Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Pita Perfection

So a casual question from a friend had me wondering why I hadn't baked the pita breads in my previous post on 'pita au chocolat'. I love baking bread and I am a huge fan of pita so why have I only tried to bake them once in my life and then allowed my failure to put me off for over 20 years. So another attempt was well overdue and I am delighted to report this batch put an end to my pita baking anxieties.

The recipe, available online, came from Dan Lepard, and truly lives up to its title Perfect Plain Pita , published in the Guardian way back in 2007. The recipe is also included in his excellent baking book Short and Sweet.

This dough is quite soft, well frankly quite sticky, and I found myself slowly kneading in a little extra flour.  I know the current mantra in 'real bread' is that wet is better and I'm not in disagreement, but there comes a point when the 'better' dough is the one you can actually cope with and if that means a little extra flour well so be it. Better to enjoy the process and trade off a not so perfect texture than to be bossed around in your own kitchen by an amorphous mass of flour and water.

So my dough ball was no doubt a little firmer than it should be but it was still quite 'flowing' until I had gone through the stages of kneading lightly every 10 minutes for three times and then the 30 minute rest.  So here it is at the end of that stage.

The dough is then portioned up into 100g pieces and a plastic dough cutter is really useful here.

The dough is still pretty sticky and although I have a more than  a 'light dusting' of flour on the counter top I do try to not work the flour into the dough. The dough balls are rested under a cloth for 15 minutes and during this time the oven should be on preheating. Place a good thick baking tray in there as well so the dough goes onto a really hot surface straight away. My oven has a circotherm intense setting that heats to 270C which I use for these as like with pizza you are aiming at a short intense bake.

The rested dough portions are then rolled out into the traditional ovals and rested for a couple more minutes each before baking. I had them on a flat tray for this rest so that they can be slipped straight off this tray onto the hot tray in the oven as quickly as possible rather like using a pizza peel. 

Then the magic starts as the breads balloon up in the oven into magnificent puffs and within 5 minutes you have piping hot and beautifully tender pita.

The baked pita are placed on a rack and covered with a cloth to keep them soft and tender. Check the oven is back up to temperature before you pop in the next batch and pretty soon you will be looking at a beautiful batch of tender pita that I hope you will be very proud of. I may never buy pita bread again!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Pita au Chocolat

I live many miles from any half decent bakeries that might turn out a pain au chocolat worth the calories so when nothing but a freshly prepared 'chocolate pastry' will do this in my book is a pretty good and near instant alternative (all things considered).

I have been a fan of pita bread since I was a student, which is now ancient history, so I am a little biased when it comes to selling the virtues of the humble pita.  So here you are, two ingredients, about two minutes prep and you have a freshly warm from the toaster chocolate 'pastry'.

I start by splitting the pita in half before toasting. Time is of the essence once toasted and you do not want too many holes and splits created as you pull the toasted pita apart.

Have your chosen chocolate at the ready and thinner squares are best here to aid rapid melting. I like to use about a 60% plain chocolate, fairly sweet as plain chocolate goes, but still with enough cocoa flavour to pack aroma once melted.

Toast the pita halves briefly so that they are really hot through but not starting to go at all crispy. Then split each half to make the 'pockets'. Try not to make holes unless you like messy chocolate fingers.

Now working quickly, pop the slabs of chocolate into your pita pockets and push together to aid the melting. If you have used quite thick chocolate you may need to give the filled pocket a brief warm either by popping into the microwave for a few seconds (no more) or placing the pocket on top of the still warm toaster (risky this one as you may end up with chocolate inside the toaster).

You might also want to add a healthy fruit garnish at this stage.

Then as soon as you have a good melt on the chocolate and while the whole thing is still nice and warm enjoy!

Beats a pop tart any day.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

We Should Cocoa Challenge #38 Chocolate & Vegetables

This month's We Should Cocoa challenge comes to us from jibberjabberuk who has picked vegetables as the guest ingredient to combine into our chocolate creations.

I seem to have eaten a lot of cake and sweet stuff in recent weeks so I set about picking a savoury recipe and with the help of the Eat Your Books service I was quickly looking at a whole range of options for sneaking chocolate into savoury creations. The recipe that really stood out for me though was this black bean soup with chocolate and chillies by Dennis Cotter.  This particular recipe was taken from the internet but I have three of his books and the recipes are nothing short of genius. They are all vegetarian and although it can take quite a while to put a whole dish together the results are the sort of dishes you would serve to any mixed group of vegetarians or meat eaters and not feel anyone would be disappointed.

The recipe calls for black kidney beans but I used some really tasty small black beans from Brazil; the sort that are used in the national dish Feijoada.   I had to substitute the chipotle chilli with some red chilli flakes and the avocado I had purchased for the salsa was rock hard so that was abandoned but otherwise I kept quite close to the recipe.

 The spices of cumin, coriander and allspice give the soup a lovely warm depth and when you stir in the chocolate right at the end the soup darkens and stops looking like 'just bean stew' and suddenly like something quite sophisticated. I did add some white cheese to my improvised salsa but that was more to do with having too much cheese in the fridge.

So the vegetables that go into the soup include onions, garlic, fresh red pepper, celery and tomato and in the salsa you should have avocado, scallions and coriander.

The soup reheats very well and you can easily add other ingredients like cooked chicken, pork,  yoghurt, tortilla chips to add variety.

Oh and it goes really well with a glass of beer!

Sources for some of the ingredients:
Black turtle beans are similar to the beans I used and are available from www.mexgrocer, melbury and appleton and some larger supermarkets
Chipotle chillies can be bought in tins from specialist grocers like the 'mex grocer' above and my old favourite from visits to Edinburgh- lupe pintos

Oh, and as we are talking about chocolate you can also get these lovely mexican hot chocolate stirers from 'mex grocer', they are called  molinillo  

Chocolate Stirrer - Mexican wood molinillo