Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Whole-Wheat Pita Bread

IMG_12608 by you.

I randomly decided I wanted to try to bake some pita bread today.  Well, not totally randomly.  I actually wanted to make naan, but as I was searching through The Bread Bible by Beth Hensperger for a recipe (sadly to no avail), I came across this recipe for Country-Style Whole-Wheat Pita Bread and decided to try that instead since I already had all the ingredients for it.

2 1/2 c. warm water (105-115 degrees), divided
1 Tbsp (1 packet) active dry yeast
pinch of sugar
1/4 c. olive oil
1 Tbsp salt
3 c. whole-wheat pastry flour
3-3 1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour

1. Pour 1/2 c. warm water in a small measuring cup, and sprinkle in yeast & sugar.  Stir to dissolve and let stand until foamy, 5-10 min.

2. In a bowl of a stand mixer, combine whole-wheat flour, salt, olive oil and remaining 2 c. of water.  Mix on med-high with the paddle attachment until creamy, about 1 minute.  Stir in yeast mixture.

3.  Add the all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup at a time until a soft shaggy dough that just clears the sides of the bowl is formed.

4. Switch to dough hook and knead for 2-3 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and springy and springs back when pressed.  Or if you prefer, transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead by hand.  Dough will be very soft.

5. Place the dough in a lightly-greased, deep container or bowl.  Turn the dough so that it is coated with oil on all sides.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 1-1 1/2 hours.

6. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees with a baking stone set on the bottom rack. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper, or heavily flour a pizza peel.

7. Gently punch down the dough and divide it in half.  Keep whatever dough you are not working with covered with plastic wrap or a clean towel to prevent a skin from forming.  Divide each half into 8 equal portions and form each into a ball.  Let rest 10 minutes while dividing the second half of the dough.

8.  Dust the work surface with whole-wheat pastry flour.  Using a rolling pin, roll the balls into 6-inch circles about 1/4-inch thick.  Loosely cover the circles and let rest 15 minutes, or until puffy.
Do not stack, as they will stick together.  If the dough does not roll out easily, let it rest for 10 more minutes to relax the gluten.  Move the dough circles by draping them, one at a time, over a flour-dusted rolling pin and place them on a floured dish towel before transferring them to the peel or baking sheets.

9. Transfer the circles to the peel or baking sheet.  With a quick action of the wrist, slide the pita rounds from the peel directly onto the hot stone.  You should be able to fit 4 at once.  Or alternately, place the baking sheets (one at a time) on the bottom rack directly on the hot stone.  Do not open the oven door for a full 4 minutes.

10.  Bake 8-10 minutes, total, or until fully puffed and light brown.  Watch carefully that the pitas do not overbake or burn.  The baking sheet pitas will take longer to bake than the stone-baked ones.  Remove the puffed hot breads with a wide metal spatula and stack between clean dish towels.
Makes 16 pitas.

IMG_12615 by you.

These were fantastic, especially right out of the oven.  My daughter wolfed down a whole one by herself, plain. 

I made this recipe pretty much exactly as written - don't ask me why I happened to have whole-wheat pastry flour on hand, I have no idea.  Also, I'm not sure why she says to use one package of yeast or 1 tablespoon - I've always been under the impression that at package of yeast is 2 1/4 tsp (so 3/4 tsp shy of a tablespoon), but I went with the tablespoon measurement.  Which reminds me to mention something: if you make bread or pizza dough or anything with yeast even semi-regularly, it's really in your best interest to just buy a jar of active-dry yeast instead of the packets.  It's WAY cheaper.

However, when I baked the first few, I had missed the step of letting the rolled-out pitas rest 15 minutes so they did not puff up.  They still tasted great, they just didn't have pockets in the middle.  All the subsequent ones turned out fine.

I also forgot to set my timer for one batch and I think I horribly overbaked them, but after cooling a bit in the dishtowel, they were fine.  I will say, with the whole-wheat flour, it's a bit difficult to tell the doneness by color, as advised in the recipe.  But I really liked the flavor the whole-wheat flour added.  I think using the pastry flour was key - a lot of regular whole wheat flours I've used before tend to be coarser, which would definitely have affected the texture.

A few warnings:
1. You're going to need a lot of open surfaces or counter-space to do this.  Even if you don't roll them all out at once, you'll probably have 4-8 pitas sitting around and resting at any given time before being baked.
2. You will more than likely end up with a fine layer of flour covering most of your kitchen.
Neither of these things was a big issue for me, but I just thought I'd put it out there.
3.  I'm not sure I'd bother to attempt this recipe without the baking/pizza stone.  I know it seems like a pain to get one, but it's really a wonderful tool.  It makes even store-bought frozen pizzas taste worlds better.  You can usually find them for $10-$20 and they are worth every penny.

Oh also, the author did have a note in her recipe that these stale rather quickly, but toast nicely, so you may want to freeze a bunch if you don't think you'll use them all in the next few days.  After cooling them completely while still wrapped in towels, I put them in two ziploc bags, and I'm going to freeze one bag for later.  I'll update with how well they freeze & reheat when I get a chance.

Or alternately, she suggests you make pita chips with them:
Brush both sides with olive oil, cut each round into wedges and place in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Bake in the center of a 300-degree oven for 7 minutes, turn once and cook for another 7 minutes.  They will crisp as they cool.

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