Try This At Home

I accidentally found another use for my now all-purpose bread recipe; besides baking loaves of various shapes and sizes (including the little rolls for Thanksgiving) it turns out that it makes perfect pitas as well. Now I’ve cooked bread dough in the skillet (and on the grill) before, sometimes on purpose, and sometimes because it hadn’t fully risen. This time it was intentional, but I was thinking more in terms of the fluffy naan sort of things I’ve made before, where I cooked flat rounds of dough in butter until they got charred and puffy. But I was in for a pleasant surprise.

The first one cooked as I planned, and got very buttery in the process, so the second one had less fat in the pan and inflated a bit more. So I threw the third one into what was essentially a dry iron pan, and it ballooned into what you see above. I flipped it to brown the other side, and did the rest. Once the steam escaped and they cooled a bit, they looked exactly like whole wheat pita from the store. OK, they looked exactly like store-bought pita’s inbred hillbilly cousins. But living in the country is all about lowering your standards, isn’t it?

The only thing at all different about this batch of dough was the addition of a pinch of dried yeast to the mix because I wanted to be sure it rose in time for dinner. This is a trick I stole from Bill Alexander, who I interviewed for an article in the spring. After a few hours in the warm laundry room, it had swollen appropriately, so I divided it into sixths and rolled it into rough circles. Here’s what I did:

300g 00 flour

110g whole wheat flour (roughly; the total should be 410g)

235g water, in which 80g wild starter at 100% hydration and a pinch of dried yeast have been dissolved

Mix the wet into the dry to combine, form a ball, and let rest for 20 minutes in a covered container.

Add 10g of salt, 5g at a time, dissolving it into the dough with wet fingertips. Knead on lightly floured counter for 5-7 minutes, depending on your enthusiasm. Put in covered container somewhere warm until at least doubled in volume. Turn out, cut into 6ths, form balls, roll into 1/8″ thick circles about 8″ in diameter. (Yes, I know I’m mixing metric and English. Deal with it). Cook in dry cast-iron skillet on medium heat (preheat the pan) until they puff up. Once puffed, turn over and lightly brown the other side. Don’t over-brown them, or they’ll be hard and crunchy like pita chips instead of soft and chewy like you want them to be.

Serve them with chickpea, carrot, and potato curry made with coconut milk and home-canned Blue Beech tomato purée, which is so sweet it rivals the applesauce on the next shelf down. I’m only planting Blue Beech for paste next summer. They’re astonishing.

Let me know if this works in your kitchen. If not, well, I’m sorry that the Internet lied to you. I’m sure it was the first time.

7 comments to Try This At Home

  • Puff the Magic Bread. Miraculous.

  • El

    Yeah I found that out too (that the regular bread(s) that I make do the puff dance just as well as a pita recipe). I hate to waste the BTUs when warming up the Loven (hey: that’s like 5 hours of burning things) so I have been prone to putting a skillet or two in there on the burn-down and cooking what’s at hand. And what usually is at hand is extra dough from the usual rotation, and yeah, some dry-ish veg like cauliflower or potatoes or sweets.

    Fun, though, isn’t it? Whoosh!

  • I’m afraid to ask, but…image a guy who doesn’t have any wild starter on hand. Maybe it got too wild and ran away from home and is living with five other starters in a four-story walk-up in Bushwick. Or something. What might he do with, you know, store-bought yeasty beasts?

  • Peter

    Zoomie: It is pretty cool.

    El: A BTU saved is a BTU earned.

    Chris: Bill’s site has a foolproof recipe for creating your own starter from scratch. If that doesn’t work, let me know and I’ll toss some out the window next time I’m going through the Lincoln Tunnel. Or we could do a clandestine handoff at Mitsuwa.

  • h

    that looks exactly like the rotis we have at home. :-)

  • Roti are easy to make, especially West Indian style, which aren’t as puffy as their sub-continental cousins. This on the other hand, and perhaps it’s your fiendish switching from metric to imperial measurements and my fear of wild starter (I have Alexander’s book, but remain intimidated), looks difficult, and puff-tastic.

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I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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