After a several month hiatus, I’m returning to blogging about food and life. It’s summer here in Chicago, which makes it a perfect time for making bread. With the warm temperatures, the yeast proofs and the dough rises without much fuss at all. The obvious side benefit: having your home filled with the wonderful aroma of fresh-baked bread. Now, since I decided rather late in the day (1pm) to start this endeavor, I chose the quickest bread recipe I had (pita bread) and then, of course, improvised with the ingredients I had on hand.
Leavened bread really needs just four ingredients – flour, yeast, water and salt. Pita bread is typically made with white or bread flour – I had neither. So instead, I improvised with whole wheat, millet flour and wheat gluten (to make up for the lack of white flour which contains more gluten). Gluten is simply wheat protein.
If I mention the idea of making bread to friends, they balk at the idea of putting effort into it, “Why make bread when you can buy it?” The answer is simple – just make it once and you’ll stop asking me that question. There’s something magical about working the dough with your hands. It’s relaxing and a wonderful activity to get you out of your head. Pottery has the same effect! Then it’s even more magical when the bread rises to perfection. In any case, I chose to add caraway seeds, sesame seeds and green za’atar (a mix of roasted thyme, ground sumac, roasted wheat and salt) as toppings rolled into the pita dough before “baking” it. This recipe makes about 12-15 pita breads. Here it goes:
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- 2 cups millet flour
- 1/2 cup wheat gluten
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 packet of 1/4 oz Red Star yeast )
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2.5 cups tepid water (80-90 deg F)
- 1 tablespoon salt
- Optional: a few tablespoons of sesame seeds, caraway seeds or green za’atar used separately on each pita bread
- Optional: water spray (spray bottle) or oil spray (misto)
Now the process involves five basic steps.
1. Proof the yeast: Heat the water in a glass bowl or measuring cup until tepid (it should feel sufficiently warm but not hot on your wrist). Add the packet of yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Stir and set aside for 5 minutes. After a few minutes, the mixture should heat up, foam a bit and become creamy (if not, then the temperature was too hot and the yeast was killed or it wasn’t hot enough to activate it).
2. Mix the ingredients: Mix the flours together in a large glass bowl. Then add about 1 cup at a rate of 1/4 cup at a time to the yeast mixture, adding the salt at the same time, until it becomes thicker.
3. Form the dough: Then pour the entire “proofed mixture” into the remaining flour in the large glass bowl and form into a dough. Knead the dough for a good 8-10 minutes until it is consistent in texture and appearance. Form it into a ball. Then lifting it out of the bowl, lightly oil the bowl and return the dough ball back. Flatten the ball just slightly and lightly oil the top surface of the dough. Then cover the bowl with a damp cheese cloth or plastic wrap. Leave aside for 2-3 hours to rise.
4. Preheat the oven: When the dough has doubled in size and become soft and spongy, punch it down. Then, turn on the oven. I chose to use the “lo” broiler option in the oven because I didn’t want to wait for the entire oven to preheat to 400 or 500 degrees on a hot summer day. I placed my baking stone on the top rack and turned the broiler on “lo”.
5. “Baking” the bread: Section it into quandrants and work with one quandrant at a time. Cut it into 3 pieces (or whatever size pita you want, but this is a good workable size). Use a rolling pin to roll it out on a clean surface. In my case, the light oil prevented the dough from becoming sticky, so I didn’t need to use any dry flour, but if it’s necessary keep some dry flour on hand. Roll each piece into a circle approx 1/4 in thick. The dough will spring back some when it’s lifted, so it’s better to roll it thinner. Just before lifting it off the rolling surface, sprinkle sesame seeds, caraway seeds or green za’atar on the uncooked pita and roll it into the surface. Then place it on the baking stone. “Bake” it until it begins to rise a bit and browns, flipping it at least once to cook both sides. Optional: You can spray the bread with a little bit of water or oil to help it retain moisture, but it comes out great regardless.
Allow the bread to cool just slightly before eating it as it softens just a bit. The bread goes great with any tapas spread (olives, hummus, etc) or along side pretty much anything. Enjoy!