Sunday, July 19, 2009

Pita Bread, Jell-o, and a Radical 80's Dessert

Hey, look, I have a blog! Life’s been busy recently and I took an unplanned blogcation for a few weeks--whoops. Sometimes a little break can be a good thing, though. Here are the highlights:

I had a dinner party recently. The theme was “Dining Through the Decades” and the dinner featured nine courses, each from a different decade in the last century. Most of the courses were “inspired by” the decade rather than straight from that decade’s cookbooks…I really didn’t want to subject my guests to a whole meal of creamed vegetables, Spam, and scary things suspended in Jell-o. Speaking of Jell-o, the 1950’s rainbow Jell-o bundt turned out smashingly:

Six flavors and twelve lovely layers of gelatinous goodness! I never make Jell-o for us just to eat, but we did enjoy snacking on the leftovers, so maybe it'll make its way onto our table again in the future.The dessert was a tribute to the plated desserts of the 1980’s, where fiddly presentation and multiple flavor elements reigned supreme. I was trying to decide between flourless chocolate cake and tiramisu (both ubiquitous pastry menu staples from the 80’s.) Ultimately I got a little lazy and did the chocolate cake instead. It was glazed with ganache and sprinkled with pistachio dust. I plated it with homemade pistachio ice cream and raspberry coulis.

Also, I made pita bread for the first time! Well, it was actually the second time, but this was the first time that it actually puffed and was recognizable as pita bread. My first attempt a few years ago yielded sorry bread rocks welded to a baking sheet. Not delicious. These were light, airy, perfectly puffed, and really tasty! The pitas were fairly simple to make, but I would not say it was a quick process. The dough was made the day before, and it required multiple kneadings, both in the kitchenaid and by hand. Then the day of, there was more resting, kneading, shaping, rolling, and whispering of sweet nothings before it was ready to be baked off.

And then the pitas were baked, one by everlovin' one, on a cast iron skillet on the stovetop. Despite the tedium I enjoyed the baking process, because it never ceased to thrill me when the bread magically transformed from a thin disc into a puffy balloon in the space of a few seconds.
I added some minced garlic to my dough, but the flavor wasn't very strong--it mostly had a nice fresh white bread sort of taste. I would definitely increase the garlic next time, and maybe add some fresh chopped herbs as well. But the basic dough is good on its own, and makes a most excellent hummus delivery system.

Pita Bread

Adapted from The Bread Bible
via Smitten Kitchen

3 cups plus a scant 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (16 oz./454 grams)
2 teaspoons salt (1/2 oz./13.2 grams)
2 teaspoons instant yeast (6.4 grams)
2 tablespoons olive oil (1 oz./27 grams)
1 1/4 cups water, at room temperature (10.4 oz./295 grams)

1. About 1 1/2 hours before shaping, or for best flavor development, 8 hours to 3 days ahead, mix the dough.

Mixer method: In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all the ingredients. With the paddle attachment, mix on low speed (#2 if using a KitchenAid) just until all the flour is moistened, about 20 seconds. Change to the dough hook, raise the speed to medium (#4 KitchenAid), and knead for 10 minutes. The dough should clean the bowl and be very soft and smooth and just a little sticky to the touch. Add a little flour or water if necessary. (the dough will weigh about 27.75 oz./793 grams.)

Hand method: In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except for a scant 1/4 cup of the flour. With a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until all the flour is moistened. Knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together.

Sprinkle a little of the reserved flour onto the counter and scrape the dough onto it. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, adding as little of the reserved flour as possible. Use a bench scraper to scrape the dough and gather it together as you knead it. At this point it will be very sticky. Cover it with the inverted bowl and allow it to rest for 5 to 20 minutes. (This rest will make the dough less sticky and easier to work with.)

Knead the dough for another 5 to 10 minutes or until it is soft and smooth and just a little sticky to the touch. Add a little flour or water if necessary.

2. Let the dough rise: Using an oiled spatula or dough scraper, scrape the dough into a 2-quart or larger dough-rising container or bowl, lightly greased with cooking spray or oil. Press the dough down and lightly spray or oil the top of it. Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap. With a piece of tape, mark the side of the container at approximately where double the height of the dough would be. Refrigerate the dough overnight (or up to 3 days), checking every hour for the first 4 hours and pressing it down if it starts to rise.

3. Preheat the oven: Preheat the oven to 475°F one hour before baking. Have an oven shelf at the lowest level and place a baking stone, cast-iron skillet, or baking sheet on it before preheating.

4. Shape the dough: Cut the dough into 8 or 12 pieces. Work with one piece at a time, keeping the rest covered with a damp cloth. On a lightly floured counter, with lightly floured hands, shape each piece into a ball and then flatten it into a disk. Cover the dough with oiled plastic and allow it to rest for 20 minutes at room temperature.

Roll each disk into a circle a little under 1/4 inch thick. Allow them to rest, uncovered, for 10 minutes before baking.

5. Bake the pita: Quickly place 1 piece of dough directly on the stone or in the skillet or on the baking sheet, and bake for 3 minutes. The pita should be completely puffed but not beginning to brown. The dough will not puff well if it is not moist enough. See how the pita puffs, then, if necessary, spray and knead each remaining piece with water until the dough is soft and moist; allow to rest again and reroll as before. (However, those that do not puff well are still delicious to eat.)

Proceed with the remaining dough, baking 3 or 4 pieces at a time if using a stone or baking sheet. using a pancake turner, transfer the pita breads to a clean towel, to stay soft and warm. Allow the oven to reheat for 5 minutes between batches. The pitas can be reheated for about 30 seconds in a hot oven before serving.

To cook the pitas on the stove top: Preheat a griddle or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly grease the surface and cook the pitas one at a time. Cook for about 20 seconds, then turn the dough and continue cooking for 1 minute or until big bubbles appear. Turn the dough again and cook until the dough balloons. If the dough begins to brown, lower the heat. The entire cooking process for each pita should be about 3 minutes.


  1. The pitas came out perfect!! And the jell-o dessert looks soo good! I've always wanted to make it, maybe soon!

  2. That jello mold is so beautiful to look at! And as for the pitas- you'd fit right in here in Israel just great! They look fantastic!

  3. Awesome! I've made that 12 layer jello many times, but never with a bundt pan/mold--it looks great!
    What a fun dinner idea--I LOVE the 80's!
    Yum to the cake and yummy to homemade pitas and hummus!

  4. I feel like I need a disco ball hanging over my head to look at the jello mold.

    Not that it would stop me from eating it, mind you.

  5. Anonymous11:50 AM

    It sounds like you had a fun dinner party. Love the jello mold and your pitas look perfect!

  6. I am a big fan of all things jelly and jell-o, they are so beautiful and jewel-like. I am obviously missing out on something here as I have never heard of this 12 layer jello delight perhaps because I grew up in do you get the two layers of opaque and transparent, I am intrigued?! BTW your pitas look perfect, I have tried a number of breads like pita and naan and they all come out like flat rocks so well done on yours which have the pocket and look light and fluffy!!

  7. I couldn't help but read your post after seeing the photo on foodgawker! What a great dessert, I hope it was nice and wobbley as it was carried to the table :D

    And again, another reminder that I am keen to make my own pita one of these days. One day, one day..

  8. I can't imagine how something like this tastes like as jelly is something rather unknown here, but it looks fabulous!!! The colors cought my attention, the whole thing seems amazing. Well done!

  9. Anonymous6:37 AM

    The Jello looks amazing, but But what a tease... where's the recipe?

  10. how about roasting garlic and rolling a few cloves into each piece?