over the years, I have attempted bread a few times, from very easy pita recipes to intensive brioche-based babkas. so much flour, so much yeast carnage, so many tears.
all of a sudden, after five years of sad pizza crusts (yeah, I couldn’t even make a good pizza crust) and tasteless dense bread loaves, I had a yeast breakthrough. after finally producing an edible loaf of bread (and then a few more to assure myself the first wasn’t a fluke), I returned to the pita. how does one achieve a fluffy, risen pita, yet retain the characteristic pocket of air inside? the recipes I tried had the pocket, but not fluffy texture inside the pita shell that I loved.
then michael solomonov published his long-awaited zahav: a world of israeli cooking. these days, a cookbook is more than a compendium of recipes – it serves as a culinary memoir for the chef. in zahav, solomonov relates with raw honesty how personal tragedy catalyzed his reconnection with israel, and from there, how his desire to bring israeli culinary experiences to america culminated in zahav, located in philadelphia, pairing relatable writing with accessible and (so far) delicious recipes.
there are incidences of cultural appropriation, most glaringly “israeli salad,” a salad with arab origins which solomonov admits is “technically a misnomer,” but persists in identifying as israeli. however, zahav is overall a worthy addition to the culinary world, where politics take the back burner to solomonov’s obvious talent as a chef. the book is a heartfelt introduction of middle eastern (or in solomonov’s words, israeli) food to the uninitiated, and a love letter to solomonov’s family and friends who supported him and to the food that sustained him through times of difficulty. another point of recommendation: his pita bread recipe is the one I’ve been searching for, the neo of pita breads.
hm. maybe finding perfect pita wasn’t such a good idea. two pitas in and I’ve lost all self-control. help!
2 tsp sugar
2 cups (250g) all-purpose flour
scant 2 cups (250g) bread flour
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 tbsp olive oil
michael solomonov and steven cook. zahav: a world of israeli cooking. new york: houghton mifflin harcourt, 2015.
2 combine the flours and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment. mix on low speed until blended. add the yeast mixture, another 1/2 cup water, and oil and mix on low until the dough forms a ball that pulls clear of the sides and bottom of the bowl. (if the mixture doesn’t form a ball after a minute, add a tbsp of water.)
3 the moment the dough starts to pull clear, add another 1/2 cup water and continue mixing until incorporated. the dough should look quite wet and feel sticky when slapped with a clean hand, but should not stick. (if it sticks, add more flour, 1/2 tbsp at a time.)
4 cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, ~1 hour. (you could also let it rise in the fridge overnight.)
5 preheat to 480ºF convection (500º conventional) and place a baking stone or inverted baking sheet on a rack in the oven to preheat as well.
6 roll the dough into 8-12 balls the size of baseballs (3-in diameter). cover with a cloth and let rise until they are the size of softballs (3.7-in diameter).
7 roll each dough ball to 1/4-in thickness, the size of a hockey puck (3-in diameter) with a floured rolling pin on a floured work surface. place 2-3 at a time on the preheated baking sheet and bake until puffed and cooked through, ~3 minutes. remove with tongs, serve immediately, or let cool.