Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Gluten-Free Girl's Chocolate-Peanut Butter Brownies

My heart always sinks when somebody says, "I made your recipe, but I didn't have all the ingredients so I substituted some things…." Like the anguished screamer in the famous (and disturbing) Edvard Munch image, I want to hold my head and run away. Only instead of suffering inexplicable existential angst, I’m crying, “No, no, just make it the way the recipe says!”

I’m particularly horrified to hear about substitutions in baked goods, because their chemistry is complex and even small, seemingly appropriate changes can cause big trouble. For example, swapping unsweetened cocoa powder for the unsweetened chocolate called in the following brownie recipe might seem harmless, but this step could turn the bars dust-bowl dry and bland. Why? Because cocoa powder contains far less cocoa butter than unsweetened chocolate, and this fat helps smooth the crumb, enhance the sense of creaminess (what scientists call mouth-feel), and carry certain fat-soluble flavor elements to the nose.

Despite my own intense aversion to people taking liberties with my recipes, I now have to admit to the Gluten-Free-Girl, Shauna James Ahern, that I have committed this very sin against her. Please, Shauna, don’t run screaming from the room. I’m a professional, so I was able to modify the chocolate-peanut butter brownies in your new book without screwing then up—I promise! (But folks, please don’t try this at home.)

First, I didn’t have either gluten-free oat flour or sweet rice flour, so I substituted a home-made gluten-free flour blend I keep on hand to make baked goods for my g-f daughter-in-law. In fact, my mix contains mostly gluten-free oats ground into flour, plus white and brown rice flours, so it really is comparable to what Shauna called for. Really!

I also happened to have some gluten-free mini chocolate morsels hanging around, so I threw in a half cup of those. Now, the Gluten-Free girl’s brownie batter was already dark, rich, and bittersweet, but I think my addition made the bars even more fudgey. You can add them, or leave them out, as desired.

As you can see from the pic, the brownies look as moist and succulent as good “regular” brownies made with white wheat flour. And since Shauna cleverly called for sifting the oat-rice flour mixture though a fine sieve to remove any large particles, the bars have none of the slight grittiness that sometimes gives away gluten-free goodies. (It’s a step I plan to use whenever I bake g-f from now on.)

I think Shauna’s brownies are going to seem like really tempting, normal brownies to everybody, not just to gluten-free eaters. I’ve made my share of “glutenless” sweet treats, and my goal is always to create ones that will “pass” with regular eaters. I’m pretty sure these will. They absolutely thrilled my g-f daughter-in-law! (BTW, if you aren't concerned about gluten, but worry about too much fat and cholesterol, my Better for You Chocolate Brownies might be just the recipe you're looking for.)

Actually, I chose to make one of the handful of baked goods from Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef precisely because I know how highly gluten-free folks prize such recipes, and how rare it is to find truly tempting ones. Since Shauna succeeded with the trickiest assignment, baking, I’m betting her array of stylish soups, salads, entrees, and sides are going to pass with flying colors, too.

I can’t say that I’m surprised that these brownies were successful, because when I met Shauna and Daniel (and their beautiful baby daughter, Lucy) at a blogging conference several weeks ago, Shauna emphasized that she had worked really hard on developing and testing the recipes in her new book. Disclosure: Shauna and I have the same editor at Wiley, and Wiley sent me a free review copy.

Bloggers and readers who have followed the love story of Shauna and Daniel will enjoy learning more about their life together in this new combination memoir and cookbook. They will also find a nice assortment of dishes—from Warm Polenta with Goat Cheese and Chicken Stew with Pistou Manchego to Gluten-Free Crackers and Berry Pancakes—to make it possible both to go gluten-free and eat well.

Gluten-Free Girl’s Chocolate-Peanut Brownies

Besides adding in some gluten-free chocolate mini-morsel, I also modified a couple of other things in this recipe. (Don’t cringe, Shauna!) I used an alternative method of melting the butter and chocolate that I’ve found always works well for me. And I started by lining the baking pan with aluminum foil rather than dusting it with flour. This means that the baked and cooled brownie slab can be lifted out to a cutting board and much more easily trimmed and cut into tidy-looking bars.

Although the peanut butter makes a pleasant addition, if you must avoid peanut products, I see no reason you can’t leave it out.

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely broken or chopped

1/3 cup oat flour (ground from certified gluten-free oats) (40 grams/ 1.4 oz)

1/3 cup sweet rice flour

1 teaspoon zanthan gum

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup gluten-free semisweet chocolate mini-morsels, optional

4 tablespoons peanut butter, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8-inch square pan with a large square of aluminum foil, allowing it to overhang slightly on two opposing sides.

Melt the butter and chocolate in a metal bowl set over a pot of gently boiling water, stirring occasionally. (Or, alternatively, melt the butter in a heavy medium saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally, until fluid. Add the chocolate and stir until melted and smoothly incorporated.) Remove from the heat; stir in the sugar until evenly incorporated into the chocolate mixture. Set aside until cooled to barely warm.

Stir the oat and rice flours through a fine sieve into a large bowl, discarding the coarse bits that did not pass through. Stir the xanthan gum, baking powder, and salt into the flour mixture until evenly incorporated.

Whisk the eggs, then the vanilla, into the cooled chocolate mixture until very smooth and glossy. Stir the chocolate mixture into the dry mixture just until well blended. Fold in the chocolate morsels, if using.

Turn out the batter into the foil-lined pan, spreading out until evenly thick all over. If using the peanut butter, dollop it over the batter surface. Using a greased table knife held vertically, swirl the peanut butter into the batter. Then smooth out the top with the knife.

Bake, middle rack, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 23 to 26 minutes; if the pick comes out with wet batter clinging to it, continue several minutes longer, then check again. Continue, checking until just barely baked through, then set the pan on a rack to cool completely. For easiest cutting, refrigerate the brownies until chilled and firm. Lift them from the pan to a cutting board using the foil. Gently peel off and discard the foil. Trim away the brownie edges all the way around, then cut the slab into thirds in one direction and quarters in the other direction to make 12 brownies. Or cut them as desired.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Chocolate Dipping Marshmallows--Fabulous Finishing Touch for Homemade Marshmallows

Homemade marshmallows are nice as is, but they are to die for when dipped in chocolate. The task is a bit time-consuming, because the chocolate must be melted and then cooled down in a very specific way, called tempering. The careful steps noted below help ensure that the chocolate will set up smooth and glossy. Yes, the directions are a little fussy, but they are designed so the chocolate will be "tempered;" this means it will set with the right crystal formation and be hard and have a pleasing sheen. Tempering is always required for chocolate coating candies that won't be stored in the refrigerator until right before serving.

The pic shows my granddaughter dipping some marshmallows with me. Even though melting and cooling the chocolate so it is tempered is a bit tedious, the actually dipping is a lot of fun! The same method can be used to dip caramels or strawberries or pieces of pineapple. Just be sure the fruits are patted completely dry before dipping.

Chocolate Dipping Marshmallows (or Other Candies or Fruit)

Tip: Never try to add vanilla or any other liquid to the chocolate-oil mixture; the natural starch in the chocolate might grab on to it and cause the chocolate to stiffen up, or "seize."

You’ll probably have some chocolate left over, but the ample amount this makes facilitates dipping down into the bowl and coating the marshmallows evenly. The recipe makes enough to cover a batch of the raspberry marshmallow recipe here.

1 1/4 pounds 55 to 65 percent cacao chocolate, broken up or coarsely chopped, plus 6 ounces left in large chunks
2 to 4 tablespoons corn oil or other flavorless vegetable oil, plus more as needed

Arrange your cut, powdered sugar-dusted marshmallows on a wax paper-lined tray; refrigerate while you ready the chocolate. Line several very large baking sheets or trays with aluminum foil.
Combine the broken-up chocolate and 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high power for 1 minute. Stir, then microwave for 1 minute. Stop and stir well. Microwave on 50 percent power, stopping and stirring at 30-second intervals until most of the chocolate has melted.
Stir until the remaining bits of chocolate have melted and the mixture is smooth and begins to cool down. If the chocolate is not fluid enough for easy dipping, stir in up to 2 tablespoons of the remaining oil.

Add the large chocolate chunks and stir them in until the melted chocolate is almost cool to the touch (or registers 88 to 89 degrees on an instant-read or candy thermometer). When the chocolate is cool enough, push any unmelted chunks to one side of the bowl. These help keep the melted chocolate in the desired crystalline state.
Remove about a quarter of the marshmallows at a time from the refrigerator. Use a large dinner fork to submerge them, one at a time, in the chocolate, then lift them out of the chocolate and shake off any excess. Rap the fork against the bowl several times, then scrape it against the bowl edge to remove as much excess chocolate from the marshmallow as possible.

Occasionally stir the chocolate to keep it blended and in temper. If the chocolate begins to cool and set while you’re working, return it to the microwave oven and microwave on low for 10 to 20 seconds, then stir well until it is just fluid again; repeat as necessary, being careful not to overheat it.
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Monday, October 25, 2010

The Mysterious Business of the Literary Agent--Most Writers Need One, but They're Hard to Get

I was on a panel about cookbook writing at the recent BlogHer Food conference in San Francisco where the topic of agents came up. While many editors and writers (myself included) think that having an agent is a good idea, as I pointed out, it’s actually not easy to find literary representation. In fact, it may be harder to find a good agent than an editor for your beloved work in progress.

The key reason—which may sound crass but is merely a business reality—is that most reputable literary agents (as opposed to scammers) only make money when they sell manuscripts. They get paid a percentage—usually 15 percent—of whatever their author gets paid. If they pluck a promising query package from the ever-expanding submissions pile, then spend months (or years) helping the author polish it, but never sell it to a publisher, they go completely uncompensated for their time.

They may end up with a grateful writer, but that pays no bills. And according to a former agent (now retired) who is also a friend, the “reward” is sometimes blame that the manuscript didn’t sell. Little wonder that many agents are quite cautious about unknown quantities and queries that come in unrequested, or “over the transom” as the lingo goes. I would be, too.

Considering that agents earn 15 percent of whatever their author’s book earns, why do I and others suggest having literary representation anyway? Most authors I know feel that unless they are unusually astute business people, it's comforting (or most comfortable) to have a knowledgeable representative looking out for their interests and negotiating their contracts. The agent can deal with the money matters and any strife (publishing waters aren’t smooth these days), and they and the editor can maintain a cordial working relationship and focus on producing their book.

Although literary agents (unlike writing coaches, editorial consultants, and manuscript doctors) normally don’t charge to review manuscripts or otherwise assist their clients in readying material for submission, be aware that this is changing. Lately, some legitimate agents have muddied the waters by instituting introductory handling or service fees. See the excellent site AgentQuery for lots of additional info as well to find a vetted lists of agents.

I should emphasize here that manuscript doctors and editorial consultants perform perfectly legal and IMHO very valuable services. In fact, on occasion, I take on consulting jobs to assist cookbook writers or evaluate their manuscripts or proposals myself. But, while I try to share what I think agents and editors are looking for, I never suggest I have the contacts and expertise to place clients’ manuscripts with publishers. Finding a publisher is the job of literary agents.

Sometime I’ll post some basic dos and don’t on how to obtain a literary agent. If you have specific questions, leave them here in the comments section and I'll try to cover them in my post. (For starters, never attempt to stand out in the slush pile with "humorous" lines like, "Don't skip this one--I know where you live!" You may suffer the same fate as Mrs. Thomas when she recently tried to contact Dr. Anita Hill. She called the FBI!) But to get started on the details of how you should submit your material to agents check out this article.

For more info on culinary publishing, you may want to check out my "Five Things to Never Say to an Editor." 
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Thursday, October 21, 2010

If You Just Need a Meatloaf Recipe Will Any Old Cookbook Do?

Even though it’s my birthday, I’m feeling a bit peevish. I’m huffy over the opening line of a just-published Time article ostensibly written to review the fall crop of cookbooks. Opines Joel Ozersky: “The truth about cookbooks is that you only need a few of them.” Later, he disses my favorite genre again: “If you need a meatloaf recipe, any cookbook will do.” Really?

At first I thought I might just be overly touchy. After all, cookbooks have been both my passion and work for decades. But then I mulled the author’s comments further. IMHO they’re almost as ridiculous as saying that you only need a few symphonies, or artworks, or plays to enjoy. Or that if you want to read a novel, any one will do. Really?

The point missed is that cookbooks are both art form and fascinating social history documents. As a group, they capture for posterity what people are eating and what they think about food in a particular time and culture. They also convey expertise and unique personal visions and they celebrate a universal human experience—gathering with others to nourish the body and refresh the soul. I think the world needs a rich variety of cookbooks, whatever their currently print/digital morphing form turns out to be.

I say Ozersky’s piece is ostensibly written to enlighten us on the latest batch of cookbooks because he mentions only three recently published titles, and one just happens to be authored by his good friend Rachel Ray. (He also discloses that he blogs on her site.) Almost as unhelpful as the Ray plug is the one for a $49.95 chi-chi chef tome by Rene Redzepi of Noma in Copenhagen. I don’t have a thing against Chef Redsepi or Rachel Ray, but I can immediately think of ten current titles—say Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table, or Shauna Ahern’s Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, or Ken Albala's The Lost Art of Real Cooking for starters—that could and probably should be mentioned instead or as well.

So what about it? Am I’m being too prickly about this? Is it really true, as Ozersky suggests, that there’s no need for more than a basic book,“that tells you what goes into potpie,” and maybe a couple “for specialty fields like Moroccan or barbecue….?” Really? And if you only need a couple basics, how can it possibly make sense to opt for the Chef Redzepi book featured anyway?

Seems to me this is closed-minded and a clear path to limiting life’s pleasures. What do you think?

PS--Another of Ozersky's quotes I gotta disagree with: "Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a classic by anybody's measure, is chockfull of dishes no one eats anymore." Really? Everyone one I know who's seen the "Julie and Julia" movie has told me of rushing home and cooking from her book. (And drinking some good French red wine, too!) I just recently posted a memorable red wine beef pot roast inspired by her classic Boeuf Bourguignon recipe; truly it's the best I've ever made. And aren't pastry chefs everywhere still selling out of their creme brulee, croissants, and tarte Tatin?

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Salted Caramel & Apples--A Heavenly Taste of Autumn

If I had to choose my favorite fall flavor pairing, it would be fresh apples and caramel. Preferably strewn with a little coarse salt and lightly toasted pecans, and maybe even topped with a little scoop of ice cream. The interplay of crisp, tart, sweet, smooth, crystalline, nutty, fruity, and gooey creates a wonderfully complex yet earthy, homespun taste experience. Just thinking about it is making me want to get an apple and the last serving of caramel from the fridge and start snacking now!  (BTW, experts say that apples should always be stored in the refrigerator, otherwise they will lose their crispness and fresh picked taste.)

American confectioners have been dipping whole apples into caramel and creating those irresistible apple-on-a-stick treats for decades. In the last thirty years, they’ve taken to finishing their pops by rolling them in toasted nuts, especially pecans—which have a sweet earthy flavor and crunch that complements both apples and caramel perfectly. Lately, as the salted caramel craze has taken hold, some gourmet shops have begun sprinkling their caramel apples with crystal salt as well—a touch my grandkids don’t care for but that the family’s “growmups” (as my granddaughter used to call us) love.

A number of years ago, when I was researching recipes for my All-American Dessert Book, I came upon some highly memorable caramel apples at Merb’s, a locally famous confectionary shop in St. Louis. Since the 1970s, when the Granny Smith apples ripen in fall, Merb’s orders the super-huge ones and starts cranking out big batches of caramel. Then, until the end of October, they dip, twirl, garnish, and dispense about 2,000 “Bionic,” apples a day. That's a fresh batch being set out in the pic at right. The goodies are called bionic because, including the layer of glossy caramel and generous studding of pecans, each one tips the scales at least a pound and contains about 600 calories!

It actually took me three separate sessions to eat my humongous Merb’s apple, so when I created caramel apples for The All-American Dessert Book, I deliberately choose to use smallish and medium-size apples instead. I did try to accurately recreate Merb’s wonderfully succulent caramel recipe though, and I think mine is very close. In fact, it might be even better!

Lately, I’ve been focusing on ways to simplify favorite recipes. So instead of dipping the apples I just  slice fresh, tangy apples into bowls and drizzle the buttery caramel sauce over top. I set out salt and pecans so diners can garnish servings to suit themselves. This works just great! The approach not only means the caramel doesn’t have to be cooked to exactly the right temperature to cling to the whole apples, but that it can be prepared well ahead and reheated. Plus, the apples can be sliced as needed and in whatever quantity desired. This quite frankly, makes a spectacular, yet effortless autumn treat. 

Another possibility: Top my microwave-baked apples with scoops of ice cream and then some of this caramel. Or you could gild the lily and drizzle some over my apple crisp.

Ooey-Gooey Caramel Sauce for Apples

As from scratch caramel recipes go, this one is super easy: The sugar doesn’t have to be boiled to the dark caramel stage with water first, which eliminates the risk of having it overcook and turn bitter or black. And it’s a simple matter to adjust the final consistency: Just test the caramel with a slice of chilled apple and if it's too stiff stir in a little warm water until it is the desired consistency. By the way, the caramel sauce is yummy drizzled over my microwave-baked apples, too.

It’s important to use apples that are crisp and at least slightly tangy, as they balance the sweetness and silky texture of the caramel best. I used honey crisp here. I like to garnish the servings with sea salt crystals and lightly toasted pecans, but this is entirely optional.

1 1/3 cups heavy (whipping) cream
2/3 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cups packed light brown sugar
1 cup dark corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon salt
5 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract combined with 2 teaspoons water

Thoroughly stir together the cream, granulated and brown sugars, corn syrup and salt in a heavy 4-quart saucepan or pot. Add the butter. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a long-handled wooden spoon. When the mixture is boiling briskly, wipe any sugar from the pan sides using a pastry brush dipped in warm water (or use a damp paper towel). Wash off the stirring spoon.

Adjust the heat so the mixture boils briskly, and cook, occasionally stirring and scraping the pan bottom. As the mixture starts to thicken and turn the color of rich medium-dark caramel candies stir more frequently; cook at least 7 and up to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat. Gently stir in the vanilla-water mixture until evenly incorporated. Test the caramel consistency by dipping a chilled apple slice into the caramel. Let stand until the caramel is cool to the touch, then eat the slice. If the caramel is too stiff and hard to chew, thoroughly stir in 2 teaspoons more water and repeat the test. Continue until the desired consistency is reached (or until you are tired of snacking!).

Use the caramel immediately or refrigerate for up to 10 days. Rewarm on low power in a microwave oven; stir and check the consistency every 30 seconds as the caramel should not be heated to a boil again. If the caramel has stiffened too much during storage, thin it to the desired fluid consistency by thoroughly stirring in a little warm water.

Spoon the warm caramel over the apple slices. Garnish with lightly toasted pecans and coarse salt, if desired.

Makes a generous 2-cups sauce, enough for 8 to 10 servings.
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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Great Pita Bread Recipe and E-Mails from Readers--Thank You!

It always makes my day when I hear that somebody really likes an article, or recipe, or, wow! one of my books. So imagine my excitement when a reader sent me this terrific pita bread recipe he'd created using my Kneadlessly Simple book as a guide.

BoB from Seattle said he'd enjoyed using the method in my book so much he decided to convert his traditional pitas to the kneadless approach. I'm delighted to say his recipe came out just great!

BoB also wrote with several other "kneadless" baking suggestions I think you might find helpful: “I bake in a LeCreuset 3-1/2 qt. oval "French Oven" because I like the oval-shaped loaf better. For consistent slices, I use a deli type meat slicer adjusted to the widest setting, which is about the thickness of store bought bread slices.”

Actually, I receive quite a bit of nice email about my Kneadlessly Simple bread book--and let me assure you I read every word and am thrilled every time. (Most writers I know feel exactly the same way.) So don't ever think your remarks are met with a "ho-hum!"

Please forgive me for going on about this, but I want to share a couple more reader compliments that have meant a great deal to me. Then I’ve posted excerpts from some reader questions, along with my answers--which I believe you'll find useful. (For more q & a info go here. Or for a completely different recipe, my kneadless cheddar cheese bread, go here. )

“My step-son gave us Kneadlessly Simple last winter and I've been baking bread from it ever since. It's a FABULOUS book and has revolutionized bread-baking in our house. It's now a weekly or bi-weekly event - we just don't buy bread any more, the loaves I bake from your recipes are so much more delicious. Thank you for putting together such a useful book….”

Said another writer: “I am hopelessly hooked on this Kneadlessly Simply baking technique. Between your book, which I have purchased along with the Dessert Book … and King Arthur flours, we are going to be well fed. My first recipe attempt from KS was the English muffin bread--oh my, it turned out so well. Fresh bread and home made grape or blackberry jam, what a way to start the day!”

This same reader also passed along a handy tip: “Instead of using the iced water, I use the water directly from the refrigerator dispenser. Waiting until just before adding the flour to the recipe, it stays cold in the fridge. I checked the temperature, and it was about 51 degrees--I figured that was close enough.” (She’s right, it is!)

Now for some great questions readers have asked:

Q Your recipes usually say that when the dough is first mixed it should be stiff. How stiff is "stiff"? I watched the video on your website, hoping you would address this, but no luck. Any more guidance?

A For most recipes, the dough should come together and hold its shape, but not look dry. Gradually (over a half-hour or more), it may slowly slump and spread out in the bowl. That said, doughs with lots of seeds, cracked grains, etc., need to be soft enough to spread out some at the start, as the particles will absorb a lot of moisture during the long standing period and gradually stiffen the dough; individual recipes always indicate the consistency you need. The good news is that hydration can vary a lot with the recipes and still yield good results. The trick is just to stiffen doughs with extra flour right before the second rise if they are soft and spread instead of holding their shape.

Q Is it reasonable to conclude that after some period of time (a couple months) that the local yeast will be dominant in the culture over the initial domestic variety used to kick-start the process in your cultured sourdough starter? I know this is the case for wild yeasts imported from different regions, i.e. they give way to local, but wasn't sure about commercial domestic vs. local wild.

A I am pretty certain that the starters I made using a little commercial yeast (the recipe in the book), are now lacking the commercial yeast and are taken over by local critters. The reason is that as the lactic acid builds up the commercial yeast organisms have more and more trouble surviving--they don't tolerate acid like the wild starter yeasts do, so they die off. As for how long this takes, I think it's just the time taken for the acid to build up a lot. Exactly what's now in the various starters, I don't know. I'd have to get a lab to do an analysis to say for sure.

Q For ecological reasons, I’d like cover my dough with a clean dishtowel instead of a sheet of plastic wrap. Is this okay?

A I actually thought about this issue in creating my recipes. However, a dish towel allows some moisture to escape, so the dough doesn’t stay quite as moist over the long rise. Also, if it rises up more than expected and touches the towel, it makes a mess! I reduce my use of plastic wrap by recycling food-safe biodegradable plastic bags obtained when I buy fruits and veggies in the supermarket. I slit the bags so they flatten out, and oil the side next to the dough so the plastic won’t stick to it if it rises high.

BoB’s Kneadless Pita Breads

Here is BoB’s very easy, very delicious kneadless pita bread recipe, which I’ve written up in the format used in my Kneadlessly Simple cookbook. The pitas are much lighter, fluffier, and more attractive than most I’ve tried. (The homemade are also s-o-o-o much better than bought.) The dough is somewhat like pizza dough.

I’ve not only stuffed them with hummus, but simply sliced them horizontally and used them with traditional sandwich fixings with excellent results. I also like the salt-garnished pitas simply dipped in some good olive oil—heaven!

Tip: You’ll need a very large baking sheet—about 15- by 18-inches—to bake all six pitas at once. Otherwise, just let them rise on two sheets of baking parchment and bake them in two batches. And don’t worry that the pitas will burn baked on the oven floor. The initial blast of intense just helps them puff and spring up properly; then they are moved to the middle rack to complete the baking.

3 cups (15 ounces) unbleached all-purpose white flour or white bread flour, plus more as needed
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more as needed
Generous 1 teaspoon plain table salt
3/4 teaspoon “rapid rise,” “quick-rise,” “bread machine” or “instant,” yeast
1 1/3 cups ice water (add 1 cup ice cubes to cold water and stir for 20 seconds before measuring), plus more if needed

Coarse salt for garnish, optional

First rise: In a food processor, combine a scant half of the flour and olive oil. Process until very well blended. (Alternatively, blend them together using a mixer.) Put the mixture in a large bowl. Thoroughly stir in the remaining flour, salt, and yeast. Vigorously stir the water into the bowl, scraping down the sides and mixing until the ingredients are thoroughly blended. If the mixture is too dry to incorporate all the flour, a bit at a time, stir in just enough more water to blend the ingredients; don’t over-moisten as the dough should be stiff enough to hold its shape without looking dry. If necessary, stir in enough more flour to stiffen. Brush the top with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap (or a large recycled food grade plastic bag cut apart). If desired, refrigerate for up to 8 hours. Then let rise at cool room temperature (about 70 degrees F) for 12-18 hours. If convenient, vigorously stir the dough once about halfway through the rise.

Second rise: Vigorously stir the dough, adding in more flour if needed to make it stiff and easier to handle. Dust a large cutting board with flour. Turn the dough onto it and shape into an evenly-thick log. Then, with oiled kitchen shears, cut crosswise into 6 equal portions. Dust each portion with flour and shape each into a rough ball. Space the balls as far apart as possible on a large tray or cutting board covered with a 16 to 17-inch long sheet of baking parchment. Brush the tops with olive oil, then press out the balls into about 5 ½ to 6-inch rounds; they don’t have to look perfect. If desired, sprinkle a little coarse salt over top, pressing down to embed it. Tent the pitas with a sheet of aluminum foil, being sure the foil is well above the tops. Let rise for 1 to 1 1/4 hours at warm (74-75 degrees F) room temperature or until very light and puffy.

Baking Preliminaries: Twenty minutes before baking time, put a rack in the middle third of the oven and remove the lowest rack so you have access to the oven floor. Preheat to 500 degrees F. Set the baking sheet directly on the oven floor to preheat for 15 minutes.

Baking: Using mitts, remove the preheated baking sheet from the oven. Carefully slide the parchment containing the pitas onto the hot sheet. Return the pan to the oven floor and bake the pitas for 6 minutes, or until they puff and begin to color. Then transfer to the middle rack and bake 4 or 5 minutes, until they are nicely browned and just baked through. (Test with a toothpick skewer inserted in the thickest part; it should come out clean.) Cool until you can handle them, then halve and either pull or cut apart the pitas. Cool completely on a rack before packing airtight for storage.

Makes 6 approximately 7-inch pitas.

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