Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Meet the Laffa - A Middle Eastern Tortilla

A stack of various breads in a local farmer's market in Jerusalem. The laffa can be seen in the right corner.

As the cradle of Western civilization, the Middle East is, of course, also the source of many of our most familiar things. The first beer, for instance, was likely brewed in Egypt. There are even recipes for brewing beer written in hieroglyphics. So, too, the first wine, and even the first breads. The discovery of wheat near early towns and villages no doubt led to the first breads, at first by accident then on purpose. Without a doubt these breads were flat breads at first Only later, when rising action was discovered and developed, did we get loaves of bread instead of flat hard 'cracker-like' breads that were easy to store and carry but probably not too tasty. The laffa, as such, would be a relative latecomer to the this crowded field, since it contains yeast, but it is so popular everywhere in the Middle East, and so tasty to boot, I just have to show you how to make it. Originally the laffa probably comes from Lebanon, Syria or even Turkey. Today it is found everywhere and is used for everything from wrapping up a good shawarma or falafel or even just salad greens topped off with some fire-grilled eggplant. All covered, of course, with garlic-infused tehina paste and maybe some hot sauce like schug, the Yemenite fiery chili pepper sauce. Here is a version of the laffa that is both easy to make and quick. It is perfect for picnics or just regular grill parties. Use them to wrap all your favorites like sliced grilled chicken breast like a fajita, for instance. Or with your favorite veggie filling. Whatever you choose, the laffa is delicious and, IMHO even more practical that the tortilla. This is because it is softer, absorbs the juices better than tortillas, and therefore leaks less. Don't get me wrong, I like tortillas too. Maybe I just have a soft spot for something local. Whatever, I'm sure you'll love them. Yum!!

Laffa - A Middle Eastern tortilla (with yeast)

What You'll Need

3½ c bread flour
25g (1oz) fresh yeast or about 7g dry yeast
1½ c water
1 tbs sugar
½ tbs salt
2 tbs olive oil
A collection of flat breads in a farmer's market in Jerusalem. The laffa, with (green herbed bread) and without za'atar and olive oil  can be seen in the foreground.

What You'll Need To Do
1. Mix the yeast and flour in a mixer with a kneading hook. Add the water, sugar, salt, & oil and knead for 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and shiny, and slightly sticky.
2. Transfer the dough to a large greased bowl. Turn in the bowl to make sure it is covered in oil and cover with cling wrap and allow to rise to double its size. This will take about an hour or so.
3. Divide the dough into 6 parts, rolling each into a ball. Cover with a moist towel and leave for 10 minutes to rest.
4. Roll each ball into a disk 30- 35cm  (12 to 15 inches) across.
5. Bake at 180 C (350 F) for about 10 minutes.
6. Remove from the oven and immediately cover with a dish towel.
OR, toast with oil in a frying pan. Turn over when brown scorch marks begin to appear. Then, toast for minute. Stack the laffot, covered by a towel. 

The classic baking book The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion: The All-Purpose Baking Cookbook has a great collection of flat breads, including one, similar to this using boiling water! It is definitely worth checking out.
In rural areas of the Middle East, the laffa is made in/on a taboon. This is a stone oven heated with a wood fire to very high temperatures. The laffa is often rolled out and then slapped onto the roof of the taboon to 'bake' very quickly, often only a minute or so. The taboon exists in one form or another all over the Middle East and even in India where it is called a tandoor. (Think tandoori chicken - another story for another post!) The closest equivalent we can have in a modern Western kitchen is the un-greased frying pan heated to a high temperature (just smoking). The end product is very much like the real thing. Yum!!
* To make the laffa really authentic, try brushing with a little olive oil as soon as it is baked then sprinkling some za'atar (hyssop available in Middle East groceries)) over it and maybe some coarse salt. 

Monday, June 28, 2010

Burger Rolls for the Holidays

Since June 21 was the official first day of summer, and with both Canada Day (July 1) and Independence Day (July 4) right around the corner, I've decided to dedicate this posting to something a little different. In keeping with the times, so to speak. I mean, aren't we all dusting off the grill, or barbecue or whatever and mixing the long, cold drinks to sip while the burgers, dogs and whatever are slowly sizzling away? Well aren't you? Well, why not?? Sorry if that sounds a little preachy, but come on, it's summertime. And that means light meals, grilling meat, fish and veggies and, of course, some kind of bread to wrap it all up in. Whew, well, then, let's get started, shall we?

On the agenda today, hamburger buns (BTW you can reshape them into hot dog buns too if you insist). Yum! A sizzling, juicy burger, slapped down on a soft (but not too soft) bun topped with lettuce, tomato and various other condiments, all washed own with ice cold beer (or whatever) just sounds too tempting. OMG, i'm drooling  just thinking about it. Better get to work making it happen.

A good source for excellent burger roll recipes is The Bread Bible: 300 Favorite Recipes by Beth Hensberger. This recipe is my variation of one I found online some time ago at http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Soft-N-Fluffy-Hamburger-Buns/Detail.aspx.  I have added some dough enhancer to make them even softer. Also, the original recipe called for dry milk powder which, as far as I'm concerned, makes the bread too soft. A good roll has to hold the toppings and showcase them. The softer roll might be all right for dinner, or even to sop up gravy from an autumn pot roast, but for hamburgers it just won't do. It will just become a soggy mess So, it's out.

Here's What You'll Need:
1 cup room temperature water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon white sugar
3/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dough enhancer
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast

Here's What You'll Need to do:

1. Stir together the flour sugar and yeast. Add 1 cup of the water, then the oil and then the salt. You will have a very wet mixture at this point.
2. Stir in the rest of the flour, 1 cup at a time until you can't stir anymore.
3. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and, knead the dough, while adding small amounts of flour until you have a smooth, slightly tacky ball of dough.
4. Place in an oiled bowl (turning over to coat) and cover with a kitchen towel until doubled in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

5. Remove the dough from the bowl to a lightly floured surface, knead for just a minute or two to remove the gas then divide into 12 equal sized pieces and roll into smooth balls of dough. (Cup the ball of dough in your hand, and, with a small amount of pressure, roll the dough gently on the surface to form the ball).

6. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper then place the dough balls evenly spaced on the sheet to rise. Gently squish each ball to slightly flatten it, then cover with the kitchen towel to rise again, this time for about 45 minutes.

7. If you want at this stage you can lightly brush a beaten egg (or just egg white) mixed with a little water over the rolls and then sprinkle them with a bit of sesame seed or whatever topping you like. Here I used wheat bran, cornmeal and sesame seeds.

7. Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C), then bake the rolls until nice and golden brown, about 12 minutes or so.

8. Cool the rolls on a rack before slicing or they will be too soft to hold the burgers.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Simple Breads Part 2 - A Whole Wheat Loaf

I am continuing my thoughts from my last posting, trying to create a simple but delicious loaf of bread using good, healthy and readily available ingredients. This time I want to try a whole wheat loaf while trying to avoid the pitfalls. A lot of people have a kind of fear of whole wheat bread. And like most fears this one is really unfounded.

Whole wheat flour is heavier than all purpose 'white' flour. That's a fact. It's made by grinding the whole wheat berry, the bran, the endosperm (with the starch) and the germ. The bran and the germ give the flour its typical dark color but also add to the overall weight and density of the flour. Also the sharp edges of the ground bran tend to cut the fibers of gluten you want to develop. This means that you need to compensate. One way would be to add a little more yeast. This gives a little more 'lift' to the bread but be careful. Too much and you will be left with a 'yeasty' aftertaste that not everybody likes.

Another way is to add more liquid to the dough. Whole wheat flour absorbs much more water that AP flour. Some recipes have water to flour ratios of 80%, i.e., almost 13 ounces of water for every 16 ounces of flour.

Another tactic is to simply mix different kinds of flour together. Half and half all purpose flour with whole wheat for instance will give you the nutritional advantages of whole wheat but still be light and airy like bread made with all white flour. All these methods work great but require a little more attention to detail and more exact measuring ingredients. Also, time. Since it's heavier and gluten strands are shorter, whole wheat dough must be kneaded a little longer and rise times are longer too. Baking times tend to be a little longer as well. For a truly comprehensive reference with great recipes for whole grain breads you really can't do better than Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor.

The following recipe uses a combination of whole wheat and AP flour and honey as the sweetener. In my previous post I talked about sweeteners. Just to recap: there are lots of different sweeteners you can use and they all work well. White sugar will sweeten and not color the dough. Brown sugar colors the dough obviously but can be substituted for white. Honey will make the dough slightly 'off-white' and quite a bit richer in texture. You should probably reduce liquids a little if using honey although with whole wheat bread you might be able to avoid this. Molasses is the same only much stronger in flavor and, of course, it makes the dough quite dark in color.

Here is what you need (no pun intended):

1-1/4 cup warm water, 95 to 110 degrees F (30-40 C)
1 Tbsp (30g) or 2 pkg. (1/2 oz.) active dry yeast
1 cup milk, room temperature
1/4 cup honey
3 Tbsp  (45 g) soft butter
2 tsp salt (10g)
4 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups bread flour or all purpose flour


In large bowl, mix the warm water and the yeast. Add the milk, honey, butter, and salt to make a kind of slurry.  Add all 4 cups of the whole wheat flour and mix well. The result will be very sticky even if as it becomes too thick to stir with a wooden spoon. Add in enough of the bread flour to make a dough that is tacky in texture but definitely not sticky. 

Knead for 10 minutes on a lightly floured surface, adding more flour as needed until the dough is firm and smooth to the touch. Place dough in medium greased bowl, turning it over so that it is completely but lightly covered in oil. This will keep it from drying out. Cover the dough with a clean cloth and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1 hour.

Punch down gently to release the gas.. Then, turn the dough out onto lightly floured board and knead for a few minutes until you have a smooth dough. Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces then roll them out into 'snakes'.  In the illustration, I have made round 'boule' shapes.

You can also make smaller roll-sized shapes and add toppings as in the photos. 
 or even smaller like these...

Set 3 pieces aside. Line 3 'snakes'  side-by-side and pinch the top ends together. Braid strips and pinch bottom ends together. Set braided loaf on greased baking sheet and repeat steps for the remaining 3 pieces of dough. Cover loaves with kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 30 to 45 minutes or until doubled in bulk.  Here are the rolls after rising.

If you wish you can 'wash' the bread with egg and then sprinkle some sesame seed over the top before baking.

Bake bread at 350 degrees F for 40 minutes or until bread top is golden brown and the bread sounds hollow when the top is tapped. Remove breads from baking sheets and let cool on rack.

You won't be disappointed, believe me. Yum! There are many excellent whole grain cookbooks to choose from. Some of the best include Hodgson Mill Whole Grain Baking: 400 Healthy and Delicious Recipes for Muffins, Breads, Cookies, and More , Master Bread Making Using Whole Wheat and Whole Wheat Bread: Secrets of the Masters Made Easy. Sit down with some great recipes, pay attention to details, and most importantly, enjoy!!!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Back to Basics - A Simple White Sandwich Bread

In the grand scheme of things, in that great cosmos that is the world of bread, there are really only a few divisions. Really. For example, there are breads that rise using yeast, and those that use some chemical agent, usually baking powder and/or baking soda. Conversely, you can divide the bread world into geographical groups, typically North American breads and European breads. Also, there are breads using only natural leavening, and, of course, all the flat breads (some using yeast some not). Ok. So the divisions are not exactly clear-cut but more or less all breads can be made to fit (forced?) into only a few categories. May I suggest some comprehensive cookbooks? Some of the best include: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking and The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum.

Today I want to go back to basics. I want to make a simple white sandwich bread that has enough structure to hold the filling without falling apart. A bread with a fairly soft crust but also not too absorbent so that it doesn't become a soggy mess when loaded up with all the goodies. This type of bread is typical of a North American bread, having some fat, sugar and enriching agent that makes for the perfect sandwich loaf. I am not talking about Wonder Bread, here, BTW. I mean, it's a wonder that it is still called bread. I mean, really!  I am looking for a loaf that will hold the goods and stay edible for a few days. Forget that it will disappear probably the same day. It should have 'shelf life' of a few days at least.

All bread needs a few basic ingredients. Flour, of course. And some liquid (water, milk, fruit juice). Salt. Yes, salt. Without salt the yeast will just run like crazy. Salt, aside from adding flavor is like nature's brake. It slows down the yeast. Oh, and of course yeast.

All other ingredients enhance the end result produced by these basics. In order to make bread softer we can add eggs, or sugar, or oil. The really great European breads with the thick, chewy crusts are often composed of only flour, water and salt. Sometime even without yeast instead using natural sourdough starters. These breads sometimes take three or four days to make and are truly wonderful. But they are not sandwich breads. Not what I'm looking for today.

Sandwich bread is something else entirely, and when it's done right it's a really satisfying experience. Here's a simple recipe for sandwich bread with a few explanations along the way and some possible variations. Yum!!

This is what you need:

Simple White Sandwich Bread

for 2 loaves

1 1/4 cups warm water
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup milk at room temperature*
2 Tablespoons honey**
2 teaspoons salt
3 Tablespoons soft butter***
6 cups bread flour****
* 1/4 cup dough enhancer (this will soften the bread, give it a little more structure and increase the 'shelf life'. It's optional, but if you use it just make sure you use a natural enhancer, with no after taste. King Arthur Flour markets a good enhancer.


Mix together the warm water and yeast then add milk, honey, salt, and butter. Stir. Add 4 cups of flour and mix well. Gradually add in enough remaining flour to make a dough that is tacky without being too sticky. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface

 and knead for 10 minutes, adding more flour as needed until the dough is firm and smooth to the touch.

 Place dough in medium greased bowl.Make sure the dough is greased on all sides. Cover with clean cloth or plastic wrap and let rise in warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1  to 1 1/2 hour.

Punch down the dough to remove the gas. Then turn it out onto a lightly floured board and knead for 5 minutes to be sure all the bubbles are out of the bread. Divide the dough into 2 equal parts, and shape each dough half into a loaf by pulling the dough over the top towards the bottom. This tightens the surface tension, and makes for a smoother crust.. Place each loaf in a greased, 9 X 5-inch bread pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes or until doubled in size.

Bake bread at 350 degrees F for 40 minutes or until bread top is golden brown and the bread sounds hollow when the top is tapped. Remove breads from pans and let cool on rack.

* Different liquids will yield different results. So, for instance, water will produce a slightly coarser bread that is still delicious but not quite as soft. Consider this for a non-dairy bread. You could substitute apple juice, which adds a distinct flavor, but sweet, so not necessarily the right taste for all purposes. Orange juice will make the bread more like cake. Soy milk is a good choice for extra protein. Make sure you use the plain soy milk because some people do not like the after-taste some brands have.
**Honey add a real richness to the bread but you can use any sweetener you like. White sugar works just as well, and leaves the bread whiter. Honey adds a slightly golden color. Brown sugar will color the bread a light brown. Molasses has a strong flavor and makes 'brown' bread. Corn syrup will color the bread, and personally I am not in favor, but...
*** The 'fat' in this bread is minimal but absolutely essential. It helps the bread brown and adds texture. Oil will slow down the rising so use sparingly if you try to adjust the recipe. You could use margarine for a non-dairy bread. Or regular vegetable oil. Olive oil is not appropriate here as it will flavor the bread and make it rather heavy. Olive oil is great in some European breads but not here.
**** Bread flour has the most gluten but will make the bread slightly heavier than all purpose flour. Use either interchangeably. If you want, substitute 2 cups whole wheat flour for the same amount or regular flour. The rise times will be slightly longer, and you might need to increase the amount of liquid and yeast slightly.  For a really great cookbook with lots of great tips and recipes you should try Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes. For a good book that concentrates on whole wheat breads you should really look at Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor. Both are highly recommended. Bye for now.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

All in the Family - Pizza, Focaccia and Calzone

Lately I have been making different kinds of flat bread, I don't know why. Maybe it's the short baking times and the fact that it's blazing hot outside (finally!). In any event, I wanted to make something today that is both quick and universally liked, almost. Something that says summertime just about anywhere. Now I know you can get good pizza at the shop down the street. But there is nothing quite so satisfying as making your own. Also, there is the added advantage that you can top it with just about anything you have on hand. Any left over veggies just waiting to be baked on a pie? Just throw on a few onions, mushrooms whatever! And, of course, lots of good cheese. What makes or breaks a pizza ultimately is the sauce and the cheese. Everything else is decoration according to your personal taste. Pizza is a meal unto itself. Well, almost. A little green salad on the side, maybe a bottle of red wine, nothing fancy required, and you have a meal. But, and here's the rub, so to speak, pizza can be a little messy. Especially when it's loaded with all those toppings, and the melted cheese is flowing everywhere. With thin, crispy New York style crust.

Unless of course you prefer the Chicago style pizza with the deep thick crust. 

Either way is just fine, thanks.

Enter the calzone. Probably the easiest way to describe a calzone is an inside-out pizza. It's the same dough, after all. But instead of leaving it flat, you put in the 'fillings' and close it up like a samosa (deep-fried filled Indian pastry) or an empanada (deep-fried filled Argentinian pastry). A calzone does not really resemble either of those pastries, of course. BTW, they are all delicious, in case you were wondering.  It's just closed up and filled like them. Same dough, same fillings. No mess. Just walk down the street with your closed up inside-out pizza!! No need for a green salad because it's the ultimate Italian street food. However, if you're sitting down, at a roadside cafe for instance, a salad goes with a calzone just fine.

Focaccia is a close relative of both the pizza and the calzone but with a twist. Whereas the pizza and the calzone are topped (filled) with lots of gooey cheese and other yummy stuff, the focaccia is quite stingy in that department. The dough is the same only allowed to rise so it's a little thicker. The toppings are often no more that undiluted tomato paste brushed lightly over the top that has been lightly covered with olive oil. A little kosher salt grated on top and then into the oven. The focaccia is really the only 'real' flat bread of the three. Pizza is really a vehicle for the topping and cheese. Calzone is a container for the same. Focaccia is bread. Serve a hearty tomato soup and a side salad with the focaccia which will soak up the remnants of your soup quite nicely. Fast, and satisfying, take your pick, pizza, calzone or focaccia.

Here are the recipes based on recipes from one of my favorite baking books of all time: The Bread Bible: 300 Favorite Recipes by Beth Hensperger. This a truly indispensable book for anyone taking bread baking seriously filled with great recipes, personal anecdotes and very useful tips. Consider it for your collection.

Basic Pizza Dough

This makes one 16 - 18 inch , two 10-12 inch , three 8 inch or ten 4 inch crusts

1 cup warm water
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
a pinch of sugar or 1/4 teaspoon honey

2 1/2  to 3 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cornmeal or semolina for sprinkling
Tomato sauce
olive oil for brushing (focaccia and outside of calzone)

1. Pour the warm water in a bowl, dissolve the sugar (or honey) then stir in the yeast. Let it sit for about 10 minutes until nice and frothy.
2. If you are mixing by hand, put the olive oil, salt and 1 cup of the flour in a bowl along with the yeast mixture and mix until smooth and liquidy. Add the flour 1/2 cup at a time and mix with a wooden spoon until a smooth tacky dough is formed that clears the bowl. Remove from the bowl to a lightly floured surface and knesad for a few minutes to make a smooth dough. It should be quite springy, soft and smooth. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat with oil (prevents drying out) and cover. Let the dough rise until doubled in size (about 1 1/2 hours).

If you are mixing with an electric mixer, place the yeast mixture along with olive oil, salt and 1 cup of flour in the bowl and mix using the paddle for a few minutes then add the flour 1/2 cup at a time until a smooth dough is formed. Switch to the dough hook and knead for a few minutes to for a smooth, springy dough. Let it rise in the bowl, lightly oiled for 1 1/2 hours until doubled.

3. For pizza:

At least 20 minutes before baking re-heat the oven to its highest setting or 500F (250C). If you have a baking stone place it on the floor of the oven so it heats through while the oven is heating.

Roll out the dough into a disc then carefully place on a floured baker's peel or a pizza pan. Brush on olive oil. Coat with tomato sauce then the toppings. Bake with the pizza pan directly on the stone for about 10 to15 minutes if on a pan or only about 8 to 210 minutes if baked directly on the stone. The high temperature will assure a nice crispy crust.

4. For Calzone:

You can use the same dough as for a pizza, or substitute about 3/4 cup whole wheat flour and 1 2/3 cups all purpose flour. The method for making the dough is the same. For the filling try some frozen spinach (thawed and drained) along with ricotta cheese, garlic, eggs and mozzarella all mixed together.

After is has risen, divide the dough into three pieces and roll out to form an 8 inch circle. place a few tablespoons of filling in the center of each circle leaving space to close it up. Fold the circles in half and press to seal. Brush the surface of the dough with olive oil and bake at 475 F (235 C) for about 18 to 20 minutes. The calzone will be puffed up and golden brown (and delicious, did I forget to tell you that?).

5. For Focaccia:

Make two recipes for basic pizza dough for an 11 by 17 inch (28 by 43 cm) focaccia.

After the dough has risen, lightly oil a 11 by 17 inch (28 by 43 cmbaking pan then, after deflating the dough, press it out to fill the pan using your fingers. When the dough fills the pan, cover it lightly with plastic wrap and let it rise for about 30 minutes. 

Meanwhile preheat the oven (with a baking stone if you have one) to 400 F (200 C). When the dough has risen, gently indent the surface with your fingers, then brush the surface with herbed olive oil. Sprinkle kosher salt over the surface and maybe some rosemary. Yum! bake 20 to 25 minutes for smaller rounds if directly on the baking stone, or 35 minutes or so (until nicely browned) for the larger pan. Serve as a side with a hearty soup and a green salad.

 Oh, almost forgot - yum!!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Simple, simple simple - Pita for Everyman

This being the Middle East, one of the most common breads is also one of the oldest and one of the simplest breads around. Of course I am talking about the ubiquitous pita bread which surrounds everything here from the equally ubiquitous felafel, to hummous and tehina, and grilled meats of various forms. Add to that all the wonderful salads (sometimes called mezze in Arabic or is it Greek?) and you see what I mean. They're everywhere and wrapping everything.

Pita, with some variations, is local peasant's bread in every country of the Middle East. In some countries, like Turkey for instance, about one third of the flour is typically whole wheat. In other countries, like some North African countries the pita is really a flat bread. Sort of like a soft, slightly fluffy tortilla. In Israel this flat bread is called a laffa. Except in Jerusalem where it is called locally, aish tanur literally 'fire in the oven'.It is delicious everywhere.

This recipe makes 8 pita breads and is pretty easy to make. The trick is in the oven, not the recipe. Don't forget that pita is peasant bread and in many places it is baked outdoors in (or even on) a stone oven. That means the temperatures are very high, and the baking times are short. When the bread is baked (literally cooked) on a taboon (a domed oven with the fire inside) the bread dough is slapped flat onto the oven and becomes a wrap. When it is baked in the oven, the high temperatures cause it to 'pop' and thus creates the special pocket.

Don't despair just because you don't have a hand-carved stone oven in your backyard. The taboon can be duplicated at home in a regular home oven. Just make sure the temperature is high, 500 F or around 250 C, and you bake on or near the floor. After baking, keep the breads covered or they will dry out very quickly.
Here's the recipe.

From start to finish it will take take less than an hour and in the end you will have about 8 fluffy, soft pita breads. Yum!!

Pita Bread

1-1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 package active dry yeast
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup warm water
2-1/2 cups bread flour


In medium bowl, mix salt, sugar, and yeast. Add olive oil and warm water. Stir until dissolved.

Mix in 1 cup of flour and then slowly add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until dough can no longer be mixed with wooden spoon.

Turn dough onto floured board. Knead dough for about 5 minutes, adding flour when necessary to create a soft dough.

Divide dough into 8 equal parts and form into balls. Keep dough balls on board and cover to rise for 20 minutes.

Move oven rack to the bottom setting. Preheat oven 500 degrees F. If you have a baking stone place it on the floor of the oven and let it heat with the oven. Otherwise, place your baking sheet in the oven so that it is hot when you place the dough on it.

After the rise, flatten each dough ball with your hand. Use rolling pin to roll each dough ball so that it is a 1/4 inch (about 6mm) thick and about 5 inches (about 12.5 cm) across.

Place two rounds on the baking sheet or baking stone and bake  for about 8 minutes or until puffed. Remove from oven, using a metal spatula, and place the next two rounds in oven.

After each pita has been baked, poke a hole in it with the corner of the spatula and flatten. While you are baking, keep the baked pita covered with a clean kitchen towel because they dry out very quickly.

Storing and Freezing

Pita breads can be placed in bags after they are completely cooled and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. They'll keep in the freezer for up to a month but double bag them. Defrost, covered with a towel to room temperature.

They really are simple, quick to make and so much better than the store-bought. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Molasses and Cornmeal - Anadama Bread

Even though it's easier and certainly quicker to make a loaf of white sandwich bread, sometimes that just won't do. I'm not talking about 'bread' (sic) of the Wonder Bread variety. I mean, the whole thing is a misnomer after all. But even a high quality white sandwich bread like those featured in The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, sometimes you want to go the extra mile, take your time and create a truly memorable loaf. That is what Anadama Bread is, a truly great loaf of bread with a bit of mystery surrounding its origins. If you have the time, don't pass up this bread.
Here are the ingredients and the directions.

For the soaker:

1 cup cornmeal
1 cup water room temperature

For the dough:

4 1/2 cups bread flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
6 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons shortening or unsalted butter room temperature
cornmeal for dusting

It's now Wednesday around lunchtime as I write these words but I started the process of making the bread on Sunday evening. Anadama Bread is a full-flavored hearty loaf that utilizes both cornmeal and molasses. It needs to mature and ferment in order to develop its full flavor and character. I started by placing the cornmeal with water in a glass bowl, with a short stir to make sure it was completely covered.

 Then it stood on the counter, covered with plastic wrap for two days.

Finally, it was ready to become bread. The sweet aroma of ferment greeted me when I lifted the plastic cover so I knew this was going to be great. Into the mixer bowl it went, along with, flour, molasses, oil, yeast, water and salt. After a short mix (5 or so minutes) to combine, I let it stand for 10 minutes for the yeast to develop. Then the extra added flour is mixed to make a soft, tacky (but not sticky) dough.

Cover this and let it sit for another 60 to 90 minutes, or until it has double in size.

This risen dough is also a lot smoother as the gluten is developing very nicely, thank you. It also smells incredible. Now is the time to shape the loaves. Gently, degas the dough. Cut the dough into two equal pieces and shape into loaves (batard shape). Place this dough into a lightly greased loaf-style pan and let it rise again for about 45 minutes to an hour, 

or until the loaves reach the top of the pan and, maybe just maybe, peek over the edge slightly. To keep the bread from drying out and forming a crust, you can lightly spray the dough with oil.

About 15 minutes before the rise is finished, pre-heat the oven to 350 F (180 C). Place the loaf pans gently on a baking sheet, spray the loaves lightly with water and sprinkle cornmeal over the top. When they have risen, and the oven is hot, it's time for the magic. Place the loaves on a center rack for about 20 minutes. Then turn them 180 degrees to ensure even baking. After the turn, bake for another 15 or twenty minutes. They will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom and be a deep brown, bottom and sides too.

After baking take the loaves out of the pan and place on a rack to cool completely. They will have a nice hard crust that softens as it cools. 

If you're like me and can't wait to taste freshly baked bread you'll love this loaf. The crumb is soft and rich from the molasses and the fermented cornmeal. The crust is a little chewy also with cornmeal that adds a nice texture. Slather some butter on this while still slightly warm, you won't be sorry!

Fresh Baked Anadama Bread