Sunday, July 15, 2012


Multigrain Pitas and Pains a l'Ancienne - I bake them every week

You can find an updated and completely re-written version of this post here.

"Can you bake pitas, too?" Kathryn, the lovely owner of A&B Naturals, asked me one day. Their usual supplier wasn't available anymore. I had never made them, so I said with conviction: "Yes!"

At least I knew where I could find a pita recipe!

In "Whole Grain Breads", one of my favorite baking books, Peter Reinhart has a recipe for whole wheat pitas. And whole grains are just what my customers at A&B prefer.

I started my first pita dough. No big deal, until I got to the shaping part. The pitas had to be rolled out  no thinner than 1/4 inch (6 mm), and to an 8-inch (20 cm) diameter. But my pitas already reached this thickness at 6 1/2 to 7 inches (16 to 18 cm.)

A high oven temperature is key to a pita's proper horizontal separation into two layers. This high temperature has to be maintained during the whole bake, from below as well as from above.

Many cheaper ovens don't heat up to the necessary 550ºF (280ºC.) Without that boost pitas can't produce the large gas bubble that creates a pocket. And without a pocket - no delicious filling!

A baking stone, or a rack lined with unglazed terracotta tiles (like I have), works best for keeping the  temperature stable, even when the oven door has to be opened several time during the baking process. And very hot stones make the best baking surface for pitas, too.

To reheat fast enough after each opening of the door I remembered Peter Reinhart's advice for baking pizza ("American Pie"), where the problem is the same: intermittently switching the oven to broil for a short time.

How many pitas can you bake at the same time? One batch of dough makes 8 (or 6, if you want larger ones.) Peter Reinhart says one at a time, but, of course, being a semi-professional this time consuming process didn't appeal to me too much.

After some trials, I found that I can put two at the same time in the oven. That's the maximum, with more it becomes very difficult to get them in and out of the oven without damage, and to keep control over their baking process.

One or two pitas can be baked at the same time
Of course, it takes a little bit of experience to slide the pitas into the oven without them folding over in one place, and to extricate them without nicking them with the paddle.

But it's not rocket science, a smart child can do it: Little Josh, our carpenter's son, thought it more fun to help with baking than reading his book!

Josh has good reason to be proud!
Slow fermentation gives this pita its excellent taste. It also softens the 7-grain mixture I substitute for some of the whole wheat flour.

I add an overnight bulk rise in the fridge, this is more practical for my schedule and, in my opinion, also improves the taste even more.

Though I often reduce the sweetener in Peter Reinhart's recipes, this whole grain bread needs the full dose.

We like our pita filled with grilled Halloumi cheese, tomato and lettuce - the way we had it in Girne/Kyrenia on Cyprus.

And how do my customers at A&B Naturals like them? They fly off the shelf so that I have to bake them every week!


170 g whole wheat flour
  57 g multigrain mixture (mine is made with cracked rye, wheat, barley, corn and oats, flaxseed, and millet)
    4 g salt
170 g water

227 g whole wheat flour
    1 g instant yeast
170 g water

Final Dough
All soaker and biga  (cut in pieces, they blend easier into the dough)
113 g whole wheat flour
    5 g salt
    5 g instant yeast
  28 g honey or agave nectar
  14 g extra virgin olive oil

DAY 1:
In  the morning:
In a small bowl, stir together all soaker ingredients until everything is hydrated. Cover, and leave at room temperature.

Place all biga ingredients in mixer bowl. Mix at low speed for 1-2 minutes, until all flour is hydrated. (Or stir with wooden spoon) Knead at medium-low speed (or with hand) for 2 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes, then resume kneading for another 1 minute.

Place biga in oiled bowl, turn around to coat with oil, cover, and place in refrigerator (remove 2 hours before using.)

Mix all final dough ingredients at low speed (or with hand) for 1-2 minutes, until combined. Knead at medium-low speed (or with hand) for 4 minutes (dough should be a bit tacky, but not sticky. If necessary, adjust with a little extra water or flour.)

Let dough rest for 5 minutes, then knead for 1 more minute. Transfer to oiled container, turn around to coat with oil, cover and place in refrigerator overnight. (Dough can be shaped cold the next morning.)

Preheat oven as high as possible, at least to 550ºF (280ºC). Place baking stone in the upper third of oven.

Divide dough in 8 equal pieces (ca. 120 g), shape into rounds and place, seam side down, on parchment lined baking sheet or tray. Cover, and let proof for 45-60 minutes until rolls have grown to 1 1/2 times their original size.

Transfer rounds to floured work surface. Dust them well with whole wheat flour. With a few strokes, roll each piece to a 4-inch (10 cm) disk, and put them on a pile.

After all rolls are rolled out, turn pile around, so that the first disk is on top. Re-roll out disks so that they are 1/4-inch (6 mm) thick, with a diameter of 6-1/4 to 7 inches (16 -18 cm). Place (separately) on baking sheet or tray, cover, and let rest for 15 minutes.

Switch oven to broil 5 minutes before baking, so that stone gets really hot. Sprinkle peel*) with a little flour (not much is needed since pitas are fairly dry.)

Place 1 or 2 pitas on peel, and slide them onto hot baking stone. Watch them through the oven window! They start building large bubbles, and puff up like a balloon after ca. 2 minutes. Now they need only 20 seconds more to be done (they should stay soft.) Remove them with peel, and let them cool on wire rack.

Repeat with remaining pitas, always waiting for the oven to reheat again (switch briefly to broil after taking one batch out, if this takes too long.)

*) A wooden peel works best for sliding pitas into oven, but a metal one works better to remove them quickly - it has a sharper edge.

Pitas deflate quickly, once they are out of the oven
To store:
Multigrain pitas keep fresh for several days in a plastic bag. Normally a taboo for every bread aficionado, this is necessary to keep them soft, and prevent them from drying out.

They also freeze well, individually wrapped in plastic foil, then placed in a ZipLock bag.

(This recipe is an adaptation of Whole Wheat Pitas from Peter Reinhart's "Whole Grain Breads".

Submitted to Yeast Spotting

Sunday, July 1, 2012


Hier geht's zur deutschen Version dieses Posts

A light, fruity dessert seems rather enticing, when temperatures reach almost 90 degrees.

The blueberries, raspberries and blackberries in our garden are still green - (and the poor little strawberries get "slugged" before they are ripe), but the supermarket has now berries in good quality - not that watery stuff from California.

Therefore, Hanaâ's Avid Bakers' Challenge for July couldn't have come at a better time - the Classic Fruit Tart from "The Weekend Baker".
Not ripe yet - blueberries in our garden

Abigail Dodge wrote this book for people who don't like spending hours in the kitchen, when smart do-ahead steps are possible, and the refrigerator is your friend.

Usually I follow Abby's make-ahead suggestions, but my oven was still hot from my Saturday bread baking, and I had invited a neighbor for tea.

And, really, what could be nicer than a toasty kitchen, heated from baking pitas at 550º F - when outside temperatures almost reach the 90 degree mark? (My husband only rolled his eyes...)

I made the dough, substituting a quarter of the all-purpose flour with spelt. Being a bit in a hurry, I chilled my finished dough disk only for 30 minutes, the minimum given time.

After preparing the pastry cream I rolled out the dough on a silicone mat. Soon I realized the impossibility of achieving the desired 14"-round, the dough started tearing, and there was no way to roll it around the pin without total disintegration.

Cooling the dough was not an option - my nice, practical King Arthur silicone mat was too large for the fridge. Its size made it also too difficult to flip it over the tart pan. Sweating and desperate, I searched my kitchen for anything that could help me get the dough in the right place.

Fortunately I found a metal cake platter that I could press on the dough, then flipping it over the tart pan. But not without mishap, the sharp fluted edge of the pan cut right through the dough, and the whole pain of rolling out the round to that size had been in vain - "for the cat", as the Germans say.

Skippy couldn't care less!
 Using the cut off dough pieces I pinched together a half-ways even rim, and put the tart in the oven. When I took it out, I saw with great displeasure that, in spite of all my gentle handling, the dough had opened up some ugly cracks in the bottom.

But pastry cream covers all baking sins with a layer of pure innocence, and fresh blackberries and raspberries gave the tart a pretty, cheerful look.

And the reward for all that effort? The tart was absolutely delicious, and everybody had a second helping!

Afterwards I looked through basic tart recipes (from William-Sonoma, "Fine Cooking" and "Cook's Illustrated") to see whether there were some helpful hints. Obviously a cooling time of just 30 minutes for the dough was not enough, it should have been 1 hour instead.

Rolling out the dough to a 14"-round for a 9"-inch pan seems rather unnecessary, 2 inches larger than the pan should have done it.

And in William-Sonoma's "Pie & Tart" I even found my own scribbled note: "Roll out the dough on a thin plastic cutting board, and flip it over the pan".  That's exactly what I will do the next time. Or just press into the pan with my fingers!