Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bread Baker's Apprentice 17/43: lavash crackers and pita bread

The last time I baked from The Bread Baker's Apprentice, Conan O'Brien was still on NBC. They were lighting the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. Winter was on its way, and I was, how do you say, with child even though I didn't know it yet. For someone who claimed that she was going to make all her own bread from now on, it has been a long, lonely hiatus indeed.

But I always knew I'd return. I'd watch the blogs of my fellow Bread Baker's Apprentice challengers as they baked loaf after loaf, speeding through the book with yeasty abandon while I was stuck in the never-never land between kaiser rolls and lavash crackers. I wondered if I'd been left behind, lapped many times over by more enterprising bakers who were already deep into the Ps. But I took solace in the fact that we were all permitted to go our own pace (even our dear leader was slowing up a tad). I knew it wasn't a race. I knew someday soon the bread-baking urge would strike again.

Part of my lag had to do with the fact that I was stuck on lavash crackers -- a recipe I had attempted before, for the Daring Bakers back in September 2008. I liked the crackers when I made them back then, but I wasn't totally enthusiastic to make them again. So I kept putting it off. And putting it off some more. Until one day a few weeks ago when -- staring at the lavash cracker recipe, willing my hands to begin working with flour -- I noticed a note in the margin. It said that the lavash cracker dough can also be used to make pita bread.

And thus was revealed the answer for which I had been waiting all these months: I could make the lavash crackers without really making the lavash crackers, while at the same time attempting homemade pita -- something I'd been hankering to do for a long, long time. I was a baker with a plan, a woman on a mission. No longer stalled on lavash, I was ready to take up the glorious mantle of the Bread Baker's Apprentice once again. I hoped my fellow bakers hadn't given up on me.

I made the pitas this past weekend and they were so amazing (and easy) that I had to make another batch, right away. I had forgotten how simple it is to make one's own bread, and how truly delicious the result. These pitas are especially easy: one quick 90-minute rise, a flattening trip under the rolling pin and just a few minutes on a 500-degree baking stone and -- hey! -- just like that, homemade pita. People will marvel at you when you present a big tray of hummus, veggies and pita and then explain that you made the bread yourself. Then they will marvel some more when they actually taste the soft pita, which is so much tastier than the store-bought stuff. (It is up to you whether you wish to divulge how easy it is to make your own.)

So here I go again. Just yesterday I vowed that I will always make my own pita from scratch, never again to reach for the grocery variety. I am again full of vigor and enthusiasm for bread baking. It's nice to be back.


The Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge asks that we do not share Reinhart's recipes. That said, if you are the least bit enterprising, you can find the lavash cracker recipe elsewhere on this blog (and linked to from elsewhere in this post). Even so, I know you all have the book anyway, so turn to page 178 and begin making pita, or crackers, or both.

The pita instructions can be found in the margins of page 178. A few pita-notes:
First, the lavash cracker recipe as written makes only four 3-oz. pitas (or two larger 6-oz. pitas). That is woefully inadequate. I choose to double the lavash cracker dough and make eight 3-oz. pitas, which are a good size for sandwiches and for cutting into hummus-dipping wedges. Second, the process: preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, with a stone inside if you have one. Take the finished lavash cracker dough (after it's risen for 90 minutes and doubled in bulk) and then divide it into 8 equal portions. Roll out each portion until it's a circle a little less than a quarter-inch thick. Bake the rounds directly on the 500-degree stone. Third, I had great success baking the pitas on a stone, though the recipe states they can be baked on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Finally, the pitas only need a few minutes in the oven to begin to puff. Take them out right when they puff, and before they begin to take on color. If you let them brown in the oven, they will be much too crispy and crackery for traditional pita purposes (but the dog and probably your husband will still like them).

PS. I'm submitting these pitas to Yeastspotting because I am thrilled by them and choose to act like I am the first person in the world who has ever baked pitas at home.

And for one last piece o' business, check out these other Bread Baker's apprentices and their lavash successes:


Previously, on A Stove With A House Around It:

One year ago: Tim Tam cheesecake
Two years ago: truck-stop cinnamon rolls

Monday, April 19, 2010

These days I languish

I really haven't been feeling very human of late. I'm usually a pretty energetic person, and even though I do enjoy more than a few time-sucking television programs, I like to think that I am industrious. That I get stuff done. That, like the lady in the Cake song with the short skirt and the long jacket, I am touring the facility and picking up slack. House stuff. Cooking and baking stuff. Gardening stuff. I used to sit down only rarely on the weekends, instead moving from task to task, edging flower beds and baking bread and transplanting tomato seedlings, making my little corner of the world a little bit nicer for myself, Husband and pup Jet.

But these days I languish. I can rarely stay awake through an entire episode of CSI: NY, let alone bake a hearth bread. Husband keeps reminding me that although I might not actively realize it, I am doing quite a lot of work -- growing a small human and all. I wasn't prepared for what an exhausting task that truly is. So I try to feel righteous in my sloth, deserving of my time in the reclining chair. But it's not who I am. So I go a little stir crazy. And complain that I'm wasting too much time! There's too much work to be done! Patient Husband, who is so helpful and kind as to nearly achieve martyrdom status, talks me down every time. He is a good man.

Take for example Saturday night. It was about 7:30 p.m. and I was complaining about how I felt I hadn't gotten anything done that day. I should just go to bed, I whined. Husband said, "Why don't you bake something? I'll help you." He was so cute and earnest I couldn't turn him down.

"Would you make toasted coconut and chocolate chip cookies with me?" I replied, sheepishly.

He immediately got to work chopping chocolate.

These cookies are super easy to make, perfect if you're feeling lazy but would still like a home-baked treat to top off a lazy, rainy Saturday. They're chock full of toasty coconut and 70% cacao chocolate (I actually doubled the amount of chocolate from the original recipe, which seemed very very skimpy indeed). And they come from a Cooking Light article about how dark chocolate and coconut can now be considered to contain the "good" version of saturated fat. They are healthy! In moderation! (Whatever.)

So my goodness, people. Bake and eat up.


Adapted from Cooking Light

It makes every bit of sense in the world to me to double this recipe. It only makes about 20 cookies as is, and I see no reason to have 20 cookies when you could easily have 40.

1 c. flaked sweetened coconut
4.5 oz. all-purpose flour (about 1 c.)
1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1/8 t. kosher salt
3/4 c. light brown sugar, packed
1/4 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 t. vanilla extract
1 large egg
4 oz. dark chocolate (70% cacao), coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread the coconut on a baking sheet and toast in the oven, stirring every few minutes, for 7-10 minutes, or until the coconut is a toasty shade of light brown. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. (Leave the oven at 350 degrees.)

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and stir with a whisk until blended. Place the brown sugar and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat with the paddle attachment at medium speed until well-combined. Beat in the vanilla and egg. Add the flour mixture and beat at low speed until combined. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, stir in the toasted coconut and chopped chocolate.

Using a spring-loaded ice cream scoop (or rounded tablespoons), drop the batter onto a Silpat- or parchment-lined baking sheet. Make sure the cookies are 2 inches apart. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through the baking. Let the cookies sit on the baking sheet for about 2 minutes before moving them to a wire rack to cool.

Makes about 20 cookies.


Previously, on A Stove With A House Around It:

One year ago: potato-leek soup
Two years ago: lemony lima bean, chickpea and zucchini salad

Thursday, April 1, 2010

My affliction as well

Though I am not Jewish, I must admit that Passover, to a certain extent, is the bread of my affliction as well.

Husband keeps kosher for Passover, an act which I greatly admire. But the stark reality is: this carb-loving shiksa finds it challenging to make it through eight nights without being able to eat pasta with her husband. Take this afternoon for example. I was craving pizza like nobody's business. I was all excited that Husband was to be finished with work at 6:00 p.m. It's a beautiful warm spring night and I relished the drive to the best pizza place in Akron. And then I realized it's Passover. Husband can't have pizza. My dreams were dashed. Curses.

What I have found over the years, however, is that quinoa is kosher for Passover. And quinoa is satisfyingly grain-y and filling, so much so that one almost forgets that one is supposed to be eating only matzoh. Several years ago I found a Grant Achatz recipe for quinoa with caramelized onions -- which is so simple that I keep wondering how it is that the recipe is Grant Achatz's, he of the ethereal molecular gastronomic paradise that is Alinea (BUBBLE GUM long pepper hibiscus creme fraiche anyone?) -- and I knew it would become a Passover staple in our house. Because if there's anything that Husband loves, it's being a Jew. A Jew who would eat caramelized onions by the bowlful, with a spoon.

And so! If it is Passover, there is quinoa with caramelized onions. For the second-night Seder this year I paired it with chicken tikka masala -- non-traditional to be sure but delicious and kosher nonetheless.

Everything went perfectly with the Hillel sandwich, and even my nephew got in on the act, reading the four questions and searching for the afikoman for the old-school reward of just $1. Though Husband was the only Jew at the table, all were sated and happy and, well, reclining.


Adapted from Grant Achatz's recipe, from an old issue of Food & Wine

I used a mixture of "regular" and red quinoa for this dish, because it was what I had in the pantry. Feel free to use whatever quinoa you have and enjoy.

3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds white or yellow onions, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly-cracked black pepper
1 1/2 c. quinoa, rinsed and drained
2 1/2 c. water

Heat 2 T. of the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onions and cook over low heat, stirring often, until meltingly soft and deep golden, about 30 minutes. As the onions begin to look dry and stick to the bottom of the pan, stir through a little bit of water. You might need to do this a few times. When the onions are deep brown, season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside (leaving them in the skillet, off the heat).

Heat the remaining 1 T. of olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the quinoa and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until light golden and fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Add the water and 3/4 t. of kosher salt and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat to low and cook until all of the water has been absorbed and the quinoa is tender, about 12-15 minutes.

Fluff the quinoa with a fork and add it to the skillet with the caramelized onions, stirring to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.

Serves 8.


Previously, on A Stove With A House Around It:

One year ago: King Boo and Hot Wheels
Two years ago: more Nephew birthday cakes