it’s not really sticky to the touch, add another tablespoon or two of water or carrot juice. Add currants and walnuts and mix until incorporated. Cover bowl and let stand until surface is dotted with bubbles and dough is more than doubled in size, 12 to 18 hours.
You can then continue or place in the fridge for another day. If you place it in the fridge overnight, let it come to room temperature before continuing.
Generously dust work surface with flour. Using a bowl scraper or rubber spatula, scrape dough out of bowl in one piece. Using floured hands or a bowl scraper, gently lift edges of dough in toward center. Tuck in edges of dough to make a round.
In a small bowl, mix together the cumin seeds, sesame seeds and poppy seeds.
Place a clean kitchen towel on work surface. Generously dust towel with flour and sprinkle with the seed mixture. Gently place dough on towel, “seam” (the side that has all the tucked up edges) side-down first. If dough is tacky, dust top lightly with flour. Fold the ends of the towel loosely over dough to cover and place in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours. Dough is ready when it is almost doubled in size and holds an impression when gently poked with a finger. If it springs back, let rise 15 minutes more.
Meanwhile, one half hour before the end of the second rise, preheat oven to 450 degrees with a rack set in bottom third of oven. Place a covered 4 1/2-to-5 1/2-quart cast-iron, high-quality all-ceramic, or enameled cast-iron (with plastic handle removed and screw hole plugged with aluminum foil) in the center of rack.
Using pot holders, very carefully remove preheated pot from oven and uncover. Unfold towel and quickly but gently invert dough into pot, seam side-up. Cover pot, return to oven, and bake for 25 minutes.
Uncover and continue baking until bread is a deep chestnut color, 15 to 20 minutes* more. Using a heatproof spatula or pot holders, carefully lift bread out of pot and place it on a rack; let cool completely.
*My bread was a great color right around 14 minutes after removing the lid. Because you don’t want the sesame seeds to burn or get too dark, you will want to watch the bread closely at this point.
I think a good sandwich is really important. Making a truly good sandwich is a sort of a balancing act, and it’s not always as simple or straightforward as a good old PB&J.
It has to be structurally sound, so it doesn’t explode in your hands or all over your shirt. It needs to have the right amount of crunch, sour, sweet and salty. And it needs an element of cream or fat to keep you satisfied long after you eat it. Sandwiches can have two slices of bread, or they can be in a pocket. Pockets help with that whole explosion factor, and since I tend to get my food all over me, I need all the help I can get.
This sandwich uses homemade pitas. You can make the pitas days in advance, just store them in the fridge and slice them in half and open up the inside pockets as you are ready to use them. If you want, you could substitute any gluten free pita, bread or wrap.
Tomato harissa sauce ads a little sweet and tangy heat. It contrasts with the creamy (surprisingly vegan) filling.
The biggest challenge with creating this sandwich is the chopping, I’ll admit. But if you mix this all up on a Sunday afternoon, you’ll have enough for two peoples lunches for the week, so think of it as an investment in your future lunches. A julienne peeler can help with the carrots and parsnips. Julienne them then roughly chop the pieces and it’s almost faster then a food processor, or at least a lot less to clean up afterwards.
I also like to split the thick ends of the celery before chopping it all down the rib, it helps to make the pieces more even in size.
Soon, you’ll have a bowl full of chopped up goodness!
The beans are mashed and add to the smooth texture of this filling.
The other challenge might be filling the pita and spreading the sauce on the inside, but I’ve devised a little trick for you! When you open the pita up, use a spoon to spread the tomato harissa sauce all over the inside.
Then, take your piece of butter lettuce, roughly cut or folded in half to be the size of your pita half, and place it on your cutting board so that the natural shape of the lettuce curves up towards you. You want it to look like a little lettuce cup.
Spoon about a 1/4 cup to a 1/3 cup filling on top of the lettuce leaf, then with one hand hold the pocket open and with your other hand, slide the topped lettuce in to it. This ensures you have filling and lettuce all the way to the bottom of the pita and doesn’t smash the lettuce in the process.
Vegan Garbanzo and White Bean Salad Pita Pocket Sandwich
Recipe Type: Lunch
Author: Sugar Pickles
Serves: 6 cups
Using half red and half yellow bell pepper adds extra color, but it is not necessary. If you only have one or the other, just use the whole pepper. Greek yogurt would be a great addition, if you are not following a vegan diet.
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 green onions, thinly sliced
¼ white onion, chopped
¼ cup dill pickle, finely chopped
½ red bell pepper, finely chopped
½ yellow bell pepper, finely chopped
¼ cup shredded and chopped parsnip
¼ cup shredded and chopped carrot
4 tablespoons vegan mayonnaise
1 clove of garlic, minced
3 teaspoons yellow mustard
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Juice of one small lemon
½ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper
Butter lettuce leaves
Roasted Tomato Harissa Sauce
In a large bowl, mash the chickpeas with a potato masher. Add in the white beans and mash until they are both a flaky texture.
Stir in the celery, green onions, pickles, bell peppers, shredded and chopped parsnip and carrots, vegan mayonnaise and garlic until well combined.
Stir in the mustard and parsley and squeeze the lemon juice over the mixture. Add in the salt, pepper and taste and adjust as necessary. You might want to add more vegan mayo to suit your needs.
To make the pita sandwiches, spread one tablespoon of the tomato harissa sauce on the inside of the pita pocket. Take a washed and dried piece of butter lettuce and spoon about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the salad on it. Then, opening the pita, slide the topped lettuce into the pita’s pocket.
Baking bread has been a passion of mine for going on 6 years now. Some of you might be nervous or scared to bake your first yeasted dough thing, but I’m here to tell you that it’s nothing to be afraid to try. It’s really an enjoyable process.
I love the smell of the yeasty dough, getting my hands covered in flour, and kneading away all my worries and anxiety right out of my soul and into that sticky lump. For me, making bread is a kind of therapy, or at least an exercise, in the therapy the kitchen provides. It’s a lesson in the greater things that are going on around me, things that I can’t see and that will continue long after I’m gone. In this way, yeast can be a comfort, and sort of a wide-eyed mystery.
Baking bread is humble, noble and downright delicious. Once you bake a simple loaf of white bread, you can bake so many yeasted things. English muffins, rolls, and things you thought were only bought in a grocery store, such as this pita bread.
Pita bread is yeasted, but then it’s flattened down again, and when it bakes briefly in the hot oven, the air trapped in the middle of it makes it puff up and gives you a glorious pocket that you can fill will all manner of deliciousness.
This bread is both sustenance and utensil. You can use it to fill a sandwich quite easily, and you also scoop up hummus with it. Pita has been around for about 4,000 years, and originated in the Mediterranean. Originally, pitas were a mixture of flour and water which was left sitting out to collect the wild yeast that lives in the air (that’s right, there’s yeast in the air!) But then it was discovered that brewer’s yeast works to leaven bread, and most pitas have since been made with commercial yeast.
Pitas can be made with white or whole wheat flour, and with spices and herbs added in to the dough. This pita is made with dukkah, a spice and nut mixture that originally comes from Egypt. Dukkah on its own can be used as a dipping seasoning for bread (or pita!) or as a sort of side dish to a main course. I like the dukkah method described by the Kitchn.
If you don’t want to experiment with something as exotic as dukkah, try mixing in a tablespoon of whole cumin seeds. You’ll get a crunchy bit of smokey flavor every other bite.
The recipe for these breads is simple, and baking them off in the oven is fun to watch. I would imagine kids would like to watch them puff up and help place little rounds of dough on the baking sheets. Try it with my tomato harissa sauce, or with this vegan bean salad!
Author: Sugar Pickles adapted from Beth Hensperger
Serves: roughly 16 pitas
2 ½ cups warm water
1 tablespoon dry active yeast (1 package is 2 ¼ teaspoons, so you will need a little more then one ¼ oz packet.)
Pinch of sugar or ¼ teaspoon honey
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
3 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
3 to 3 ½ cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 tablespoons of Dukkah or Whole Cumin Seeds (optional)
In a small measuring cup, combine the yeast, ½ cup of warm water, and the pinch of sugar or honey. Stir and let it stand on the counter until it foams up. This should take about 10 minutes.
In the bowl of stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl using a whisk), add the remaining water, olive oil, salt and whole-wheat pastry flour. Beat very hard, for about one minute, until it looks slightly creamy. Stir in the yeast mixture. Add the unbleached all purpose flour, slowly, about ½ cup at a time, until you get a soft shaggy dough that just clears the sides of the bowl. At this point you can mix in the dukkah, cumin seeds, or any other flavorings. You can switch to a wooden spoon if hand mixing.
Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured counter and knead until soft and springy, between 1-5 minutes, depending on if you made it in the mixer or not (mixer made dough will take a little less time to come together when kneading). Dust with flour as needed, a tablespoon at a time, only to prevent it from sticking. You are aiming for dough that is soft, springy and still moist.
Lightly oil a large deep bowl, and place the dough in to it. Turn the dough over once to lightly coat the top of the dough with oil from the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Let it rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 to 1 ½ hours.
When it is done rising, space out your oven racks so that you have one in the upper third of the oven and one in the lower third. Preheat the oven to 475°F (add a baking stone at this point, if you are baking directly on that, and just use one rack directly in the center). Line several baking sheets with parchment paper. Gently deflate the dough and divide it in half. Cover half with plastic wrap or a towel and set aside for the moment. Take the other half and divide it into 8 pieces, getting them as equal in size as possible. Form each piece into a ball. Rest the balls 10 minutes while you divide up the second half of dough.
Dust your surface with flour. Using a rolling pin, roll the balls into roughly 6-inch circles about ¼ inch thick. Loosely cover them with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel. Don’t stack them, they will stick together. Place them on lightly floured baking sheets and let them rest for about 15 minutes, or until slightly puffy. The dough rounds should be placed about an inch apart. On large baking sheets you may be able to fit 2-3 pitas at a time.
Bake 8-10 minutes, leaving the oven door shut for the first full 4 minutes. After 4 minutes, switch the baking sheets from top to bottom, and rotate them from front to bake. Continue to bake, for the remaining 4-6 minutes, or until they look fully puffed and light brown. You’ll want to watch them; they can burn easily.
Remove the sheets from the oven. Gently remove the hot puffed bread from the sheets, on to a large platter or cooling rack. Let the sheets cool slightly before placing more dough rounds on them and continuing to bake the rest of the dough. I usually allow the rounds to do their puffing while on the counter, and add them to the sheets as I can.
You can eat the pitas hot, dipped in oil and more dukkah, hummus or tomato-harissa sauce. Store cooled pitas in gallon plastic bags in the fridge. They will last in the fridge for about a month.
Beth Hensperger, auther of The Bread Bible, would have you bake these on a hot baking stone. I preferred to place them on the baking sheets, let them rest, and rotate them in and out of the oven that way. I felt it was a little easier to avoid burning- both the pitas and my hands and wrists- but you can try it if you have a quicker and defter hand. Simply let the dough rounds rest on the baking sheets, then use a wide spatula or floured peel to slide them on to a hot baking stone. You can put your stone in the oven before you start preheating it to make sure it’s hot enough.