New World Sourdough: Whole-Grain Pita Bread + Ligurian Focaccia and Discard Pretzels

New World Sourdough is a 2020 cookbook by Bryan Ford. I will not be reproducing Ford’s recipes in my blog. Read his blog, buy his book, support his work.

The New World Sourdough whole-grain pita bread recipe is as easy as it looks. The recipe is a standard flour, water, salt, yeast combo. The only ingredient that would give anyone trouble is spelt flour, but I’m sure it could easily be replaced with whole wheat.

top: dough after mixing, before kneading, next to plastic dough scraper. bottom: ball of kneaded dough next to scraper.
The magic begins.
right: red bowl with round of kneaded dough
Bradley at work during bulk fermentation.

Like English muffins, I was curious to learn how pitas are born. Where does that pocket come from? Where do I insert the bellows to fill the bread with air?

four balls of dough on parchment paper
Ready for an overnight proof, during which elves will sneak into the refrigerator and insert the baking balloons.

Unlike English muffins, pitas keep their secrets. There was no particular pocket process. Once one was rolled out and on the cooking surface, the pocket expanded like a beautiful wheat air mattress.

round of dough on a floured counter next to a rolling pin
Be sure to dust the dough with flour before rolling.
hand holding ruler over rolled out round of dough next to rolling pin
Ford doesn’t give a diameter for pitas, but mine all measured 7-8″.

My big baking stone worked perfectly for two pitas at a time. To avoid deflating the pitas, I needed both hands to flip them. The tools I used were tongs (operated with a light touch) and a spatula, but I would guess there are more effective utensils out there.

two ballooned pitas on a baking stone in an oven.
Where the magic happens.

This recipe makes four pitas, which I found amusing when compared to the 18 semitas de yema I made previously. I only ate one, though, so now who’s laughing? (No one.)

Four pitas on a cooling rack, with a hand holding one up to show a side view
Does this count as oven spring?

One reason I ate so few is I had no hummus. This was nothing more than poor planning.

hand holding cut open pita, showing big air pocket
No falafel in the house either. What was I thinking?

These hardy pitas made an excellent receptacle for fillings. They didn’t break or soak through while eating. While great for a quick sandwich, this toughness did not age well–these pitas lost their softness the next day. I would recommend making only as many as you are going to eat that day.

Teal plate with two halves of a pita sandwich with eggs and vegetables
Fresh pita for breakfast

Ligurian Focaccia

To fulfill my focaccia debt, I returned to my most trusted recipe: Ligurian focaccia by Samin Nosrat (of Salt Fat Acid Heat fame). By my reckoning, this recipe is about 5% flour, 15% salt, 80% olive oil, and worth every drop.

Top: mixed ingredients covered in olive oil
This dough doesn’t need kneading.

After prying at least a dozen loaves of focaccia off of baking sheets, I finally realized I could use parchment paper to make my life easier. The olive oil pools more quickly on parchment paper than the metal sheet, so I tried to be snappy about brushing it on and plopping in the dough.

baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Olive oil is pouring from a bottle above it.
I’m never going back.

This recipe includes the unnatural step of pouring salty water over the dough to brine. Toppings are supposed to be added after the 45 minute brine, just before baking, but of course I accidentally added rosemary and garlic and then remembered to brine. This didn’t negatively affect the bread at all.

Pan of fully baked focaccia
I’d love to roam these hills.

For…science…I proofed this loaf about 20 minutes beyond the prescribed 45 minutes. If anything, this made for a more wonderfully spongey bread, since my kitchen is cooler this time of year.

sliced focaccia showing bubbly crumb
Sink your teeth into this beauty.

Discard Pretzels

Encouraged by my previous success, I made the King Arthur Flour sourdough discard pretzel recipe again. Unfortunately, I did not let the oven cool off enough after making the focaccia. As a result, instead of a soft, buttery treat, these were hard, bready chew toys. Since my usual sin is underheating the oven, it was a wake-up call to make sure I don’t overheat either.

twelve dark-baked pretzels on a cooling rack
The nice brown crust belies an unpleasant interior.

Bread develops flavor and texture in the bulking and proofing time. When a bread rises as quickly as these pretzels do, they depend on every other element being perfect. Since these were overbaked, they couldn’t be saved.

sliced pretzel showing tight crumb structure
Too tough for butter to save.

Next week: mallorcas


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