Allow me to paint you a picture…it's 7am in the morning, you are blinking at the sudden glowing fireball in the sky wondering where it came from, the coffee is just starting to perk you up and your brain is slowing de-thawing from last night's debauchery (I'm not here to judge..it's okay.). Suddenly from the window you smell the heavenly scent of fresh baked bread and almost, just almost, you reach for your coat. But wait…no…the bakery down the street charges like $8 something for a tiny, though mouth watering-ly tasty, bun. Oh yeah, and the line stretches around the corner and there's always that guy on his cellphone at 7:30am with a business call. Who has a business call at 7:30am anyway? Plus, that $8 dollars was spent on a disappointing, expensive microbrew made with Unicorn hair and the tears of a Mermaid.
Well, you're just out of luck. Another morning with a stale, overpriced loaf chalked up with Diacetyl Tartaric Acid Esters of Monoglycerides and other silly dough conditioners that are just as hard to pronounce. Rejoice my friends. I'm going to teach you how to make, what I believe, to be 3 of the most versatile bread recipes that I know of. Starting with the easiest and least time consuming. As full disclosure, my recipes are loosely based on the titular Mark Bittman, whom if you aren't aware, has two of the best cookbooks period. How To Cook Everything and How To Cook Everything Vegetarian.
Anyway…the first recipe!
Fresh Pita (or a basis from anything else you can think of)
This one is dead simple and I happen to always have a batch or two in my freezer, if not sitting on the windowsill waiting to be accompanied with my meal. I use this primarily as a pita bread. Instead of forming a loaf after a rise, I just punch it down and roll it out a bit. Why? Because in my travels I've found that access to an oven is…well…normally nonexistent. But access to a fire, stove top or electric skillet? Always.
Truly, this would make a fantastically moist and rich bread if you baked it in an oven. Better yet, inside a ceramic pot within an oven. That is beautiful bread. But lots of us don't have access to those things. So a skillet or hot rock it is. Yep, these ones are backpacker friendly. So let's get down to business.
Ingredients:3 cups of flour (I use all-purpose because it's cheap, but if you have fancy triple-sifted organic stuff…use that!) 2 teaspoons of yeast (dry or instant yeast…either is fine due to the short rise time) 2 teaspoons of salt 1/2 teaspoon of sugar 3 tablespoons of olive oil (my suggestion? Try using a flavored oil as it will lend it's taste to the bread) ~1 1/2 cups of warm water (right before testing finger ouchies..which for you science types is ~120°F-130°F)
Got those? Good, that's just about the hardest part. For your first step, you simply have to mix together the dry ingredients. That's the salt, sugar, yeast and flour.
Now add the oil into that and mix it up until the dough seems like there's a lot of tiny balls of oil locked in the dough. Honestly just whip around with a whisk, there's nothing fancy to this step.
Next slowly, did a mention slowly? SLOWLY add your water. That does not mean pour it slowly all at once. That means add a little bit.
Mix the dough, add some more water, mix it again, continue this and then stop when your dough forms a slightly sticky ball. Done. Easy no? If your dough seems too sticky, you can add flour using the same process to get a more manageable ball.
After this step, just cover it and walk away for about 2 hours. Obviously, you can allow it to rise longer and it will develop a more complex flavor, however, 2 hours works well for our purposes here. Although my typical method is to get to this step the night before and toss it into the fridge to rise overnight.
Once you rough has risen you can knead it and form it into whatever shape you want, freeze it for later, or slice it up into smaller chunks and roll out some pita bread.
To make these in the skillet, simply turn it on to Medium-Medium High with just a little oil (or be a bit more indulgent and use butter) and fry them for about 4-5 minutes on both sides. They will get puffy and nicely golden brown.
Just tonight I used this dough to make fresh hamburger buns and it was fantastic. All the juices of the meat and oil got absorbed but this bread is strong enough not to get soggy. That's all there is to it! As a side note, you can also slice these and fill the middle in true 'Pita' style.
Happy bread making!