I never saw pitta bread – or pita as it is also spelled – in American supermarkets when I was growing up in New England. Such a pity – or is it a pitty? I first noticed these flat, vaguely ovoid white vehicles for exotic, gloopy foods when I moved to Paris. That’s when my taste buds experienced new things and my culinary base broadened. Alas, my own base broadened as well…
People have been making these traditional Middle-Eastern flat breads by hand for centuries, so I figured my Thermomix could make them in half the time. Lo and behold, Janie Turner thought of it before me and I found a handy recipe in my Fast and Easy Cooking, so off I went for a new bread-making adventure.
I made my pitas with fresh yeast this time. Fresh yeast is available in the UK in supermarkets with in-store bakeries; just politely ask one of the bakers for some. They’ll usually charge 30 p – 40 p per 100 grams; that should make up to 5 standard loaves or recipes. In America, I recall being able to purchase little squares of Fleischmann’s Fresh Active Yeast somewhere in the cold shelf. I’ve heard that you can buy it this way in the UK, too, even online. In my experience, the difference between fresh yeast and the various kinds of dried is amazing, producing higher rising loaves with a slightly yeastier taste. Some of it is down to the atmosphere in your kitchen (don’t laugh, I’m serious), e.g., temperature, drafts, or lack thereof. We make a loaf of bread or bread sticks/rolls in our Thermomix home demonstrations and I am constantly amazed at how the bread rises perfectly and quickly in some people’s kitchens and hasn’t even gotten started rising after two hours in others. My kitchen doesn’t seem to be overly “bread friendly,” so I find that the faster, more active rising action of live (fresh) yeast gives me better results. In the end, it’s a matter of taste, convenience and supply. Personally, I always keep dried yeast on hand in the cupboard but use fresh whenever I can.
This recipe is very close to the basic Thermomix bread recipe, but with less oil and more water. It yields a very sticky dough that’s fun to work with.
Pitta breads are fun to make because you shape them by hand, much like you’d shape a pizza base. Have plenty of extra flour on hand – and on your hands – grab the kids and have a pitta party! Requires yeast and rising time. Makes 8 to 12 individual breads.
400 g strong white and/or strong brown flour
1 sachet instant yeast or 20 g fresh yeast
10 g salt
10 g olive plus a little extra for the bowl
240 g water
- Mix all ingredients 20 seconds/Speed 5.
- Knead 3 minutes/Dough setting (interval). Tip out the dough into a well-oiled bowl and turn the dough to coat it evenly. Cover with a tea towel (that’s a dish towel in America; these Brits are crazy about their tea!) and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size.
- Pre-heat your oven with a large baking sheet or pizza stone in it, to 230° C/450° F/Gas 8. Turn the raised dough out onto a well-floured board and divide into 8 pieces. (Your stiff Thermomix spatula blade works well for this – thanks, Quirky Jo!) Flatten and stretch your dough pieces into thin ovals, about ¼ inch / 6 mm thick. Have an adult place the shaped breads on the hot baking sheet or pizza stone and bake 6 minutes until well risen and a pale gold colour. They should puff up and make a pocket. I made some of mine too thin so there was no room for a pocket of steam to create the pocket in the pita. One learns from experience on the 2nd or 3rd batch! Aga ovens: bake pitta breads directly on the floor of the Roasting Oven.
- Remove from the oven, cool slightly then immediately place in a tightly closed plastic bag for at least 15 minutes to soften and flatten slightly.
Variation: Chop some garlic and/or chillies into the flour before mixing. I had some homegrown parsley on hand and used this; cilantro/coriander would be delicious, too.
For a real Middle-Eastern treat, serve with some hummus and baba ghanoush, using torn or sliced pitta bread pieces and crudités to scoop up the dips.
Fast and Easy Hummus
From page 40 of Fast and Easy Cooking. Turn into a pretty bowl, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle parsley and paprika on top. Serves 6 to 10.
a few sprigs of parsley to garnish
3 cloves garlic
150 g tahini paste or sesame seeds
2 tins chick peas or cannellini beans or even butter beans, drained but save the liquid
juice of 1 lemon (or more to taste)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of paprika to serve
- Prepare some of the ingredients: Chop the parsley by dropping it onto the running blades at Speed 5 and turn off immediately. Tip out and reserve. Peel the garlic cloves 4 seconds/Speed 4 ½ / Reverse Blade function. If using sesame seeds, grind 30 seconds/Speed 10 until a paste.
- Blend all ingredients (except parsley and paprika) on Speed 9 while stirring with TM spatula through the hole in the TM lid until smooth, adding a little chick pea or bean liquid if required to make a smooth, moist paste.
- Scrape down the sides and lid of the TM bowl, then blend again. Taste to check the seasoning and add more lemon juice, cumin or oil if necessary.
Nigel Slater’s Classic Baba Ghanoush
Based on Nigel Slater’s indications in The Guardian to make this traditional Middle-Eastern dip.I whacked my oven up to 250° C/480° F and char-baked my aubergines on the top shelf with my pitta breads on the bottom shelf. Worked brilliantly, and saved energy, too.
3 large aubergines/eggplants
about 1 tbsp ground cumin or other spice such as ras el hanout
2 cloves garlic
juice of 1 or 2 lemons
150 g tahini paste
50 g olive oil plus more for grilling the aubergines
- Pre-heat oven to 250° C/480° F. Cut 3 large aubergines in half lengthwise and score the flesh in a deep criss-cross pattern. Sprinkle liberally with olive oil and top with cumin or ras el hanout. Place on a tray and bake until the skin has charred and the flesh is very soft.
- Peel your garlic 4 seconds/Speed 4 ½ / Reverse Blade function and discard the skins. Scrape the flesh from the charred skins of the aubergines/eggplants and add to the 2 cloves of peeled garlic in your TM bowl. Add the juice of one lemon, the tahini paste and olive oil plus a grinding of salt and pepper. Whisk 1 minute/Speed 9.
- Scrape sides of TM bowl. Taste and re-season as required, adding the juice of your second lemon to give it a sharper taste. Whisk again a few seconds, tip into a pretty bowl and serve with a trickle of olive oil.
We were having friends over for dinner and serving a chicken tagine with lemon and olives, so pitta bread, crudités, hummus and baba ghanoush rounded out the meal nicely. That and a cool bottle of Storks’ Tower 2009 Tempranillo-Syrah Rosé, that is!
Thermomix is a tool and you are the genius that controls it. Use your imagination!
Bon appétit !
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