31 December 2008

Small pleasures

Looking out of my window, I can see feathery flakes of snow quietly shifting around in the air. Sometimes they fall straight down, sometimes not. Sometimes they like to swirl around: the arial version of tumbleweed. Sometimes they like to blow horizontally. (I can't see anything that would indicate the presence of wind--no treetops on my street reach as high as my window. So it's nice to think, at least, that the snow has a mind of its own, and goes where it pleases. The dance without a song.)

I'm glad not to be outside, I think--it got cold here, and it's so much more pleasant to be inside with the oven humming, and with the warm scent of pita bread in the oven. Yes. Pita bread! I've been making the same recipe for years now, and it works: billowing, steaming pockets of soft, pliant bread that goes so nicely with spiced chickpeas and tomato sauce, or you know, Nutella. (Is there anything that Nutella doesn't compliment? Seriously here.) But the pita--so nice! And almost effortless. If you've been relying on the tougher stuff from the grocery store, well, it's high time to make your own.

Khubz'aadi (Pita Bread), adapted from Saveur

1 packet of active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/4 teaspoon sugar
6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, or a mixture of wheat and white
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt

1. Put yeast, sugar and 1/2 cup lukewarm water into a large bowl. (If you're not sure about the temperature of the water, run it at medium and stick your fingers under the tap. You shouldn't feel a temperature change from the water. If the water feels warm, it is too warm. Go for a neutral temperature.) Stir to dissolve, and let mixture sit until frothy, about 10-20 minutes. Add two more cups warm water and 1 cup of the flour to combine. Add two more cups of flour, one cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. Set mixture aside to rest for 10 minutes.
2. Add two tablespoons of the oil and salt and stir well to combine. Gradually add remaining flour, mixing well with your hands, until dough holds together as a ball. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about fifteen minutes. Grease a large bowl with the remaining oil Roll dough around bowl to coat, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set in a warm spot to let rise until doubled in bulk, about two hours.
3. Place pizza stone on middle rack of oven; preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Punch down dough, turn out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead for two to three minutes. Divide evenly into 16 balls and cover with plastic. Roll each ball into a seven inch disc, keeping remaining dough covered. Transfer disc onto a clean, lightly floured kitchen towel (NOT terry cloth), and cover with another clean towel. Repeat process with remaining balls, laying them one inch apart in a single layer. Let rest twenty minutes.
4. Bake breads, two or three at a time, on pizza stone, until lightly golden and puffed, about three minutes per batch. Wrap hot pitas in a clean kitchen towel to keep them soft and pliable. Serve immediately.

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