If you’d like to dip a toe into breadmaking (THIS IS METAPHORICAL DON’T REALLY DIP YOUR TOE IN), the simplest place to start is with some kind of flatbreads. Humans have been making this kind of thing for as long as we’ve had agriculture, and most countries have their own version, all of which are variations on the very simple theme of mixing flour and water, and cooking it on a flat surface.
The very easiest bread-like thing I know how to make is a kind of tortilla or wrap. It uses ordinary flour (not bread flour) mixed with water, no yeast, and needs only a tiny bit of mixing and rolling. The short version: mix 3 parts bread to 1 part water, wait a bit, roll them out then dry fry them.
Detailed instructions for wraps and a bit of chat here.
Pitta breads are a step closer to making proper loaves of bread: they involve bread flour and yeast, and are a bit more fiddly, though still not difficult. It’s almost impossible to get them wrong – they can be a funny shape, or not rise much, or stick to the work surface when you roll them out, and still you’ll have perfectly edible bread.
A note on ingredients: “strong flour” and “bread flour” are interchangeable terms for flour made from wheat with a high gluten content, which creates a better structure for yeast-risen bread; it can be white or wholemeal, and you can get “granary” versions with all kinds of bits and pieces added to them. You can use any of these flours, though white with no added bits is easiest to work with if you’re a beginner. For pitta bread I like the taste of wholemeal bread flour.
I buy dried instant yeast, so that’s what I mean in all the recipes here; if you are using fresh yeast you’ll have to adapt the process and quantities. In a later post I’ll talk about using a sourdough yeast.
- In a mixing bowl, combine 8oz/200g/1.5 cups of strong flour with a quarter of a teaspoon each of yeast and salt, and a quarter of a pint/100ml/half a cup of water.
- Mix them together well – add a little bit more water if your mixture isn’t coming together – and knead for a few minutes until the dough is smooth. You don’t need any very special technique to knead: just keep knocking, punching or pushing the dough around in the mixing bowl or on your work surface. Don’t be gentle with it, you can’t overdo it.
- Leave it in the bowl, with a cloth over the top if you like, for about an hour. The dough should rise and get bigger.
- Knead it again: you’re just aiming to knock the air out of it and to work the mixture a bit to develop the strands of gluten that will give the bread its structure. Divide it into 6 equal-sized balls and roll them out on a floured work surface. Rolling over each ball in one direction will make it into the distinctive elongated oval shape of pitta pockets. Leave them again for an hour or so.
- When you’re ready to cook them, lightly grease a heavy, flat, frying pan. Heat the pan until it’s very hot, keep it on a moderate heat, and put as many pittas in the pan as you can comfortably fit in there.
- After about a minute in the pan, each pitta will start to puff up or will have small bubbles in it. Turn it over and cook for about the same time on the other side, then remove from the pan; repeat until they’re all done.
- You can eat them as they are, but I prefer to put them in the toaster: they will usually puff up and create a space inside that will act as a pocket. You can toast them very briefly so they stay soft, or leave them in for longer to make them crispy.
I did have a lovely photo of rolled-out pittas to include here, but my children borrowed my tablet to make stop-motion animations and the picture has gone missing – I’ll have to make pittas again so I can take another photo.
While we’re on the subject of quick bread, when I was growing up, if we ran out of bread my mum would sometimes make soda bread, which is very quick and also tasty. I’ve never made it myself so don’t have a recipe to pass on; maybe I’ll experiment with it some time and report back.
Next time: the easiest way to make a loaf of bread.