Healthy and Sane in the kitchen: making pita bread

I’m going through a major reorganization of my (hard copy) recipes (from various magazines and blog printouts). Major! I’ve logged in probably close to 20 hours and I’m not even half-way through. But it’s been fun… and addictive… and things are slowly but surely shaping up!

My favorite thing about the final product (which I guess is not even final yet) is that all the pretty food pictures of recipes that look appealing to me are right there, in the format that’s enjoyable to browse through (as opposed to before, where a few nice recipes were either buried between useless articles or worse – shoved into a big folder also known as the black hole for recipes).

So the other day, I was doing my thing, gluing away, and Adam spotted a picture of the spicy chicken shawarma recipe from Cooking Light… and said: “You need to make this asap!” The good wife that I am, I put it on next week’s menu… and decided to take it up a notch by making my own whole wheat pitas. Why not!

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I used the whole wheat pita bread recipe from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook, which looked easy enough.

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Red heart my Kitchen Aid.

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My dough was seriously sticky. I think I added a bit more flour and definitely let the mixer go for longer than the book specified.

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Eventually I stopped it and hoped that once the yeast does it’s thing, everything will turn out fine Smile

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Why hello, Mr. Yeast… looks like you’ve been hungry!

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The dough was still slightly goopy (see top right in the picture above) but a slight toss in some flour produced perfect little dough balls.

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Hi cuties! [Ok, I really need to stop this whole talking-to-my-food thing.]

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Roll ‘em out…

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And into the oven (on a pizza stone) they go!

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OMG, OMG, OMG – they’re actually ballooning up!!!! [Yes, I was that excited.]

Actually, most of them looked like the ones below – at best. Spraying some water into the oven seemed to help a bit (thanks, Emily for this tip on twitter… Btw, I changed my twitter handle to @elinaholbrookfollow me if you love me!!)

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Dinner time!

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My first pita opened up so easily and perfectly, I was excited about “nailing it”!

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The ones that followed definitely put up a fight (after this dinner I pretty much used them as flatbreads). They were really pillowy and doughy though so I enjoyed the texture.

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I hate how store bought whole wheat pitas taste like cardboard so I’d love to find the perfect homemade (fool-proof) recipe that I can make over and over. It’d be cheaper too!

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Have you ever made pitas? Any tips for me on technique, or maybe a link to a better recipe? Thanks! Smile

PS – The chicken recipe was quick and easy but nothing earth shattering taste-wise. The pitas were definitely the highlight of the meal for me!

King Arthur Flour and how I got rid of my fear of yeast (+ giveaway winner announced)

Before I get on a roll with this post, I just wanted to thank those who voted for my post to advance to the next challenge of Project Food Blog. And if you haven’t done so already, I would REALLY appreciate if you would vote for me here. Thank you!

Now that the logistics are out of the way (yes, I’m dying to advance, so I’m sorry but I may be a bit annoying for the next few weeks,  begging for your votes), I’d like to tell you a bit more about my baking adventures at the King Arthur baking educational center. You may remember that I visited the store a few months ago and loved it. What I actually had no idea about is that King Arthur was more than just a flour (and awesome gadget) store. I found out a few months ago that they offered lots of cooking classes and somehow Megan did her blogger magic and talked the nice folks at King Arthur into hosting a few of us to try 2 of them (for full disclosure: King Arthur provided us with free lunch, free classes and a thank you goodie bag. You know that Healthy and Sane is 100% real and is not influenced by third parties).

Given that most of us are healthy food bloggers, King Arthur found it appropriate to introduce us to whole grain baking, which I was really excited about. We also learned how to make pizza… from scratch. Yes, we made pizza dough from scratch. I can’t (correction: couldn’t) even roll out store-bought pizza dough, let alone make it. Trader Joe’s sells their fresh dough for 99 cents so is it really worth going through the “trouble” of making your own? After Saturday’s class, I can without hesitations say “yes.” I’ve never “felt” dough this silky. Amazing. I am no longer afraid. I welcome the challenge. Are you ready to get inspired? :)

First, I’d like to give a quick shout out to King Arthur. Not only did they welcome 10 bloggers with open arms, I learned that they welcome all bakers with open arms. Obviously they offer baking classes at their facility but (just to name a few) they also have traveling cooking demos, get involved with schools and teach children how to bake through their Life Skills bread baking program, post inspiring recipes and one of my favorites – offer a baking hotline. Basically they want to become the baking resource and create fearless bakers all over the country (I am SO calling their hotline next time I mess up another pie crust… maybe they’ll help me save it afterall :) ). King Arthur is also very proud of the quality of their flour – they apply strict, consistent requirements to their products so every batch is identical. I never thought this was an issue but apparently many flour companies (and take this with a grain of salt of course… we were getting their marketing pitch after all) source their flours from different areas so their protein content (and other characteristics) may vary from batch to batch, which of course may impact final results. Interesting… Last but not least, I was happy to hear that their flours are 100% natural and unbleached. Unfortunately I was not happy to later spy some unnatural ingredients in some of their other products… like artificial flavorings in many extracts as well as partially hydrogenated oils (and HFCS? can’t recall now) in some of their chips (like cappuccino chips) [<-- I told you I'm always honest!] Their flours and other products we used in the cooking class were top notch though. This baking novice was very impressed. :)

As always, I took a million pictures. I’ll let most of them do the “talking” but will also point out some random tricks and interesting lessons I learned throughout.

First, can someone set the table for me with all the ingredients perfectly lined up before I start any cooking or baking project? No? :lol:

Tip #1 - You want to use the least amount of flour possible (for a lighter, fluffier product). A cup of flour may weigh between 4 and 6 ounces (that’s a 50% discrepancy!). Once you start using multiple cups, the gap really grows and may significantly impact final results. Weighing baking ingredients is (obviously) the most accurate way of measuring but if you don’t have one… here is the tip. Scooping flour with a measuring cup will result in too much flour. You should use another scoop (I use a spoon at home) and lightly dust the flour into the measuring cup until full. Then use a sharp edge to sweep off the excess. Your finger is not straight! Use an actual straight-edge tool, like a knife.

Random trick: The dough recipe called for 1 and 1/4 teaspoons of baking powder. Susan grabbed both measuring spoons (1 and 1/4) and scooped the baking powder at the same time. Brilliant! Why do I always do it one by one? Silly, right?

Tip #2: Make sure your whole wheat flour is fresh. If you smell your flour and smell ANYTHING, it means it’s rancid. Yes, the smell we always thought was just the smell of whole wheat flour is apparently the smell of rancid ww flour. We smelled both batches and the difference was astounding. Ww flour has oil in it that easily spoils. It’s best to keep it in the fridge or the freezer (you can use it straight from it) for longer “shelf” life unless you go through your flours crazy fast. I don’t.

Tip #3: Whole wheat will soak in some liquid while proofing. If you sub all-purpose flour with ww flour one-to-one (and change nothing else) this will result in a much drier final product. Instead, once your dough is ready, add a little more water in the bowl and let it rise (and soak up more of the water). There are no exact measurements because it is impacted by other external things like humidity in the air – don’t be afraid to experiment! :)

Tip #4: Your dough will “speak” to you. After a little experimenting, you will know when it’s ready – it will feel right. The instructor’s intuition helped us all this time around.

Tip #5: When kneading your dough, do not add flour unnecessarily. If it gets sticky, just knead it for a bit longer, it will come together. Extra flour = drier dough.

Tip #6: If you are short on time, knead your dough for a little longer. Otherwise, you can knead it a bit, then let it do its thing on its own (you can make a batch in the morning and it should rise until ready by dinnertime).

So we first made a batch of pizza dough and let it rest.

It just about doubled, we then folded it like an envelope and let it rest for a little longer (it doubled again!). The result was the silkiest, fluffiest dough I’ve ever touched. It was like a cloud. That’s why we kept calling it our babies. So soft :)

Tip #7: To shape the dough, make it into a shape you want the final product to look like (I placed a little circle/ball on the table), then flatten with palm… and then you’re ready to stretch it by hand. Move it around, rotating with your knuckles, the center will take care of itself (from the weight of the dough).

My dough. Ain’t it a beauty? :)

Tip #8: Don’t overload on the sauce. It will make the pizza soggy. Same rules applies to too many toppings. Keep it simple, use bold-flavored ingredients.

We baked our pies in King Arthur’s fancy wood fired grill. Bake yours at the highest temperature your home oven will go. It should take about 8-10 minutes, depending on thickness (a pizza stone was highly recommended).

Voila, I can’t believe *I* made this. Pretty cool, right? :D

There is definitely something incredibly satisfying about making everything from scratch (well I’m sure if I made the sauce and the mozzarella I would definitely feel like I should win an award or something. hehe… the dough was enough for one day).

Next up we made multi-seed crackerbread (recipe can be found here). I’m sorry – it looks like this post is getting crazy long. I’ll keep it brief. Basically, up until Saturday, I thought that making crackers was crazy high-maintenance and that some things should be left to purchasing in the store in this day and age. Well, apparently it’s CRAZY easy.

Combine a few flours, knead briefly, let it rest.

Then cut into smaller pieces and you’re ready to roll. At this point you can roll each dough piece into different seeds or additions and have a variety of crackers just from one dough.

I used King Arthur’s seed blend (+ some chopped fresh herbs) for all of mine. What can I say, I was lazy and the blend + herbs seemed cool enough. :)

Roll from the center out.

Pre-baking:

Post-baking:

I made freaking crackerbread!!! Awesome. It went quite well with some hummus on Sunday night. My dad called these addictive. I say that’s a win given whole grains were involved ;)

We also made brownies. Double Fudge whole grain brownies to be exact (recipe can be found here). I didn’t learn anything in this process except that whole wheat flour works wonderfully in brownies when copious amounts of butter, sugar, eggs and chocolate are involved. These were possibly the best brownies I have EVER tasted. We had my dad over for dinner last night and he called my mom who is currently in Russia the very next morning and she is now going to make them there in a few days for a birthday party. That’s quite the review, no? [I ate 1.5 pieces and froze the rest! I'm being a good girl.]

Random pics of the brownie making process. Mmm, makes me drool a little. :cool:

These are best the day after so plan ahead and be patient. It is worth the wait… and yes, worth every buttery calorie! :grin:

While our crackers and brownies were baking, we were invited to check out the baking results of the class next door. How amazing does this stuff look? I’m guessing this was a professional-level class.

The chocolate French macaroons were to-die for.

Aren’t we such good little students?

Such a good time!! I learned A TON in just 5 hours and am motivated to get busy in the kitchen… and also take some more cooking classes in the Boston area. Thank you, King Arthur, again for such a wonderful day.

Have you ever made pizza dough or any other yeast breads? Any other tricks you think I forgot to mention here?

PS- The oikos giveaway winner is #8. Carol, please email me your address to elina@healthyandsane.com. Congrats!!

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