Well, me and my big mouth. Whenever anyone is doing any cooking or having any sort of gathering at all and we’re invited, the second thing out of my mouth (after thanks for the invitation) is ‘what can I bring?’ And while this usually results in salad, or a side dish, or even dessert, sometimes my brain and my mouth don’t work in harmony and I’ve suddenly signed up to make something that could be a disaster.
Growing up an an agricultural area as well as a mecca of all things slow food and hand crafted beverage, many of us have learned that home grown and hand made is almost always going to be far superior to something you’ll find at a grocery store. We’re blessed with good earth here, and almost everyone I know has a garden, a small flock of chickens, makes beer, makes wine (even in the garage production fashion). And as birds of a feather, our group of good friends and our families both cook like crazy people.
All of this isn’t to say that we don’t sit down to mow a row of Oreos every now and again, but you better believe that the milk we’re washing them down with is from a dairy within 100 miles of our front doors, you get me?
We have a birthday party coming up in which a friend has hand selected a goat to grill in the birthday person’s honor. Never eaten goat? You’re missing out on a tasty thing, friends. There will be lots of laughing and beer drinking and merry making while the goat is roasting away. When the grillmaster gives the signal that it’s done, it will be carved while the rest of us stand around drooling, waiting for a bite. And when it’s all cut up and ready for the eating, it will be served as Goat Two Ways: with fresh tortillas and pico de gallo, and Big Mouth over here said she’d bring homemade pitas and tzatziki. The yogurt spread is easy enough (and no I’m not going to make a batch of homemade yogurt, but I could). See, the thing is, I’ve never made pita bread before. Right, that.
So, I extracted my foot from my mouth and consulted my cookbook collection. None of my books had anything (though I don’t really own any that are specifically bread baking). My favorite website rarely fails me so I looked there first, et voila, Whole Wheat Pita Bread. And I even had everything to make them.
After reading the recipe and the comments I figured this couldn’t be much harder than making tortillas, but as a person with Yeast Baking Terrors, I just wasn’t sure. I’m a self proclaimed sore loser, and I hate to fail publicly, so I waited until Nick was at work to make my first batch in case they didn’t pocket or came out like frisbees, etc. He is always very supportive in my cooking ventures, and even the things that don’t come out exactly right or just how I want them are always applauded by him, even as I prepare to scrap whatever it was because I can’t ingest disappointment. But even with the best of cheerleaders, I still had to wait until he was at work and the cat was napping before I could bring myself to do this.
Yes, I could just go to the store and buy a couple packs of pita, but the only ones I really like are at Trader Joe’s. And as a Girl Unemployed, TJ’s is dangerous territory for me. And I’m not going all the way down there for $5 worth of pita when gas is $100 a gallon right now. I might as well at least try to make them. It’s not like I don’t have the time, right?
Well, I’m glad I tried, because I have a new feather in my cap and a stack of hot pitas. And the best part? They were really not hard at all. I don’t know what I fuss about, I really have to get over myself. And for my efforts I was rewarded with 7 gorgeous flat breads from just one batch. It would have been 8, but this one was lunch:
Whole Wheat Pita Bread
From Gourmet Magazine
1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon honey
1 1/4 cups warm water (105–115°F)
2 cups bread flour or high-gluten flour, plus additional for kneading
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
Cornmeal for sprinkling baking sheets
Stir together yeast, honey, and 1/2 cup warm water in a large bowl, then let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If mixture doesn’t foam, discard and start over with new yeast.)
While yeast mixture stands, stir together flours in another bowl. Whisk 1/2 cup flour mixture into yeast mixture until smooth, then cover with plastic wrap and let stand in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled in bulk and bubbly, about 45 minutes. Stir in oil, salt, remaining 3/4 cup warm water, and remaining 2 1/2 cups flour mixture until a dough forms.
Turn out dough onto a floured surface and knead, working in just enough additional flour to keep dough from sticking, until dough is smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes. Form dough into a ball and put in an oiled large bowl, turning to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise in draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Punch down dough and cut into 8 pieces. Form each piece into a ball. Flatten 1 ball, then roll out into a 6 1/2- to 7-inch round on floured surface with a floured rolling pin. Transfer round to 1 of 2 baking sheets lightly sprinkled with cornmeal. Make 7 more rounds in same manner, arranging them on baking sheets. Loosely cover pitas with 2 clean kitchen towels (not terry cloth) and let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.
Set oven rack in lower third of oven and remove other racks. Preheat oven to 500°F. I used my pizza stone, and put it in to preheat with the oven. Was afraid to lose one through the grates! They’re really sturdy, though, so right on the rack would work perfect.
Transfer 4 pitas, 1 at a time, directly onto oven rack. Bake until just puffed and pale golden, about 2 minutes. Turn over with tongs and bake 1 minute more. Cool pitas on a cooling rack 2 minutes, then stack and wrap loosely in a kitchen towel to keep pitas warm. Bake remaining 4 pitas in same manner. Serve warm.
Cooks’ note: Pitas can be baked 1 week ahead and cooled completely, then frozen, wrapped well in foil in a sealed plastic bag. Thaw before reheating, wrapped in foil, 10 to 12 minutes in a 350°F oven.