A flatbread by any other name

Things have been a little… stressful. I have no right to complain — I know how lucky I am. My husband has a good job, we have a roof over our heads, food in the cabinets, and friends, family, and two cats that love us. But that doesn’t mean the five-plus months of unemployment I’ve been through since the start of the year hasn’t taken its toll. Being unemployed sucks, no matter how you slice it, no matter how well you take advantage of the new-found overflow of free time. It’s a blow to your self-esteem, whittling away at your confidence, replacing it with doubt and questioning of your self-worth.

And so you try to give the expanse of time spreading out in front of you like an ocean some structure, something that resembles a routine so you can feel normal. Something like baking bread.

Bread doesn’t care about career objectives, summary statements, or gaps in your experience. Bread will never call for a phone screen or send you a form rejection letter. No. Bread gently adds structure to your day, lending a smidge of predictability, only asking in return that you to give it some warm water, knead it a little, and simply not forget about it for too long. And then, it comes out of the oven (or off the griddle, in this case), and you remember for a moment that you’re capable of more than getting the laundry done.

That’s really important sometimes when you don’t even realize it.

After the batch of sourdough English muffins a couple of weeks ago, I was so intrigued by the possibility of cooking fresh bread on a griddle that I scurried off to the Minneapolis Central Library in search of a cookbook on bread that could offer new options. And the library delivered, as expected.

I grabbed a couple, in fact — Flatbreads and Flavors by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid was a particularly good read (and I fully expect to make a number of recipes from it in the very near future), but it was Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Bread Bible that sucked me in. Gosh, she’s magical.

The pita recipe probably works beautifully in the oven, puffing up and forming those perfect pockets that are so satisfying to stuff. I have no doubt, seeing as how its Rose’s recipe. But the griddle version didn’t deliver in the same way. No — I’m convinced it’s better.

Better like Snickers is an improvement on the Milky Way. Better like anything with frosting. Only this is better without adding a single thing. My “pita” came out more like naan — chewy, moist, and intensely flavorful in that reserved way basic bread is. It was great plain, but was still able to hold its own against a chicken sausage with sauerkraut and mustard. Maybe it didn’t puff because I only let it rise for 2-3 hours (she says the minimum is a mere 1.5 hours, but ideally you’d let it rise anywhere from 8 hours to 3 days). Maybe my kitchen wasn’t warm enough. Or, maybe they just weren’t meant to be done on the griddle and still turn out pocket-ed.

But really, it doesn’t matter. The satisfaction of tearing through the slightly-cooled flatbread is more than enough. Even better: Eric loves them. As in, asks-for-me-to-make-them kind of love. And he even preferred the whole wheat version I made the second time around. Maybe there is hope for the future. Either way, in the meantime, I’ll bake.

Pita Bread
from The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum
Makes: 12 4-inch pitas or 8 6-inch pitas
I used a stand mixer, so those are the instructions I’ll include. But you should really get a copy of the book — it’s absolutely worth it.
Ingredients:
3 C + scan 1/4 C (454 g) Unbleached all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur)
2 tsp (13.2 g) salt
2 tsp (6.4 g) instant yeast (I used SAF Instant)
2 Tbsp (27 g) olive oil
1 1/4 C (295 g) water (warm, 70-90 degrees F)

Directions:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix all the ingredients using the paddle attachment on low (#2 on my KitchenAid), about 20 seconds.
  2. Switch to the dough hook and continue to knead at medium speed (#4 on my KitchenAid) for 10 minutes. The dough should be only slightly sticky, if at all; it should be soft and smooth.
  3. Turn the dough into an oiled container or bowl that you can easily tell when the dough has doubled.
  4. At this point, let the dough rise for at least an hour and a half (refrigerate if you’re letting it rise overnight/longer than 8 hours). Press it down every 4 hours.
  5. Cut the dough into 8 or 12 chunks. On a lightly-floured surface, roll each of the pieces into a ball and then flatten it into a disk. Lay on a parchment covered (or other non-stick) surface. Cover each (She suggests oiled plastic wrap, but this didn’t do anything for me, to be honest). Let rise for 20 minutes.
  6. Preheat your cast-iron griddle/skillet. Beranbaum says to cook them over medium-high heat, but I found this didn’t cook the centers before the bottom burner, so I’ll suggest medium-low. Adjust your heat until it seems right.
  7. Lightly grease the griddle. Cook the first side for 20 seconds, then flip it and cook on the other side for a minute, until bubbles form. (Mine took a good three minutes — use your judgment.) Turn the dough over again and cook until the it balloons (if it does, or until both sides are evenly cooked).
  8. You’ve got yourself some pita/naan/flatbread! Repeat the process for each of the disks, re-oiling the griddle after each pita is cooked.

Note: for the whole wheat version, use half whole wheat flour and half white. I used whole wheat pastry flour, but Beranbaum suggests using atta or grounding regular whole wheat flour in a food processor for 5 minutes.

Maybe YeastSpotting will “spot” me? Bread bread bread, bready bread bread…

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