Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 20, 2013

Foodie with Family: Pitas do it all

Local columnist

---- — I have two teenagers and three more coming up through the ranks. Can we talk about that for a moment?

I entered the parenting of teens with a bit of trepidation. Teenagers, after all, have a reputation for surliness and difficulty. It didn’t take me long to realize something, though.

I like my teenagers. Oh sure, they’re weird. Their ability to produce dirty laundry is legendary. The cost of feeding them is getting close to mortgage payment territory. They’re a little malodorous on the days when they decide hygiene is for quitters. I don’t get two-thirds of their jokes because most of them are inside jokes with their buddies. Their voices are deep like their dad’s. It’s kind of other-worldly to have to look at the people talking to discern whether it’s your husband or one of your sons. I can’t lie about that. One of them is taller than me by a mile and the other subtly sidles up and measures himself against me several times daily. He is either gaining rapidly or I am shrinking.

My goodness, though, what these young men can do. They hoist 50-pound bags of flour, sugar and chicken feed around like they’re nothing. They draw straws for the privilege of mowing the lawn. I haven’t put one toe or thumb on either our riding mower or our push mower in a couple of years. They walk and clean up after the dogs. One of them has taken over our gardening and the other loves to make breakfast for the family. They babysit their little brothers from time to time so their dad and I can scoot the two miles into town to have a cup of tea-for-me-coffee-for-him. That we sip quickly, praying that we will not come home to a house afire or a pile of teeth that were knocked out while stunts were being attempted, is neither here nor there. Those 15 minutes of toe-tapping time are extremely relaxing.

The boys aren’t just muscles with stomachs, though. Their natural silliness assures that our house is always full of laughter. Believe me, I value this as much as any heavy lifting or household chore they do for me. I can’t help but conclude that the people who tried to scare me off of children because of teenagers are just trying to hoard all the teens for themselves. I’m onto you, people.

I’m still that mom who drags her kids to the park every day there’s marginally nice weather. Picnics are the best. And there is simply no bread more fun than pita bread for a picnic lunch. No matter what you stuff it with or roll it around, tender pita bread is the stuff (get it?) of dreamy summer meals. Let me tell you, too, that those boys of mine can stuff a pita to capacity.

Important Note: It may take some experimenting to get the temperature right in your oven. If it isn’t puffing, the oven isn’t hot enough. Don’t despair if you end up with a pile of un-poufed pitas, though. Wrapped tightly and stored in the freezer, they make wonderful quick pizza crusts.

Pita Bread

3 c. (12 ¾ oz. by weight) all-purpose flour

1 T. non-fat instant dry milk

2 t. instant yeast

2 t. sugar

1 ½ t. salt

1 pinch (1/8 t.) baking powder

1 c. (8 oz. by weight) lukewarm water

2 T. canola, vegetable or grapeseed oil

Whisk dry ingredients together, add water and combine by hand until a shaggy dough forms. Turn dough onto a lightly floured work surface, knead 10 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic. Put dough into oiled bowl, cover with a towel, and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1 hour or until puffy and marshmallow-y in texture.

Turn dough out onto lightly oiled work surface, cut into 8 pieces (be sure to cut the dough and not tear it.). Put one piece of dough in front of you on work surface. Cover unworked pieces with towel. Roll the piece in front of you into 1/4-inch-thick circle, put on lightly oiled baking sheet. The shape and diameter of the dough is not as important as the thickness. If you roll the dough too vigorously, it may not puff in the oven. Repeat the process with as many pieces of dough as you can fit on the oiled baking sheet, leaving 2 inches between each dough round. Let them rest for 15 minutes before baking. You can let the next batch rest while the first batch is baking.

Preheat oven to 500°F with one rack as low as it can go and another near the top of the oven. Bake one tray of pitas on the lowest rack for 5 minutes, or until puffy. If they have not puffed, you will need to raise the temperature of your oven by 5° for the next batch. In my oven, I get the best “pouf” on my pita bread at 515°F. You may have to experiment with your oven a bit to see which temperature works best for you.

Raise the pan to the upper rack of the oven and bake for an additional 1-2 minutes, or until the pitas are light golden brown. Remove from the oven and wrap in a clean, dry, tea towel or flour sack towel to cool. This keeps the finished pitas tender and soft. Finish baking the rest of the pitas. Store the cooled pitas in zip-lock bags at room temperature. As with most bread, it is best on the day it is made but is still good for a couple of days beyond baking. After 3 days, though, it should be made into bread crumbs or pita chips.