Pitas a la Julia

It was a productive weekend.

Saturday afternoon, despite some residual grogginess from “Martini Friday” (which has a tendency in our household to turn into an all-night, vinyl-spinning extravaganza), I made pita bread.  From scratch.

Let me just say, I am no baker.  As you’ll see in my next post, I’ve recently succeeded in the basic destruction of French bread.  Twice.  But something about warm fresh pita beckoned to me, and said “you can do this”.

I will note that I first learned to make pita bread when I was part of the amazing Casa Nueva restaurant cooperative.  But it’s one thing to arrive at a professional kitchen where someone else has been kind enough to leave you the fresh dough, and where a rolling machine and commercial grade ovens are available.  It’s quite another to do it in your own home, with a rolling pin, a small oven, and a bit of a headache.

But do it I did, and I have a picture below to prove it.

Dough is very sensual.  I don’t mean in a sexy way necessarily…more like a “remember how fun it was to make mud pies before we didn’t like to get dirty any more” kind of way.  Pita dough, in particular, is quite sticky.  My hands, coated with several layers of floury goodness, were transformed into large mittens remeniscent of paper mache models.  But I trudged on through the process.  And what do you know.  Pitas, honest to goodness pitas!

Yes, I do believe they're lopsided, but not too bad for a first try!

In this post, you actually get a “twofer” – the recipe for pita bread, plus how to turn several of your raw pitas into pizzas at the end of the baking process.  They were fabulous…so fabulous, in fact, that we devoured all the pizzas with no pictures.  Next time, I promise!

The Cookbook:  Julia Child & Company, by Julia Child.  Alfred A. Knopf, 1978.

This cookbook includes the dishes Julia used to prepare on her television series.  It is a bit intimidating, as only Julia can be. 

Case in point – a recipe called “Chicken Melon”.  This is, much to my amazement, “a boned and stuffed chicken formed, in its own skin, into a pâté the shape of a melon”.   

Oh Julia, really?

This doesn’t really tantalize my tastebuds.  But in my braver moments, I do fantasize about making it.  Just so I can tell the story.

But, then, there’s the pita bread recipe.  And also one for English muffins, which I’ll be trying as soon as I have enough empty tuna cans to substitute for the English Muffin tins.

The Recipe:  Pita Bread, and Pita Pizzas

Additional Menu Items:  Kitchen Sink Salad – Antipasto Version (hearts of romaine, cherry tomatoes, pepperincini rings, black olives, mini sweet peppers, vinaigrette)

Cooking It Up:

This is definitely a weekend recipe.  It entails 3 1/2 hours of rising time, plus however long it takes you to mix up the dough, knead it, form the pitas, etc.  Then they rest for 20 minutes.  Luckily, the baking process doesn’t take long at all – only 2 minutes per batch!

Pita Bread (makes 12 6-inch pitas):

Dissolve 1 TB yeast in 1/2 cup of warm water in a large mixing bowl.  Once yeast is completely dissolved, mix in 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour and 3/4 cup plain bleached cake flour, 2 tsp salt, and 1 TB olive or  canola oil.  Knead in UP TO 1 cup warm water – enough to make a relatively firm dough. 

(A couple of notes on the process above:  I did not have cake flour, so I used all-purpose only.  I also accidentally dumped the entire cup of warm water into my flour mixture, which made it VERY sticky.  Start with 1/2 cup and go from there.)

When the mixture is well blended, let it rest for 2 minutes.  Then knead it rapidly until the dough is smooth and elastic.  This should take about 5 minutes. 

Place dough ball in another large bowl, cover, and let rise until it doubles in bulk.  This will take about 2 hours.

Deflate the dough, cover, and let it rise again until it’s slightly more than double in bulk.  This should take about 1 1/2 hours.

To form the pitas:  Lightly flour a work surface.  Roll the dough with your hands into a sausage shape about 16 inches long.  Cut into 12 equal pieces.  Roll each piece into a ball and set aside, covered with clean towels.

Heavily flour your work surface.  Roll each ball into a disk that’s 1/4 inch thick and about 6 inches in diameter.  Don’t make them too thin, or they won’t puff in the oven to form the pocket (though they will still taste good). 

You’ll need a bit of space to spread out all your rolled pitas.  Again, cover them with clean towels so the top layer of dough won’t harden.  Let the pitas rest for 20 minutes.  Meanwhile, place a pizza stone (or just a baking sheet) in the lower middle section of the oven and preheat to 550.

If you have a sliding board, which I do not, you would then place three of your pitas on the board, and slide them onto the hot baking surface.  Without a sliding board, I had to rely on my catlike grace to ensure that I didn’t burn the you-know-what out of my hands during the transfer process.

The pitas only cook for 2 minutes per batch.  I strongly encourage watching this process through the oven door, as it’s truly fascinating! 

After the first minute, the pitas will start to form large bubbles on the top surface.  They will then puff up like pillows.  The pitas should not darken or harden.  In fact, they won’t really look like they’re done.  But don’t be tempted to add another minute, like I did.  My pitas were just a little too chewy, and I think that’s why.

After 2 minutes, remove pitas with a spatula and place on a cooling rack.  Repeat cooking process with remaining batches.  The puffed-up pitas will gradually collapse as they cool.  You can then place them in a stack and bag them up.  They can be refrigerated for several days, or frozen for future use.

Pita Pizzas:

I’m really excited about the pizzas.  I know, it’s just a pita pizza – everyone’s made one, right –  but maybe you just have to try it to understand.  These pizzas are made with raw pita dough, so it’s very easy to tack on to the tail end of the pita project. 

After you’ve rolled out all your pitas, using the process above, decide how many of them you want to turn into pizzas.   As you cook the batches, you can prep or arrange your toppings.

I spread about 3 TB pizza sauce, 1 TB chopped fresh basil, plenty of shredded mozzarella and some dried oregano on each of 4 raw pitas. 

Then, you bake them just like you would the plain pitas, except cook them for 5 minutes until the edge of the crust is slightly golden and the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Truly – YUM!

Not bad for a lazy Saturday. 

Until next time,

Clevelandkat

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~ by clevelandkat on December 8, 2010.

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