Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Arabic pita bread



When I moved away from Michigan I realized something very disappointing. If I ever wanted to eat relatively authentic, fresh pita bread I'd either have to hop on a plane or learn to make it myself.

I like to use a recipe from Claudia Roden's book, The New Book of Middle Eastern Food it's easy but time consuming. The pitas are only good for a day or two but the leftovers can be fried to make pita chips for fattoush.

Arabic Pita Bread
1 tbsn active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1/4 tsp. sugar
about 6 cups unbleached white bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2-2 tsp. salt
3 tbsn vegetable or EVOO

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of the warm water. Add the sugar, and when it begins to froth (this will be proof that the yeast is still active), stir in the remaining water. add 3 cups of the flour, 1 cup at a time, gradually, stirring vigorously. Let this sponge rest for 10 minutes or until it froths.

Stir in the salt and 2 tbsn of the oil and mix well. Add the remaining flour gradually, a little at a time (you may need less), until you have a dough that holds together in a ball. Knead well by hand in the bowl, or on a floured board, for about 10 minutes, until it is smooth, shiny, and elastic and no longer sticks to your fingers, dusting with a little flour occasionally if it is too sticky.

Put the remaining tbsn. of oil in the bottom of the bowl and roll the ball of dough around to grease it all over. This will prevent the surface from becoming dry and crusty. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place free of drafts for about 2 hours, until doubled in bulk.

Preheat the oven set at the maximum, 500 degrees farenheit for at least 20 minutes, and place a large baking sheet or baking stone in the hottest part.

Punch the dough down and knead again for a few minutes, then divide in half. Divide the first half into 8 lumps. Flatten each one on a lightly floured surface with a rolling pin sprinkled with flour, into rounds between 1/8 and 1/4 inches thick and about 7-8 inches in diameter. Dust with flour and lay the rounds on a cloth sprinkled with flour. Arrange them 1 inch apart, so that they do not touch as they grow. Cover with another lightly floured cloth, an dleave to rest and rise again for about 20 minutes at room temperature.

When the bread has risen again, place 2 rounds at a time on the hot baking stone sprinkled lightly with flour, and bake for 3-5 minutes, or until they puff up like balloons and are slightly brown on top.

Wrap the breads together in a cloth while still hot, or put them in a plastic bag to keep them soft and pliable while you bake the rest of the breads.

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