It snowed on Monday, which is a rarity, since it hardly snows here. Well, to be fair, it was the kind of snow that just melts as soon as it hits the ground. But, nonetheless, the snow made me all excited and lifted my spirits. After a nice weekend in Phoenix, coming back to an empty house did drain my energy out. Well, the first flakes of snow did cheer me up. The snow also meant that winters are here, for good!
I was always a winter person, and hated summers, but my two year stay in Russia changed that. Months of sunless skies and the cold can make one morose. Come summers and one could see the change- bright clothes, smiling people everywhere, kids playing in the park- everything seemed beautiful. Fortunately, Moscow summers aren’t like India’s. Probably that’s why (actually, exactly why), I used to have this dislike for summers. In India, summer comes with sweaty clothes, power cuts, water shortage..well, you get the drift. But, post Moscow even Indian summers changed for me. Now summers for me is a time where I can wear skirts, floral dresses and show my skin off . Even though these days with the weight that I have put on, the prospect of doing so puts me in a depression worse than what I used to experience during Moscow winters and no sun . Well, that’s where I think winter dressing comes to the rescue. The layers cover all the stored up fat! Though there is a charm in winter dressing too- boots, colorful scarves, long coats, stockings, caps – it’s fun.
Speaking of fun- today, I decided to make Pita. And it was everything but fun! The prospect of Pita and Humus has been haunting me for a while now. Since we don’t get Pita bread at the store here, I decided today would be the fateful day I would try my own version. Half way through making Pita, I realized the humus that we had was way past its expiry date. I could have and would have made the humus, but neither did I have the energy nor the time, nor the soaked chickpeas in hand to make the humus. So, instead I had to substitute with this other dip that was their in the fridge. It was no hummus but it did the job.
Now the reason why I didn’t call the Pita making process fun was that it did not go as the recipe says it should. Even though the pita was tasty, it did not fluff up. I tried spritzing the rolled up dough with water but that didn’t help either. Next time, Ill try keeping the dough more moist. (Yes, there is going to be a next time- I’m not the once bitten, twice shy kind of person- well, at least not when it comes to baking.) Another thing I’ll change is to keep the dough overnight. (I just kept it for two hours to rise)
Adapted from The Bread Bible
3 cups plus a scant 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (16 oz./454 grams)
2 teaspoons salt (1/2 oz./13.2 grams)
2 teaspoons instant yeast (6.4 grams)
2 tablespoons olive oil (1 oz./27 grams)
1 1/4 cups water, at room temperature (10.4 oz./295 grams)
1. About 1 1/2 hours before shaping, or for best flavor development, 8 hours to 3 days ahead, mix the dough.
Mixer method: In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all the ingredients. With the paddle attachment, mix on low speed just until all the flour is moistened, about 20 seconds. Change to the dough hook, raise the speed to medium, and knead for 10 minutes. The dough should clean the bowl and be very soft and smooth and just a little sticky to the touch. Add a little flour or water if necessary. (The dough will weigh about 27.75 oz./793 grams.)
Hand method: In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except for a scant 1/4 cup of the flour. With a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until all the flour is moistened. Knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together.
Sprinkle a little of the reserved flour onto the counter and scrape the dough onto it. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, adding as little of the reserved flour as possible. Use a bench scraper to scrape the dough and gather it together as you knead it. At this point it will be very sticky. Cover it with the inverted bowl and allow it to rest for 5 to 20 minutes. (This rest will make the dough less sticky and easier to work with.)
Knead the dough for another 5 to 10 minutes or until it is soft and smooth and just a little sticky to the touch. Add a little flour or water if necessary. (The dough will weigh about 27.75 oz./793 grams.)
2. Let the dough rise: Using an oiled spatula or dough scraper, scrape the dough into a 2-quart or larger dough-rising container or bowl, lightly greased with cooking spray or oil. Press the dough down and lightly spray or oil the top of it. Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap. With a piece of tape, mark the side of the container at approximately where double the height of the dough would be. Refrigerate the dough overnight (or up to 3 days), checking every hour for the first 4 hours and pressing it down if it starts to rise.
3. Preheat the oven: Preheat the oven to 475°F one hour before baking. Have an oven shelf at the lowest level and place a baking stone, cast-iron skillet, or baking sheet on it before preheating.
4. Shape the dough: Cut the dough into 8 or 12 pieces. Work with one piece at a time, keeping the rest covered with a damp cloth. On a lightly floured counter, with lightly floured hands, shape each piece into a ball and then flatten it into a disk. Cover the dough with oiled plastic and allow it to rest for 20 minutes at room temperature.
Roll each disk into a circle a little under 1/4 inch thick. Allow them to rest, uncovered, for 10 minutes before baking.
5. Bake the pita: Quickly place 1 piece of dough directly on the stone or in the skillet or on the baking sheet, and bake for 3 minutes. The pita should be completely puffed but not beginning to brown. The dough will not puff well if it is not moist enough. See how the pita puffs, then, if necessary, spray and knead each remaining piece with water until the dough is soft and moist; allow to rest again and reroll as before. You can also try spritzing the rolled out pita with water two or three minutes baking. Sometimes, that too might work. If it doesn’t use the former method. (However, those that do not puff well are still delicious to eat.)
Proceed with the remaining dough, baking 3 or 4 pieces at a time if using a stone or baking sheet. Using a pancake turner, transfer the pita breads to a clean towel, to stay soft and warm. Allow the oven to reheat for 5 minutes between batches. The pitas can be reheated for about 30 seconds in a hot oven before serving.
To cook the pitas on the stove top: Preheat a griddle or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly grease the surface and cook the pitas one at a time. Cook for about 20 seconds, then turn the dough and continue cooking for 1 minute or until big bubbles appear. Turn the dough again and cook until the dough balloons. If the dough begins to brown, lower the heat. The entire cooking process for each pita should be about 3 minutes.
Whole wheat variation: For a whole wheat version, use half whole wheat and half white flour. If using regular whole wheat flour, for best results, grind it very fine or process it in a food processor for 5 minutes to break the bran into smaller particles. Finely ground 100% whole wheat flour (atta), available in Middle Eastern food markets, is the finest grind available. Or, for a milder but wheatier flavor and golden color, try 100% white whole wheat flour. You will need to add 1/4 cup more water, for a total of 1 1/2 cups (12.4 oz./354 grams).