I'm a passionate and experimental bread maker, so when my community association put out a call for classes, I suggested we learn to make bread. So many of my friends have tried to make bread - and bombed - that they think bread making is difficult. Nothing could be further from the truth. Once you get the hang of it, bread is the simplest thing in the world.
After all, bread is the one food that has been consistently feeding a good part of the world for thousands of years. You can make it with the most basic ingredients - flour, water and yeast -and cook it on any surface including a hot rock. The difference between breads is not the ingredients, but how the dough is shaped and baked. You can use the same dough to make a French baguette, Italian pizza or Middle Eastern pita.
My friends’ problem is that they were overly ambitious. They decided that, if they’re going to make bread, it might as well be the healthiest, darkest, grainiest bread going. Imagine their disappointment when it turned out as hard as a rock. If they had been less virtuous and learned first to make a good white loaf, they might have stuck with bread making long enough to learn to handle a grainy dough.
My first bread class was tonight. I showed the group (12 adults and kids) how to make a basic white dough, then we cooked it as both baguettes and pitas. It was great to see everyone crouched in front of the oven door watching the pitas puff up and balloon to create the pocket. I’m sure that children have been watching that with fascination for the past 6,000 years.
Here’s the technique for making pita bread from any plain white bread dough:
Place a baking sheet in the oven and heat it to 450F. Cut the dough into pieces just bigger than a golf ball. Roll each piece in your hands as if making buns, then let them sit on the counter for five minutes.
Roll each one into a flat circle with a rolling pin. Be careful not the crimp the dough because it won’t puff in that spot. Place a couple of pitas onto the hot baking sheet and pop it into the oven. Within minutes, the dough will balloon to create the pocket in the pita. Take them out of the oven as the bread starts to turn brown, about 5 minutes.