Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Second-Stab Saturday: More pita bread!

Here at A Book of Cookrye, it is bitterly cold. The last time we saw weather this cold, we were in Ottawa where you could light a bonfire on a frozen canal and still skate on it. Unfortunately, we are not in Canada but the American south, where people didn't believe in house insulation until long after this entire neigborhood was built. While the lights flicker every hour or so as the power lines swing in the ice, we thought this would be as good a time as any to make a attempt at a recipe that involves running the oven almost as hot as it gets.

 

While we're getting the kitchen nice and toasty with a fiery-hot oven, I do love how everyone has agreed to temporarily suspend judgement on other everyone else's clothes in public since no one has a closet full of Canada-worthy clothes. I have seen someone in the grocery store in an extra-fuzzy bathrobe and hiking boots. Someone else was outside at the gas station refilling his car with a bedspread hanging off him like a cape. I've seen multiple people have wearing a jacket and shorts. And a few people have gone out in adult onesies. And yet, I haven't detected any judgemental gaze aimed at anyone.

It is far colder this week than the housebuilders of this area ever thought we would be. Would you like some dramatic illustrations? The entire yard is now our ice chest.

 

We aimed those yard stake-lights at the faucets in the yard, and they got buried like Canadian fire hydrants.

Every now and then, you really need an incandescent bulb.


Even the house can't handle the cold. The frost was creeping through the kitchen door.


The entire kitchen window was lined with frost.

 

I usually love the winter, but it's only fun to swan about in your loveliest coats when you can return to a house that doesn't look like the inside of your undefrosted freezer.


And so, while the frost seeps in from every window and door, we return to pita bread. The last time we tried to make pita bread, we got some very delicious bread-patties. But like most of the clothes in the women's section, they didn't have pockets. Some helpful people in the comments informed us that you really do need a baking stone if you want your pita bread to be hollow enough to stuff. I was telling that to everyone else in the house. One person said "I think we have one of those..."

How can a house have one of these but not a rolling pin?


Also, as previously mentioned, this recipe only makes six pitas. As this is an unacceptably puny yield for a recipe that takes more than ten minutes to slap together, we are doubling it.


We did make one big revision to this: we got a different brand of whole wheat flour. I didn't know this, but different brands grind the wheat to different levels of coarseness. Some are like sand, some are as fine as white flour. The flour we used last time was so coarse that people thought we were stirring chopped nuts into anything we used it in. Since that extra grittiness was not exactly popular in the house, we purchased a finer-ground flour this time.

You may wonder why we are putting so much emphasis on a change of flour brands. Well it turns out that since whole-wheat flour varies so much more than white when switching from one brand to another, your measurements can go wildly off. You may get a bowl of bread dough with one brand, and (using precisely the same recipe) get a bowl of runny glop with another.


Of course, as you find out, bread is both finicky and forgiving.  Changing humidity can produce hard clay one day and soft dough the next, no matter how carefully you make sure you have exactly the same measurements. But the forgiveness comes from how you can just dump in more flour and it will be fine.


You know how we have been using 17-year-old yeast packets that we found buried in the back cabinets? I wrote to the manufacturer saying how wonderful their product is, gushing about how you can still use it almost twenty years after it expired, and declaring that I will never buy yeast from anyone else. I was hoping I'd get a coupon code or a free recipe handout, but I did not. However, they did send a charming note back that (among other things) said "Your comments are greatly appreciated by the entire staff." But after we finally used all of the old yeast packets up, we finally had to buy new ones. The rising results were astonishing.


At this point in the recipe, I'm going to give my first recommendation to anyone trying this at home. You are going to need a lot of counterspace. I often divide bread dough by drawing lines across it in the bowl like I'm slicing a pizza. With pita dough, I may as well have been trying to cut up gravy.


By spreading the dough out on the counter, we could actually try to divide this gloppy mess into actual bread-sized pieces. As already mentioned, this is a recipe that you really do need a lot of counterspace for. Or you could clear off the kitchen table if that's easier for you. You might be thinking "You only need so much space because you doubled the recipe!" While that's true, you should ask yourself: who in their right mind would go through all this bother and only get six pitas out of it?


It's hard to show in photographs how sticky this dough is, but I assure you that it barely held itself together long enough to get it into even-ish pieces. If I had a scale handy, I could have made perfectly even-sized dough balls, but I don't. Muttering to myself about how "this is not a pita factory" and throwing in a few thoughts about having "homemade charm," I decided that I didn't care if we had a few runty pitas and a few massive American-size ones.


For various reasons, we could not bake these on the night we made them."That's all right," we told ourselves. "The recipe says you can refrigerate this for up to two days!" I layered the little dough pieces with plastic wrap and put them in a container. However, the Lid Fairy had flown into the kitchen and stolen the container's top. I tried to get plastic wrap to cover the container, but it kept sliding off. However, I refused to have my lovely pitas-to-be fall victim to the drying air of the refrigerator, and spite-wrapped the entire box.


Anyway, the next day arrived, and we were ready to bake! It was even colder than the day before, so we really couldn't ask for a better excuse to turn the oven up to a fearsomely high temperature while we still have electricity. At first I was worried that we would burn up the cabinets around the oven, but then I realized that I have run several self-cleaning cycles with no worse consequences than a bit of smoke in the kitchen. With that in mind, let's have a look at our pre-portioned pita dough!


Upon seeing them so tightly squished onto the separators, I feared that I would never unglue them from the plastic wrap. But they lifted off fairly easily. I had them all rolled out and ready to bake by the time the oven had reached its deliriously high temperature. If you're going to stack your dough pats like this, be sure to coat them very well with flour after rolling them out.


The recipe tells us to lightly spritz the baking stone with water before putting the bread on it. I have no idea why I would do such a thing, but I decided to trust the recipe writers. We already had a spray bottle of water handy and ready because of the unmanageable cats. When you sprayed the pan, it immediately sent up a loud, skin-threatening steam burst.


But once the we had the first dough patties on the stone, they lived up to the recipe's promise and puffed right up! It was a wonderful moment.


Now, the recipe warns us that we should take them out a lot earlier than we think or else they will get too crunchy. So we removed them at precisely the three-minute mark and not a moment later. The water-sprays under them had somehow kept them from sticking, and they slid right off the stone and out of the oven. And look how marvelously hollow they are! I didn't care about whether pita bread had pockets until I failed at making it happen, but I feel fulfilled now.


While these were baking, I decided to try out some other advice from the comments under our previous attempt. Someone said that you can do them on a griddle if you don't have a baking stone. If it wasn't so cold out, I would never consider firing up the stove and the oven for a single bread recipe, but it was frightfully cold outside and therefore I wasn't at active war with the air conditioning. The stovetop pita looked a bit different on the outside, but was identical once you cut it open. However, we did not get a pocket. With that said, all those dark crunchy bits added a nice extra flavor.


The second batch of pitas did not have pockets in them. I think it's because the oven had lost a lot of heat after we spent so much time removing the previous pitas, spraying the stone, and laying the next ones down. So if you're trying this at home, I suggest you shut the oven and give it a few minutes between batches. Also, while you should spray the baking stone only lightly, be sure you get the water all over it instead of just a few concentrated spots. Otherwise your pitas will stick.

 

Making pitas reminded me a lot of Chinese cooking. You spend a lot of time getting everything ready to cook, and then the actual put-heat-into-the-food cooking is so fast you don't realize when you're done. 

Be careful if you want to make extra large mega-pitas. They will tear easily when you take them out of the oven.

These did seem a bit doughy in the middle at first, but that went away after a few minutes. The insides seemed to finish cooking on their own retained heat. So don't bake them until they seem totally cooked. Take them out when they look a little bit raw, and let them sit on the plate for a bit and finish baking while they cool off.

Also, these are indeed insanely delicious. They were better when we used the coarser-ground brand of wheat flour, but these were still marvelous. So unless you go to a store that lets you buy ingredients in bulk (and therefore would let you take home just one recipe's worth of flour), you don't need to go chasing down coarse-ground wheat flour for these. You should also know that these were fantastic if you popped a little hole in them and filled them with honey- and even better if you buttered them while hot.


After all this adventure, you may wonder if you should try these yourself. And... these are fun to make if you like baking. They are, as people so often say about homemade things, much better than the ones you get at the store. But you will be doing a lot of work, making a lot of kitchen mess, and you will need a lot of oven heat. So with that in mind, I'd definitely recommend making these to anyone who likes to bake for fun. But if you don't love to fire up the oven and have a good time, you might want to just keep buying these from the store instead.

As for me, I liked this recipe so much that I cut it off of the flour sack after we used up its contents. Because the paper was crumpled and starting to fall apart, I glued it to an index card. Because I have far too much free time of late, I then ironed the recipe card flat after the glue curled it up.

 

Stay warm and be careful on the ice, everybody!

PS- You may notice that this Second-Stab Saturday is not in fact posted on a Saturday. That's because while we're simultaneously quarantining and hunkering down in the freeze, time has no meaning and the days of the week are pure fiction. Take care, everyone!

8 comments:

  1. I actually prefer to have somewhat non-standard sizes when I make rolls. That way, there's an extra-large one for the person who's really hungry and a slightly runty one for somebody who just wants a taste. As long as the size differences aren't so huge that they screw up the baking (so one's burned and another is raw in the middle), they can be considered a feature, not a bug.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I take the same approach to cake and pie slicing. There's something for the people who say "oh just a bit for me" and the people who get seconds the first time.

      Delete
  2. I was wondering if you had electricity. A friend compared the storm in Texas to the derecho we had in August. The difference being that it was easier for people to come help with the derecho recovery. I hope things get better for everyone down there soon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Our electricity has been touch and go. We're actually really lucky in this house. We had to get the very old wiring replaced in the worst of summer, so we bought a propane generator (the central AC needs a few window units to help it in some rooms). I thought it would just gather dust indefinitely, and only dragged it out into the yard to humor everyone else. It turns out I was a bit wrong in thinking we would just put it back in a few days and say "Well it least it was ready if we needed it." Since the house has gas heat, we even managed to run an extension cord to the furnace so the blower could work.
      You know what we weren't ready for? The water to cut off. I hope I never have to swat icicles off the roof and boil them again.
      Thank you for the kind thoughts!

      Delete
    2. Yay for generators! While I don't personally own one, I benefit greatly from a community generator. In fact my local utility ran the generator for a couple of days to help the power grid out. I've never had to deal with the water being completely off, but I have been through extreme rationing thanks to a major flood (it seems strange that water was everywhere but inside of the water system). I was busted down to bathing with target brand baby wipes because that was all I could find. Another tip is that you shouldn't wash your face with hand sanitizer because it burns to breathe until it is all evaporated. We're all ready for this winter to end. Hang in there.

      Delete
    3. That's so wonderful that your town has generators, and gave the community a boost when needed. We're keeping each other propped up in the house. I think that right now it's so helpful to not be stuck alone-- and this is coming from an introvert.

      Delete
  3. I'm glad you've had some decent luck with your power! Ours was out for three days straight - this was a good thing to have waiting for me when we finally had some heat and light (and internet) to speak of.

    As far as the recipe goes, it looks delicious, but I might just stick with getting pita at restaurants. :P It never tastes as good from the grocery store, but I think this might be too fiddly for me, haha. I admire your fortitude here!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Three days! That is insane!
      And yeah, the recipe is a bit fiddly. But you know, it tastes really good even if you don't make pitas out of it. You might try just sort of spooning the dough into greased muffin pans and letting it rise a bit before baking.

      Delete