Thursday, April 06, 2006

Just call me Puff Daddy!

I was all set to make some flat bread. I was inspired by a ‘’ Blog posting featuring Flat Bread from a few days ago. So simple – and it looked great! Even though I don’t have a Sunbeam sandwich press, I figured I could find some way to get them done.

I’m making spiced chicken burgers with chipotle slaw, with a roasted tomato soup as a starter. So I figured I could wrap the burgers in some flat bread instead of a pita pocket.

I occasionally buy flat breads at our local Wholesome Choice market. They make a seemingly very authentic ‘Naan-e sangak’ – or Stone-Baked Bread. I say authentic not because I have any idea, but because of the 30 to 60 minute line of people waiting for fresh bread to come out of their oven. The bread pops out of the oven every few seconds – giant loaves about 2 feet long, covered in sesame seeds and very flat. One guy kneads them out with his fingers, and the other slices them up into neat squares and shoves them in a bag. The line grows faster than they can push the bread through the ovens. And most people in line seem to be more of an expert on this then me.

So I was intrigued. Just for fun, I looked up ‘Sangak’ on the internet – and there is lots to read. The Sangak refers to the pebbly surface of the backing stone that the bread is baked on, giving it the characteristic uneven surface. As I’ve seen it made, it’s kind of a wet dough (maybe oily, I’m not sure), tricky to get onto the baking stone, and likely tricky to get off again once done baking. So I’ll leave that to the professionals.

But while looking up that, I ran across some articles in making Pita Bread – another middle Eastern style bread. I’d always filed Pita away as sort of a fringe faddy type of thing. Not really ‘cuisine’. Kind of a 60’s alfalfa sprout holdover –like tie-died T-shirts or something. People here like it, but I’ve never been wild about them.

But after reading a few Web sites’ description of how they’re made, well, I gotta try it. Just that simple!

The thing that hooked me was this magical puffing that apparently occurs as the very thin dough heats up on the super hot baking stone and traps air in its center. This (we’ll see later!) lifts the dough like a balloon while in the oven, and once out, apparently retains this pocket effect as the top and bottom bake separately before deflating back together.

Actually, there are two ways to cook the Pitas. One is in the oven at 500ºF. The other is on a hot skillet, like a tortilla.

So, of course, I have to try both ways – see which is ‘better’. I did 8 in the oven and 8 in the skillet.

The oven method worked well. I was amazed to see the little pitas puff up like a balloon after about two minutes. Since I wasn’t sure whether they were done or not after just four minutes, I left them in longer.

They finally looked browned at about 10 minutes. But that just made a puff cracker. Like a balloon cracker. Interesting to look at, but unless you’re going to be crumbling it over chowder, not the effect I was looking for.

Despite not looking browned, I took the next batch out after five minutes. That worked much better. They were still pliable, and bread-like. The final batch I took out at 4 minutes, and they were without a doubt the best. It’s naturally also true that my cooking stone probably continued to heat up over the hour of baking, possibly causing a difference between the first and last batch.

Still, less is more when it comes to pitas, I guess. They have to remain soft enough to deflate and remain bread, and at such a high temperature, 4 minutes seems to be enough.

In the skillet – it was a bit more exciting because you could watch it the entire time. My skillet was smoking hot when I put the first dough in it. At first nothing. Seconds ticked away. Nothing. Just a little smoke. Finally, as I considered evasive action to avoid burning down the kitchen, it started to puff up. Just a bit a first. You have to really watch it to even really notice. Then more and more.

I flipped it over. Again nothing. More smoke. Finally, as if by magic, the thing began to lift up along the sides. It kept lifting, moving towards the middle. Finally, the entire thing puffed up till it practically split open. Success! I was so excited, I almost forgot to get it out of the skillet before it burned. Total cooking time – maybe 2 minutes.

The difference? The oven pitas were drier and just a little stiffer. The skillet pitas were somehow moister and more flexible. Half liked the oven ones better, half liked the skillet ones better (what did you expect?).

So both methods worked – it’s all a matter of taste. But in both cases, less it more if you want to be the puff daddy!

For the burgers, I make a chipotle (smoked jalapenos) slaw out of red cabbage, chipotles, and some plain yogurt. A little lime, and honey for balance, and it’s a great way to dress up a burger.

For the burger itself, I mix all my chili spices into the ground meat – chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, onion powder, and a touch of cinnamon. I wanted to have that deep smoky flavor to complement the chipotle slaw.

All of this is stuffed into one of the pita breads.

As a starter – a roasted tomato and garlic soup with sage and thyme. Since the oven was already roaring hot – it was quick to toss in some tomatoes and garlic in olive oil, and out came a wonderful tasting soup base.

Pita Pockets Recipe
Makes: 16

2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups warm water
4 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup white flour, more as necessary for kneading
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
In a large bowl, sprinkle yeast over water. Stir to dissolve. Stir in 3 cups of the flour, 1 cup at a time. Let the sponge rest for 10 minutes or as long as 2 hours. Add the salt and oil to the sponge and stir to combine. Add more flour 1 cup at a time until the dough is to stiff to stir. Rmove the dough to a lightly floured board and knead by hand for 8 - 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Place dough in a slightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours. Punch dough down and divide in half. Divide each half into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, flatten with your hands and roll into circles about 1/4" thick. Let the dough circles rise for 10 minutes.
Method 1: Heat oven to 500ºF. My oven has a baking stone – which is likely useful for this recipe. I set the pita dough directly onto the baking stone for 4-5 minutes, and lifted them out to a board when done. They puffed up at about 2 minutes.
Method 2: Preheat a large skillet and lightly grease. Place a round in the skillet and cook about 20 seconds and turn. Cook about 1 minute, until large bubbles appear, then flip over to first side. Cook until bread balloons fully. Pitas should take about 3 minutes total. Be careful not to burn.

Chipotle Slaw

1 head red cabbage, sliced very fine
¼ of a red onion, chopped fine, and soaked in ice water for 1 minute, then dried
3-4 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped fine
½ to 1 cup plain yogurt
1-2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp honey

Mix chipotle peppers, yogurt, lime juice and honey in a large bowl. Add red cabbage and onions. Mix well. Let sit for at least one hour or longer. Stir occasionally.

Roasted Tomato and Garlic Soup with Sage and Thyme

10 large roam tomatoes, quartered
10 cloves garlic, peeled but not chopped
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup olive oil
½ cup red wine
1 onion, chopped fine
10 – 15 sage leaves
1 branch of fresh thyme
grated pecorino-romano cheese for garnish

Heat oven to 500ºF.

Toss tomato quarter and garlic in olive oil and balsamic vinegar in a large roasting pan.. Roast in oven for 30-40 minutes, until the tomatoes are charred in places. Remove from oven and let cool. If you want, you can pick off the tomato skins at this point.

In a large sauce pan, sautee onion in olive oil until soft. Add tomato mixture. Deglaze tomato roasting pan with red wine, and add to sauce pan. Add sage leaves and thyme, and 1-2 cups water (to your taste). Bring just to a boil, and reduce heat. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.

Puree soup until smooth in a food processor or blender. Return to sauce pan, and keep warm until service. Ladle into bowls, and top with grated cheese.

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Blogger Haalo said...

Yum! I'll have to try making those pita - you certainly do have the puff mojo working!

3:56 PM  
Blogger surfindaave said...

Haalo - Thanks! They were fun to make, and it was a kick to see them actually puff!

8:12 PM  

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