Friday, September 21, 2012

Fermented Friday: Beer Pitas (with a beer bottle rolling pin)

Fermented Friday: recipes featuring yeast, wine, beer or some form of fermentation.

Today's innovative use of beer bottle turned rolling pin was inspired by my brother.  Over the summer he lived on his own and began to dabble in the kitchen.  I was super impressed with his initiative to make bread and cookies each weekend to have on hand for his lunch. I often received texts with baking questions such as, "what happens if I leave out the vanilla?" or "what was that trick you use so the honey doesn't stick to the spoon?"

One weekend he called me up just as I was about to start washing my car.  (How ironic is it that I was washing the car while he was in the kitchen?!?) After he helped me figure out which of the 12 bottles of car soap in our garage was okay for me to use, I walked him through a few options for a cookie recipe gone askew. The next question was something along the lines of "can I use margarine in place of shortening?"  Well, that depends on what your using it for.  Margarine is 80% fat and 20% water while shortening is 100% fat.  Long story short,  (wait, this isn't very short is it?) he was out of tortillas and decided to make his own! Seeing as I've never made my own tortillas, I wasn't quite sure how the substitution would work out and suggested he try it out but perhaps use a little less water.  It wasn't until later that I realized he didn't have a rolling pin.  Necessity is the mother of invention, especially when thinking like a typical college-age guy.  Who needs rolling pins when you have beer bottles?

I think he deserves an extra round of applause for coming up with a beer bottle rolling pin, not to mention the fact that he made his own tortillas!  Instead of using a beer bottle to roll out tortillas, I decided to try my hand at pita bread.  Honey wheat pitas with honeyed wheat beer to be exact.

Pita bread is baked quickly at high temperatures causing it to swell and puff. This leaves a pocket in the center perfect for stuffing with your favorite sandwich fixings.  This puffy pocket only formed in about one third of the pitas I made.  The rest failed to puff and turned out more like a flat bread.  While still delicious as a flat bread and perfect for dipping, it wasn't what I was shooting for.  I actually get a better understanding of things when they don't work the first time as it forces me to break it down and think a little before proceeding.  Life would be dull if everything went according to plan. .

I used quick-rising yeast simply due to the fact that we had two jars in our fridge.  Wrong move. It wasn't until after the fact that I realized quick-rising yeast doesn't need to be rehydrated (which I did) and should not be used when the dough rises in the refrigerator (which I also decided to do).  Planning ahead instead of making this up as I went would have been quite helpful.  It was one of those days when I had so many choices I just decided to get to work and see/feel what was happening rather than plan and ponder the what-ifs.  That usually leads to using over-stocked ingredients rather than the ideal ingredient. When will I ever learn?  On a positive note, it's now permanently engraved in my mind that quick-rising yeast doesn't need to be rehydrated and shouldn't be used in refrigerated dough.

I'm guessing I also rolled the pitas too thin.  Rolling with a beer bottle totally works, I guess I just took it too far. Aim for 1/8 to 1/4-inch thickness.  I also may have let the dough sit too long, but I'm not sure on that one.  Moisture is an important aspect in achieving the perfect puff. Water in the dough turns to steam causing the pita to inflate.  I kept my dough very moist so this wasn't the issue.  Be sure not to add too much flour when kneading and rolling, and keep a spray bottle on hand for misting the tops if needed.  The high temperature of the oven is also key here.  Opening the oven trying to take pictures is not conducive to pita making.

This is the part where I wish I had the time and resources to test out each variable and find the perfect technique.  I was lucky to get these out of the oven and photographed before heading to work.  I'll let you know when I try them again, but until then here's what I did for your starting point.  Whether you get puffy pita pockets or flat bread will depend on your technique, but either way they'll be delicious.

Wheat Beer Pita Bread

1 cup honey wheat beer, room temperature (I used Leinenkugel Honey Weiss, but any wheat beer will do)
2 tsp quick-rising yeast (read post for explanation of a better choice)
2 tsp honey
2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups all-purpose flour

* In a large bowl mix beer, yeast and honey; let stand 10 minutes. Add salt, oil, whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour. Stir to incorporate as much flour as possible. Using your hands, knead in the rest of the flour.  Knead dough until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.
* Spray the inside of a 1-gallon resealable bag with non-stick cooking spray. Place dough in bag, seal and let rise in the refrigerator overnight to develop flavors.
* Remove dough from bag and knead 1 to 2 minutes more.  Divide dough into 12 pieces and shape into balls. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let stand 1 hour.
* Meanwhile, place a baking stone in the center of the oven and preheat to 500 degrees F for at least 30 minutes.
* Using a clean beer bottle or rolling pin, evenly roll each piece into a 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick circle. Cover and let rest 10 minutes.
* Using a floured pizza peel, quickly slide several pitas onto hot baking stone.  Bake 2 to 3 minutes or until puffed. Remove from oven and wrap in a clean kitchen towel.  Repeat with remaining pitas. Store in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag.

Food for Thought: "If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely." -Roald Dahl

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