I tinkered with the idea of doing a post today about Pulaski Day, a wholly Chicago holiday. All my friends from college who grew up in Chicago used to talk wistfully of the holiday. For one reason: growing up, this holiday awarded them with a day off from school. Apparently, schools have scaled back on that perk, but it’s still a government holiday. In honor of Casimir’s big day, I considered making Polish specialties like stuffed cabbage or pierogi. But, instead of making either of those two stuffed dishes, I made something decidedly unstuffed instead. I baked pita bread, known, of course, for it’s vacuous middle.
So, today it’s going to be less Pulaski and more pita. And, about baking pita bread, can I just say: cool. The whole process is not unlike baking any old loaf of bread. You proof the yeast, you let the dough rise, you knead. But, instead of a dense, solid loaf, you end up with puffed rounds. You place full moons of two-dimensional dough on your oven rack and, presto, you open the door a mere three (!) minutes later to find swollen, entirely three-dimensional breads. It’s as though little elves have injected each round with a poof of hot air.
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)
And not only are the rounds inflated, but they are irresitably golden. I’ll warn you now: they will softly urge you to tear into them, exposing their spacious pockets and emitting a tendril of steam. And the hot, still pliant flesh will implore you to tear off a ragged piece, swipe it through a pool of extra-virgin olive oil and savor each chewy bite. Um. Or, at least that’s what happened to me.
And after you have snapped out of this reverie (which might cost you a couple pitas, so plan accordingly), you will start to scheme about what you can tuck inside your fresh pitas. Your mind might wander from thoughts of piping hot falafel swathed in creamy hummus to visions of roasted vegetables, mixed with crumbled feta. But, if you’re like me, you will ultimately settle on your most favorite sandwich ingredients: thinly shaved turkey, the sharpest cheddar, spicy arugula and slivers of red onion. Heaven.
Whole Wheat Pita Bread
1 (1/4-oz) package active dry yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon honey
1 1/4 cups warm water (105-115°F)
2 cups bread flour or high-gluten flour, plus additional for kneading
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
Cornmeal for sprinkling baking sheets
Stir together yeast, honey, and 1/2 cup warm water in a large bowl, then let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If mixture doesn’t foam, discard and start over with new yeast.)
While yeast mixture stands, stir together flours in another bowl. Whisk 1/2 cup flour mixture into yeast mixture until smooth, then cover with plastic wrap and let stand in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled in bulk and bubbly, about 45 minutes. Stir in oil, salt, remaining 3/4 cup warm water, and remaining 2 1/2 cups flour mixture until a dough forms.
Turn out dough onto a floured surface and knead, working in just enough additional flour to keep dough from sticking, until dough is smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes. Form dough into a ball and put in an oiled large bowl, turning to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise in draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Punch down dough and cut into 8 pieces. Form each piece into a ball. Flatten 1 ball, then roll out into a 6 1/2- to 7-inch round on floured surface with a floured rolling pin. Transfer round to 1 of 2 baking sheets lightly sprinkled with cornmeal. Make 7 more rounds in same manner, arranging them on baking sheets. Loosely cover pitas with 2 clean kitchen towels (not terry cloth) and let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.
Set oven rack in lower third of oven and remove other racks. Preheat oven to 500°F.
Transfer 4 pitas, 1 at a time, directly onto oven rack. Bake until just puffed and pale golden, about 2 minutes. Turn over with tongs and bake 1 minute more. Cool pitas on a cooling rack 2 minutes, then stack and wrap loosely in a kitchen towel to keep pitas warm. Bake remaining 4 pitas in same manner. Serve warm.