Sunday

Cooking Like A Fiend

Whole Wheat Pita Bread Experiment

Since I came back from my vacation in Boston and New York, I have been cooking like a fiend.

Yesterday, in addition to this pita bread trial, I made two of my regular multigrain loaves and four hamburg buns. I think I've finally got it right for the buns: set aside 200 grams from the main batch of dough (for four 50-gram buns), then divide the rest into two loaves. I never wrote it down before, so I always guessed -- I only make the buns every two months or so.

I am also making cultured butter, an even bigger batch this time, since it keeps so well in the freezer and it is kind of tedious to make because of the extra activities involved. What I mean by that is that before I can start I have to clear the sink, which usually means washing or transferring to the dishwasher whatever is soaking there, because the sink will be used during the washing process. That sink has to be super clean in case some butter falls into it when being drained, washed or transferred. So I scrub it thoroughly with bicarbonate (yes, that's a.k.a. baking soda). Then I sterilize the equipment with boiling water. 

All this has to coincide with the cream being at the right temperature (i.e., out of the fridge for a while) for churning, so as not to contaminate anything after all that work.

I'm sure if I made butter more often I'd develop a routine for this and it wouldn't seem like so much work, but right now the goal is to make enough for several months at a time - the idea being to make it less often. That's why today I'm churning four litres of cream. According to my notes, that should yield three pounds - enough for three months I think. (Unless I start making croissants, puff pastry or pies, that is! More about this later.)

Since I had all that whipping cream, I thought I'd try using the new immersion blender to whip it. I never thought it made much sense, but in my research into the kind to buy, I kept seeing cream whipping mentioned as one thing it does super fast.

I put a cup of cream into the beaker with a tablespoon of maple syrup, and moved the thing up and down for several minutes, and what I got was something kind of fluffy and tasting like whipped cream, except it didn't increase in volume. Now, normally once whipped your cream is supposed to double in volume, so obviously it was lacking that lovely airiness. I put it away wondering what to do with it.

Later in the day, wanting to make caramelized pears for dessert, I realized that I was down to just enough butter for today's toast, so I decided to try using whipped cream to fry the pears. That worked out all right, and once the pears were browned, I added brown sugar as usual, then some more cream, and I served the whole thing with the rest of the "whipped" cream on the side.

The pear was delicious (far better cooked than the hard-as-potato fruit it had been in the raw state), but what really surprised me was how I had somehow produced cinnamon flavour out of pears, brown sugar, maple syrup and heavy cream! Yep, you could have sworn I had put some cinnamon in there… I'm sure there's some chemical explanation for this phenomenon, and I will probably never know what it is.

PITA BREAD RECIPE

I wanted to make pita bread because I'm on a Middle East food thing lately, and I kept grumbling every time I paid 50 cents each for what is essentially a round of flour and water. For that price, I can make a whole batch at home -- and better stuff too.

The reason I knew it was easy to make is that about forty years ago I tried the recipe for homemade pita in James Beard's Beard on Bread, and it was a complete success. 

However, this time I wanted to make a healthier version, and I also wanted to use modern baking equipment like my KitchenAid mixer and pizza stone. And my new iPad mini of course!

I found just the recipe I wanted on the King Arthur Flour website. This recipe for whole wheat pita bread would be my choice because I love the way they explain and illustrate everything.

As you can see from the photo, above, the bread came out as it should in spite of the major substitutions I made:

1. I substituted whey from my home-made greek yogurt for the water called for in the recipe;
2. I used no orange juice;
3. I substituted unbleached all-purpose flour for the bread flour;
4. I substituted regular whole wheat flour for the white whole wheat.

I also had to add more flour after a few minutes of mixing because the dough was way too moist (due to my substitutions, no doubt).

All of which leads one to deduce that the most important things to worry about when making pita bread probably are:

1. The temperature of the oven and of the stone
2. The bottom position of the rack and stone
3. The timing
4. The integrity of the rounds (I found this warning in another recipe and it means that if the edge of the ball that you roll into a flat circle gets damaged your pita will not puff. Totally logical, that.)

For me, the fact that I was able to use the whey was something I was really keeping my fingers crossed about, because I'm always looking for a place to use that up! 

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