Homemade Pitas & Hummus

Homemade Pitas & Hummus

https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016071-homemade-pita-bread?login=email (* See footnote.)

The first time I watched someone make pita bread from scratch, I was totally enthralled. My roommate in my early 20’s, a cafe manager and avid baker, would make huge batches of pitas like it was no big deal. I’d never seen it in person, and found it totally magical: the rounds of flatbread dough are tossed onto a very hot pan in a very hot oven, and within a minute or two they puff up into perfect little balloons. It’s quite captivating, and even now having done it a few times myself, it still hasn’t gotten old.

So, the key feature of pitas is the hollow pocket that forms inside as they bake, perfect for stuffing with your favorite sandwich fillings. Why does pita dough puff that way, you ask? The key is to put fairly moist, thinly-rolled dough into a very hot oven. When you do that, a couple of things happen. First, the intense heat quickly starts to solidify the outer surfaces of the pita. At the same time, it penetrates to the center, turning the moisture inside the dough into steam. That steam expands and pushes outward from the interior as it forms. And because the outer surfaces have already baked a little bit, they are solid enough to stay intact as the steam pushes on them, forming the hollow pocket.

With that in mind, these are the keys to perfectly-puffing pitas:

1) Don’t work too much flour into the dough as you knead. Just dust it with barely enough to keep it from being completely unmanageable. Too much flour will soak up all the moisture you need to create steam at bake time.

2) Roll the dough out pretty thin. The NYT recipe says to go for 1/8”. I find that a little bit unattainable; 1/4” is also a reasonable goal, or somewhere in between. If it’s any thicker, the heat won’t penetrate to the center quickly enough.

3) Place the dough onto a pre-heated object of some kind in your very hot oven. A baking stone or cast iron skillet would be great options. I don’t have either of those, so I use a cookie sheet turned upside-down. (Turning it upside-down was my fiance’s suggestion; he thinks it traps more heat underneath, and it does seem to produce good results.) Also, don’t put the next batch into the oven at the same time you take the previous batch out. I have better luck if I close the door and let the pan reheat for about one minute in between batches.

And arguably, I’d say the fourth key is: if it doesn’t puff, don’t sweat it. Some won’t. This batch I made today was my best batch to date, and I’d still say about a third of the pitas have incomplete puffs. Doesn’t matter at all; they’re still delicious.

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So, once you have your delicious puffy pitas, you need something to put in them! I love making hummus from scratch; the hardest part is finding out where your grocery store keeps the tahini. From there, you just whizz everything together in a food processor, adjusting proportions to your taste and adding whatever extras you want. My current favorite recipe is Tori Avey’s:

http://toriavey.com/toris-kitchen/2010/07/classic-hummus/

Tori Avey has done extensive research into the history of Middle Eastern cuisine; I definitely plan to try more recipes from her site in the near future. I’ve also used her tutorial on roasting red peppers (which, incidentally, are great to throw into this hummus if you have them on hand).

This recipe is a nice starting point with good proportions. I typically halve it, since two full cans of chickpeas make more hummus than I can eat in a reasonable amount of time. Or I should say, I halve everything except the garlic. Full disclosure: I love garlic. In the entire time I’ve been cooking, with all my numerous misadventures, I’ve yet to make a recipe that caused me to think, “Man, I put too much garlic into this.” (And I put a lot of garlic into things.)

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Looks about right.

But of course, this is the joy of making your own hummus – you can fine tune it according to your tastes. 😉

The point of making pitas & hummus this week is to have another way to enjoy your leftover chopped Greek salad. It’s a perfect pre-made sandwich filling; just add it to your pita along with some hummus and extra feta cheese for a quick & tasty dinner, lunch, or snack.

Deliciousness score: 8
Easiness score: 6

6.3 rating

* Note: This recipe from the New York Times does require a free account to view. I balked at this the first few times they hit me with it, but eventually signed up and haven’t regretted it; their cooking column is pretty interesting, if a bit aspirational. This isn’t an affiliate link or anything like that; I just like their pita recipe.

Buttermilk Poppy Seed Scones with Lemon Curd

Buttermilk Poppy Seed Scones with Lemon Curd

http://www.goodlifeeats.com/buttermilk-poppy-seed-citrus-scones/
http://www.goodlifeeats.com/citrus-curd-three-ways/

You can’t read cooking blogs for very long without running into lemon curd. Usually it appears in a beautiful sunny soft-focus photo, in a little jar, possibly with a gingham fabric cover, or possibly open, with an adorable tiny spoon ready to dollop it onto a fresh-baked scone. I have to admit that ever since I saw my first photo of lemon curd, I was entranced. What is this magical substance, which seems to glow with its own light? People rave about it with something between reverence and fanaticism; if Pinterest is to be believed, every adult kitchen has a bowl of lemons on standby at all times, ready to whip up a few jars of curd at a moment’s notice. What the hell is curd, anyway? I went my entire life without ever hearing about it, and suddenly it was everywhere. In my 20’s, as I was just beginning to be more serious about cooking for myself regularly and was still not quite sure how to adult, I wanted to be one of these people for whom a quick batch of lemon curd was a casual, everyday thing. For whatever reason, in my mind it became more than just a condiment; it represented an elusive stability, preparedness, and self-sufficiency, which I was not sure I would ever achieve.

Now, I’m sure that at any time I wanted over the last ten years, I could have just gone ahead and made some lemon curd. There was absolutely no reason not to. It takes ten minutes and five ingredients. But somehow, the moment never seemed right.

So lemon curd was just on the back burner for me for a long time, occasionally popping up on Pinterest or in blogs, reminding me that it existed, was around, would be there when I was ready. And over the last couple of weeks, as the chaos has begun to calm down from our cross-continent move, as my fiancé and I start to feel settled in our house, as the summer (finally!) begins to arrive and we enjoy the warm breeze and birdsong through our open windows, as I start to feel like I’m at home in the right place with the right person and the right job and can finally, kind of, relax… I started to think, hey, lemon curd. Lemon curd sounds pretty good right about now. Maybe now’s the time.

I had this buttermilk scone recipe open in a tab in my browser for a couple of weeks, along with the lemon curd recipe, waiting to think of something else I could make to use up the rest of the buttermilk. Then the other day Dusty suggested that we should make our favorite baked onion rings recipe, which calls for a full quart of buttermilk, and I thought, yes! It’s go time. Let’s do this.

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Now, I’ve had plenty of experiences that seemed a lot better in my head than they were in real life. Sometimes (most times?) the things you’ve built up in your imagination turn out to be a little duller or stranger or less satisfying than you expected. This is just a natural consequence of trying new things, and the lemon curd could easily have fallen into this category, and I’m sure the sun would have gone on rising and setting and I would have woken up to try another recipe another day.

But it didn’t.

It was amazing.

It was everything I wanted it to be.

It’s nice when that happens, isn’t it? I think it’s safe to say that expectation vs. reality, especially with regard to things discovered on Pinterest, is a bit of a crapshoot. But the lemon curd 100% delivered. The lemon curd + buttermilk scone combo, in fact, is basically unbeatable. As I took my first bite, all the rumors were confirmed; my mind was blown. It was like biting into a little piece of sunshine. Bright, tangy, and just sweet enough; a taste of concentrated summer.

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As I was making it, I was seriously skeptical. I hadn’t taken a super close look at the ingredients list before (or if I had I’d forgotten), and I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this wasn’t it. It’s basically all egg yolks and butter. Which, on the one hand, didn’t seem like a bad start; those are both ingredients in lots of delicious things. But they seemed like a weird combination for a standalone condiment. I need not have worried; they came together easily into smooth, delicious lemony goodness.

Note: if you made baked onion rings earlier in the week and saved the egg yolks, now is the time to use them.

I did make some modifications to reduce the amounts:

– I put in less than 1/2 cup of sugar, instead of 1 to 1 1/2 cups as written, because my fiancé and I both tend to like things on the less-sweet side. This also let the lemon flavor  shine through.
– I used “only” 6 egg yolks and 8 tbsp (1 stick) of butter, mostly because I felt like I was going to end up with an insane amount of this stuff otherwise.

I later discovered that another favorite food blogger has a similar recipe with more sensible amounts for a small household:

http://sallysbakingaddiction.com/2016/03/04/how-to-make-lemon-curd/

I will likely use this recipe going forward. The principles are pretty much the same. The key is cooking on low heat, and whisking constantly, to avoid overcooking your egg yolks. I was a little bit anxious about this, but it was not that hard and turned out totally fine.

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I’ve been so focused on the lemon curd that I’ve barely mentioned the scones, which were amazing in their own right. Relatively quick to put together, with a great slightly-flaky texture and just a hint of citrus. I’m always nervous about doughs that require you to cut the butter into the flour, partly because my pastry cutter is horrible and frustrates me every time I use it, and partially because I’m never sure if or when I’ve crossed the line into overworking the dough. You need small pieces of intact butter to melt in the oven and create the flaky layers, so stirring or kneading too much will work in all the butter chunks and you won’t get that flaking; but underwork it, and the dough doesn’t stick together, and also you get big weird butter pools. Luckily, this dough must have been pretty forgiving. I actually remembered the egg wash (a thing I tend to forget at the last minute), and baked these for the full 25 minutes at 350 degrees, and they turned out great.

All in all, I couldn’t be more delighted. This is a breakfast that does take a little time and planning, but it’s hearty, festive, and totally soul-satisfying. Definitely worth the time. And I will be incorporating lemon curd into a lot more of my baking from now on.

Deliciousness score: 10/10
Easiness score: 8/10

5.0 rating