Beware the Whomping Willows

Things don’t always turn out as you’d expect.

Dunes at Tyndall AFB

After having children I developed a sixth sense (otherwise known as Mom logic) for figuring out what might happen, then preparing for it. Part of my job as food stylist was to anticipate the unexpected. I’d pack my kit, knife bag, and various tools, but in addition I’d have plans B, C, D & E ready for when things went sideways. And trust me – they almost always went sideways.

My best friend and I are both firm believers in imagining the worst possible scenario in any given situation so when it doesn’t happen, as it usually doesn’t, anything else which might have cropped up is a cake-walk (note my husband and therapist are not fans of this last method even if I think it works for me).

The point in noting all of this is simply to say that usually I can deal with most of what life throws at me and mine. Not always gracefully, but I manage. Occasionally even with a modicum of aplomb.

So when we recently travelled to Florida for our daughter’s Undergraduate Air Battle Manager Training graduation I was feeling both excited and prepared. I’d packed:

✓ shorts, sandals, and plenty of sunscreen for the warmer weather
✓ gloves, hat, and a warm coat for the return to Massachusetts in October
✓ cards for our graduates
books and books on tape because traveling without books is the equivalent to walking around naked in public, and I categorically refuse to do either
✓ reusable water bottle (the Gulf Coast of Florida is not big on recycling)

We were ready for the adventures ahead of us and headed south happily. Shawn flew down first and was able to spend a few days with Isabelle. Since I don’t fly the train got me down a few days later, and our son Russell showed up near the end of his work week.

Member of the Doghouse and her dad

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Simple Gifts

I woke up the other morning with a list running through my head. Not a grocery list or a to-do list, but a list of several people and things I am grateful for.

Late summer plumbs in a hand-made bowl.

It feels as if, just like the cornucopia of food at the local farmer’s markets in August, I too have a bounty of blessings. The unexpected gift from a friend at church who made me a set of pottery bowls because he thinks every good cook should have a set of nesting bowls. All summer long those bowls have been filled with seasonal fruits and other yummies. The gift of father who lived a very abundant 88 years*. A husband who is willing to dumpster dive in order to find the pearl earring I lost while we were doing some demo at a volunteer job. Yes miracles do happen – he found and rescued the lost earring from a soggy shop vac bag. Plus the every day gift, which makes it that much bigger, of my wonderful family who love to eat whatever I come up with in the kitchen.

There have been challenging moments over the last few months because that’s just the teeter-totter of life, but I’m trying hard to focus on the plus side of things. One giant plus I discovered during a dinner at a friend’s house. It was a lovely, late-spring meal and since I was one of the guests who lived close by, I offered to bring a few culinary contributions. My friend Jessica tasked me with bringing the green sauce for the poached salmon plus a gluten free/dairy free dessert. I knew which green sauce I was supposed to bring, but of course me being me I began to tinker and play around in the kitchen. I arrived not only with the requested green sauce and a gf/df rhubarb crumble, but two other green sauces I thought might go well with our supper**. While all of those green sauces were yummy (trust me – I put generous scoops of all three on my plate and drizzled or dipped with abandon) the one I have been making weekly ever since that meal is Francis Lam’s Ginger Scallion sauce.

Scallions, ginger and salt - the essential ingredients for green crack sauce

In my house we’ve renamed it “crack sauce” because once you’ve had a spoonful you will be addicted to this stuff, though thankfully no detox will be required. Besides poached salmon the ginger scallion green sauce also goes wonderfully on poached or grilled chicken, tofu, tempeh, steak or eggs. You can drizzle it over any sort of grain or rice. It will elevate your plain old toasted bagel and cream cheese (you’ll never want chive cream cheese again) and it will act as a flavorful spread on your hum-drum sandwiches. One day I watched my husband walk over to the fridge, spoon a generous amount of green crack sauce into half an avocado he was holding, then he walked away enjoying spoonfuls of green yumminess as a snack.

Avacodo toast with green sauce made of ginger, scallions and avocodo oil

The only change I made to the original recipe is using avocado oil instead of the peanut oil Lam suggests. Both have a very high smoke points (520ºF for avocado oil and 450ºF for peanut oil) and are fairly neutral tasting oils, but since I know and love folks who are severely allergic to peanuts I went for the avocado oil. If peanut allergies aren’t a problem in your house than you may want to try the original version since the cost of peanut oil is less than half that of avocado oil.

Avocodo Oil has a very high smoke point

Remember to heavily salt the chopped scallions and ginger - more than you think you'll need

This recipe couldn’t be simpler and trust me it goes on just about everything. It is completely worth the 10 minutes of peeling, chopping, zapping, and pouring (boiling oil) each week to refresh your supply.

Peeling ginger root with a grapefruit spoon

Green Crack Sauce (aka Francis Lam’s Ginger Scallion Sauce)

One goodly sized chunk of fresh ginger (I use a piece the size of my hand)

Two- three generous handfuls of scallions

Two to three teaspoons of Kosher salt

One cup of high flash point oil, avocado or peanut oil

Peel the ginger by scraping the skin with a spoon. I use a grapefruit spoon with its serrated tip, but any spoon edge will do the job. If a few bits of skin stay on it isn’t a big deal. Roughly chop the ginger into chunks then pulse in a food processor until minced. Scrape into a large, heat-proof bowl.

Next cut off the roots of the scallions and peel away any dry bits. Cut into rough chunks and pulse the scallions in a food processor so they’re roughly the same size as the ginger. Try not to make scallion soup. Scrape the minced/chopped scallion in with the ginger and salt generously. To the point where you think you may have over-salted everything. Then heat the oil in a medium saucepan until smoking.

Now please don’t start thinking you know more than me and Mr. Lam when I tell you you’ll need a huge, heat-proof bowl to mix the hot oil, scallions and ginger in because seriously we mean it! A bowl big enough to put a basketball in is a good size, not because you will end up with a basketball amount of green crack sauce, but rather because there will be some serious bubbling action going on when you pour the smoking hot oil over the chopped scallions and ginger. As in volcanic bubbling. And it would be criminal if all that yumminess exploded out onto your counter simply because you didn’t heed the warning and used a puny-sized bowl. Consider yourselves forewarned.

Once the oil is smoking slowly pour it over the salted ginger scallion mix. It will, as I’ve said, bubble and sizzle insanely for a few seconds. The first time you make this you will silently thank me for the big bowl warning. Once all the action has settled down, give the mixture a stir. Let it cool down and then store in a glass jar in the fridge. Make more when the jar is empty.

*My father passed away late last fall. He had an amazing and full life being married to the woman he adored, doing the work he loved to do, and fly fishing. We all miss him. If you want the recipe for his amazing champagne punch cocktail click here.

Isabelle, Pop-Pop and Grammy

**One of the green sauces was Lindsay’s Magic Green Sauce, and the other was my friend Rick’s awesome green sauce (and the one the hostess had asked me to bring) which I’ll share in a future post.

***If you have an abundance of plumbs on your hands I can highly recommend this yummy Italian plumb cake or you could try Erin McDowell’s Plumb Cobbler Bars.


Filed under 50 Recipes

Shaping by Hand

Of all the cookie recipes I’ve baked one of my favorites is Homemade Fig Newtons. Perhaps it is the gooey fig center of dried figs moistened with fresh orange juice. Or maybe I can’t resist the little pastry wings that bake onto the edges of these homemade Fig Newtons. It could be the satisfaction of making something you typically buy, but which has the bonus of tasting even better than the store-bought version. Or simply the alchemy of nostalgia mixed with butter, sugar and figs.  However you slice it up, this recipe should definitely be in your recipe box, filed under Yummy.

Homemade Fig Newtons

Since I tend to make these cookies pretty often there are many opportunities to reflect on this recipe. One time,  just as I was about to put the pureed fig filling into the pastry bag, I thought to myself, “Why am I doing this?” Don’t get me wrong I am a huge fan of pastry bags, but did this particular filling really need to be piped? The answer is no. I got out the best kitchen tools I have – my hands – and ran them under cold water so they were damp, then gently molded the fig filling into a log. It took less than two minutes. With the dough rolled out on the parchment paper I was able to fill and fold each fig newton log in seconds flat. The added bonus was there was no remaining fig paste stuck inside the pastry bag.

Moist fig paste for homemade fig newtons

Another change I made was to roll out enough dough for one log on a sheet of parchment. Doing it this way allowed me to use the parchment to fold the dough around the fig paste. I could probably have made a slightly narrower sheet of dough, but you should get the idea from the gif below.

Lastly I am going to admit to a rather serious character flaw – I seem to only be able to cook for a multitude. This flaw is actually a great one to have if you happen to have a couple of twenty-somethings living under your roof (which I do). Or are going to a party. Or need to gain twenty pounds (which no one I know does). But I will admit my friends and family are right, I make waaaaay too much food most of the time. So in an attempt to modify this excessive culinary behavior here is a smaller version of my Homemade Fig Newton recipe. You won’t have a mountain of Fig Newtons, you’ll have plenty. My recommendation is to have lots of cold milk on hand.

Homemade Fig Newtons


1 1/2 cups flour, plus more for rolling out

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4  teaspoon salt

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (1  1/4 sticks)

2/3 cups packed brown sugar

1 egg

2+ teaspoons vanilla

Zest of one large oranges


1 pounds dried figs (black or white or a combination)

1/2 cup fresh orange juice, extra water if figs are dry

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a mixing bowl and set aside. In a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment), beat the butter and brown sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the egg, vanilla, and orange zest and beat until combined. Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until well blended. Scoop the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, shape into a log, and refrigerate for at least 2-24 hours. Longer is better since this is a very soft dough.

Combine the figs and juice in a medium saucepan. If you don’t have quite enough juice for the full cup you can top it off with a bit of water. Bring the juice to a boil, cover, and turn to temperature to very low, simmering for about 8-12 minutes. When the liquid has almost completely evaporated turn off the heat and allow them to cool for 10-15 minutes. Transfer the figs and any remaining juice to a food processor and pulse until the mixture is completely smooth. If things are too dry add a smidge of water. You want paste, not soup and not cement.

The filling mixture has to cool completely before you put it in the dough or it will soften the dough too much before baking. Scrape the fig paste in a glass bowl, cover with a piece of plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.

Move oven racks so they divide space into thirds. Preheat oven to 325ºF. Place 1/2 of the dough onto a sheet of parchment paper which has been sprinkled liberally with flour. Sprinkle more flour on top and roll into a long skinny rectangle, about 7” x 18”. You’ll want to move the dough every so often and perhaps re-flour to keep it from sticking to the parchment.

Form 1/2 of fig paste filling into a log and place near the middle of the dough rectangle. Wrap the dough gently over the filling by moving it with the parchment paper up and over the filling, one side at a time. Flip the Fig Newton roll over so the seam side is touching the parchment. Since this amount is slightly longer than in the original recipe you may need to either place the log on the diagonal or cut it in half, leaving a decent amount of space between each half on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough and fig paste. If the weather is hot you can slide the baking sheet and unbaked logs into the fridge for 15-30 minutes.

Cook both logs at the same time, rotating shelves (top to bottom) and giving each sheet a 180º spin midway through. Bake 18-22 minutes on each rotation (40+ minutes total) or until cookies are just browning along the edges. Don’t forget to flip and spin the cookie sheets half way through the baking process.

After letting the fig logs cool slightly (4-10 minutes) gently slice them into cookies with a serrated knife using a sawing motion. You may need to clean the blade of fig filling every so often. Let cool, then store in an air tight dry container. Makes 30-40 depending on how wide you cut them.

Common fig from the New York Public Library

Slices of homemade fig newtons

Russell helped me gif-ify the process on gfycat – thanks Russ!

Drawing of Fico rubado (common fig) courtesy of the New York Public Library digital collection.

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My Favorite Shared Meal & Give Away

Today is Maundy Thursday, which means tonight was my favorite church service of the year – probably due in large part to the fact it involves a shared meal.

Maundy Thursday service

Several years ago our rector started a Maundy Thursday service she called a Journey to Cavalry. We begin outside the church and “travel” inside, stopping for hand washing (I know foot washing is traditional, but…), followed by an agape meal, the eucharist, and finally ending up in the “Garden of Gethsemane” which has been set up in the parlors. Different members of the congregation take turns in the garden, praying and staying up all night.

Agape meal

When we started this tradition the agape meal consisted of us milling around a small table sharing the food with each other. We still share the food, however as the service has grown we’ve added tables down the center isle of the church and more radiating into the transepts. Various parishioners provide the colorful tablecloths and china, and this year my husband added dozens of red oak candle holders which he made. We filled the candle holders with votives and candles left over from All Saints day and the midnight Christmas mass. Remembering, reusing, recycling, followed by rejoicing on Easter Sunday.

For those of you who have not been to an agape meal it is a shared feast, connected to, but separate from the eucharist. Ours features grapes, cheeses, nuts, dried fruits, olives, matzoh, pita, and hummus. While most of the items are simply purchased at the store this year I made a  big batch of Molly Yeh’s hummus. The chick peas simmered as I sanded the edges of the candle holders. After loading up the car with bowls, candle holders, and groceries I popped back into the kitchen to finish the hummus. It’s ridiculously easy – once you’ve drained the warm chick peas, they get zapped in the food processor with tahini, fresh lemon juice, salt, and some water. A few minutes later the hummus is ready for a drizzle of olive oil and some sprinkled parsley. Then comes the hardest part – you have to pack up the warm hummus. I know you’re quirking your eyebrow. Trust me – if you’ve never had warm, homemade hummus you won’t understand, but I can tell you it is the best thing ever and now you know!

Homemade hummus

Yeh serves her warm hummus with pita, which I wrote about here. I agree warm hummus and fresh pita are a dynamic duo, but it’s also pretty great just by the spoonful!

Maundy Thursday Hummus

1 cup chick peas, soaked overnight*

Generous pinch of baking soda

1/3 cup tahini

1-2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3/4 + teaspoons salt

3-6 Tablespoons cold water

Olive oil (optional)

Chopped parsley (optional)

Drain the soaked chick peas and cover them  in cold water by 3-4 inches. Add the baking soda and bring to a boil. Once they are rolling along you may need to skim off any foam that rises to the top. I usually drop them down to a simmer at this point. It will take 1 1/2 – 2 1/2 hours for them to soften depending on your stove and chick peas.

Drain off the cooking liquid and place them into a food processor, along with the tahini, lemon juice, salt and some of the cold water. Zap until smooth 2-3 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings accordingly.

*If you forget to soak the chick peas you’ll just need to boil them a bit longer.

Red Oak Candle Holder Give Away

Red oak candle holders

What's left after drilling 100 candle holders

WorkableWoods red oak candle holder

Shawn made loads of the red oak candle holders so we thought it would be nice to give away a pair. To enter simply leave a comment about hummus or your favorite shared meal or just say “I’m in” in the comment section below by midnight April 17th EST (comments on my social media sites don’t count). We’ll pick one winner at random.

Easter flowers

This delightful flower arrangement outside the doors of St. John’s was done by Susan Roy.

Wishing you all a joyous Easter or Passover or Spring!


Update: Congratulations to Sue K. who is the lucky winner of the red oak candle holders!


Filed under 50 Recipes

Not Too Sweet

Hilary and Missy knitting

The women in my knitting group have something in common besides knitting. They all follow a gluten free diet. Which makes me the odd duck of the group, wheat eater that I am. So once a month I try to come up with a yummy GF recipe. Not that our endless cups of tea, comradery, and gentle clicking of needles needs much sweetening, but it’s an excuse to explore new recipes. Besides my friends are a willing group of guinea pigs taste testers.

If you’ve read this blog before you know the idea behind it are the stories of how I came across/found/or was given each recipe. A large part of the fun is about the route I took to get the recipe. A map as it were, between biting into something delicious and where I was before I even knew I wanted to bite into that morsel of food in the first place. This tracing of a recipe back to its source is intriguing for me – especially when it comes to the interweb and folks I’ve never met.

Occaionally Eggs gluten free chocolate cookies

Vanilla and Bean chocolate cookies

Here’s the “map” for these cookies. I first saw them on Alexandra’s Occasionally Eggs Instagram feed (top chocolate heart photo). They looked so good I wanted to reach through my phone screen and grab a few cookies to munch on right then and there. Alexandra mentioned she’d found the recipe on Traci’s blog/Instagram feed Vanilla and Bean (bottom chocolate heart photo). Alexandra had adapted the recipe using gluten free “flour” and coconut sugar in place of brown sugar and all-purpose flour. I was already loving the synergy of these chocolate cookie hearts across Instagram, and since I had some of the ingredients in my pantry, when knitting night was approaching earlier this month I made a batch. And let me tell you they were a hit.Snowy chairGluten free chocolate cookies with powdered sugar

Snowy deck

Snowy powdered sugar on vegan gluten free chocolate cookies

A few days after my first batch, March did what it so often does in New England – it snowed. A lot. Seeing the patterns the snow made on our deck, and also on my favorite wooden chair, made me re-think the shape of the cookies, at least for now. These days I cut strips, then when they’ve cooled I dust them with powdered sugar. They remind me of the snowy slats of my deck. And guess what –tomorrow we’re supposed to get another 5 – 11″ of snow!

Chocolate cookie dough - a bit different from the usual cookie dough

Before you head off to the kitchen I need to be straight up with you – this is an unique recipe. The first thing it tells you to do is to hydrate the sugar. I’d run across recipes where you let the flour rest, batters which needed to be chilled, but never in the 40+ years of baking I’ve done have I run across a recipe for hydrating sugar. Of course now that I’ve said that I’ll get comments telling me about dozens of recipes that call for sugar hydration, because after all what do I know? The dough (GF or regular) has an odd consistency when you initially make it, especially when compared to other cookie doughs. The all-purpose flour version has the consistency of brownie batter (right photo), while the gluten free version (left photo) feels more like chocolate play-do when you first mix everything together. You’ve been forewarned and so won’t be tempted to “add a little bit more flour.” Follow the recipe and you’ll be fine.

GF vegan chocolate cookies

Another note – due to the moistness of the dough you’ll be tempted to sprinkle a lot of additional flour, which ever kind you use, onto your rolling pin and counter. Don’t. See photo above where I used a bit of GF flour to keep the dough from sticking – it made it too dry. Instead put the dough between two sheet of plastic wrap and roll out, flipping every so often and peeling the plastic wrap off the surface of the dough. Once you’ve rolled it thin and cut out your cookies you’ll want to refridgerate it some more to firm back up prior to baking.

One of the knitters thought these cookies seemed to be a yummy gluten-free, vegan version of those chocolatey Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers used for Zebra Cake or Peppermint Zebra Cake. A variation to try the next time I buy heavy cream.

Intensely Chocolate Wafer Cookies

1/2 cup coconut or light brown sugar

3 Tablespoons + 1 1/2 teaspoons coconut oil, melted and cooled

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/3 cup water

1/4 cup cocoa (I like Valrhona)

3/4 cup gluten-free flour (I used cup4cup) or all-purpose flour

1/2 Tablespoon corn starch

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Powdered sugar for decorating (optional)

In a medium sized bowl mix the coconut or brown sugar with the melted coconut oil, vanilla and water. Sift the GF or all-purpose flour , cocoa, corn starch and salt over the sugar mixture and stir until incorporated. As I mentioned above the mixture will be rather soft/loose. Do not add additional flour. Wrap in plastic wrap and refridgerate 2 hours or more.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Move the racks in your oven so they’re spaced in thirds.

Place the dough between two large pieces of plastic wrap and gently roll into 1/4″ thickness. Cut into desired shapes and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet. If the dough is very soft pop the cookie sheet into the fridge for 14-20 minutes to firm up again. Continue re-rolling the remaining dough unless it’s too soft, in which case wrap and refriderate it again.

Bake cookies 20-22 minutes, switching the cookie sheet from top to bottom at the mid way point as well as rotating it 180º. It is hard to determine when these cookies are done since they are so dark you can’t see when they brown on the edges. I like them crispy so I tend to bake them a wee bit longer. If you don’t want them crunchy you can bake slightly less. The size and shape you cut the dough into may also affect baking times.

Cool on a cookie rack and store in air tight containers. To serve sprinkle with powdered sugar.

After showering cookies with powdered sugar


Chocolate heart cookies courtesy of OccasionallyEggs
Chocolate heart cookies and rolled dough courtesy of Vanilla and Bean
All others photos Cynthia Allen


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Favorite Tool #19 – Scoops

Stacks of cake pans

There are things in my basement no normal cook has. Graduated sets of round, oval, square, and hexagonal cake tins; four hundred and seventy-three cookie cutters; a brain-shaped Jell-O mold; and fourteen trigger release ice cream scoops in various sizes to name but a few. Tools of the trade from my food styling days, when one job might require a six-inch cake tin for a dense flourless chocolate torte, while another job would call for an eight-inch pan to bake a classic buttery Scottish shortbread in, and a month later I’d have to haul out a fourteen-inch cake pan to use for a party-size spanakopita featured in a brunch spread. For the most part these uniquely sized tools and cookware sit forlornly on the shelves waiting to be used again, gathering dust or serving as spots for spiders to weave their webs. Too special to donate to the church tag sale, yet not ordinary enough to live in the kitchen and be used for everyday cooking, these tools tell the story of a well-prepared food stylist. Ready for any recipe a food editor or art director might present me with. Occasionally I will go down into the basement and grab one of these oddball kitchen tools because it is just what I need to get the job done.

If you’re a reader of this blog you know in general I am not a fan of kitchen tools which are only able to perform one task. However sometimes it is all about having the right size gadget or pan. Just as you would not want to warm milk for a cup of hot chocolate in a pasta pot nor would you want to try and cook a pound of pasta in a two-cup saucepan. So yes, there are some sets of kitchen items I keep around because they are the right size. My ice cream scoops are one such set.

Molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream for Disney magazine

I originally invested in a multiple sized set because you never knew exactly what size scoop of ice cream (real or fake) would be required at any given photo shoot. The scoop size was determined by the dish, bowl or cone the ice cream was to go on or in. An art director wouldn’t be able to tell you in advance what size scoop was needed, but it wasn’t the sort of tool you could send someone out to buy if you didn’t bring the appropriate size with you. Better to have everything from key lime to softball size in your bag of tricks.

Ice cream scoops

Having a bevy (a gaggle? a whole heck of a lot?) of scoops proved useful for assembling the ice cream cookies we served at my sister and brother-in-law’s wedding since all their kids, as well as the nephews and nieces wanted to get in on the scooping and squishing action. So in addition to food styling jobs having multiples is also good for assembly line dessert production too.

Ice cream scoops for measuring cookie dough

The other thing ice cream scoops are good for are perfectly portioned cookies. One of those tricks you pick up working for a caterer or in a commercial kitchen is scooping rather than spooning the dough. Today I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies and it was incredibly fast to scoop, scrape, then release the dough onto a cookie sheet, before popping the trays into the oven to bake.

While I think it would be pretty silly for most people to have as many ice cream scoops as I have, having one or two isn’t a bad idea. Not a bad idea at all.

Chocolate chip cookies


Molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream Disney Magazine
All others Cynthia Allen

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Pita Bread – Puffy and Flat

Not winter; not spring

Last fall when I got my hands on two new cookbooks Soframiz and Molly on the Range, I was cooking out of both non-stop. Unfortunately the family (myself included) was eating the various recipes faster than I could whip out my iPhone. Everything was just too good. As winter is playing her pre-spring dance with us – where one day it is 16° and you need to dig through the mitten box to find scarves, hats and gloves, but the next day can be 50°, followed by an ice storm where you don’t want to leave the house at all – it’s an excellent time of year to cook and camera. I’m planning on remaking some of our favorites and taking pictures this time.

Molly on the Range and Soframiz cookbooks

I acquired both cookbooks within a week of each other, which of course lead to comparing them. Interesting to note all the recipes they had in common – homemade hummus, meat to top off aforementioned hummus, pita bread, za’atar bread, and pistachio cake. Flipping through the pages, reading the recipes and looking at the pictures was a pavlovian exercise at best. Flip, flip, drool. Then repeat.

Hummus with meat, morrocan carrots, greens and pita

The hummuses (is that the plural of hummus?) were the first dish I made since I’d never before bothered to make my own. With so many choices at the grocery store why bother I said to myself? The answer is simple – warm hummus. Honestly it is dreamy, something you should definitely try at least once in your lifetime.  As an accompaniment for the hummus, though not an afterthought, there is fresh pita bread.

Pillow pita

Moist dough

Pita bread cut into 2 ounce pieces ready to roll

Second rising

Pita bread you say? Yes, pita bread. I’d eaten the Soframiz pita when I visited Sofra, and so was familiar with their non-traditional, slightly golden puff balls, which Sortun and Kilpatrick describe as “puffy pillows”. Yeh makes a more traditional pita which she describes as,

“A thick, fluffy disk of warm bread that would make the ultimate sleeping bag if ever we entered real-life Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves.

Puffy pillows or the ultimate sleeping bag – the truth is you probably want to make both. And if you can’t stop eating the pita bread, like I couldn’t,  you may also want need to take a nap. You’re probably thinking I’m nuts to want to bake something so readily available in every grocery store across the country, but trust me it’s worth making a batch or two of pita yourself. It’s not at all difficult and the results are delightful.

Pita pocket bread

Both recipes are pretty close to one another. Here are the very minor tweaks/choices I made:

  • I kneaded the dough by hand instead of using a stand mixer.
  • As a former beekeeper I chose honey as the sweetener to help proof the yeast.
  • I liked the suggestion of substituting some whole wheat flour in place of the white flour.
  • My hubby preferred all-purpose pita to bread flour pita. I couldn’t really tell the difference, but know they’re both good.
  • Perhaps because it is more or less still winter, and thus rather chilly most days, my rising times were much longer.
  • Oven temperatures were listed at 400° or 500°, choose according to how clean your oven is.

Pita Two Ways

1 1/2 cups warm water

1 package active dry yeast

1-2 Tablespoons honey

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 – 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

2-3 Tablespoons olive oil, divided

In a large bowl mix together the water, honey and yeast. Give it a stir then let sit until the yeast starts foaming up to the top, around five minutes.

Add two cups of flour, stirring to make a loose, wet dough. Add the salt and then most, but not all, of the olive oil. It’s important to add the salt after you’ve added some of the flour so the salt doesn’t kill the newly activated yeast.

Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the remaining flour on your counter and dump out the wet dough and start kneading. Sprinkle the rest of the flour out and continue kneading till it has all been absorbed into the dough and the dough is soft and perhaps a wee bit sticky, about 5-7 minutes. Try not to be tempted to add more flour, since you want a slightly sticky, moist dough. Pour the remaining Tablespoon of olive oil in the bowl you started with,  and roll the dough ball around so it’s lightly covered with oil. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and let dough rise until double, 2-3 hours.

Punch down the dough, then on a lightly floured work surface knead once or twice. Cut into 12 pieces. I ended up using a kitchen scale and the chunks weighed just a smidge over 2 ounces each. Then using your cupped hand-roll roll each chunk of dough so it forms a small ball. I think of my hand as a five-legged daddy-longlegs spider dancing around the dough. Once the dough has been formed into balls set them on a piece of lightly floured parchment paper, sprinkle them with a whisper of flour and cover with another piece of parchment, and set aside to rest – about an hour.

Preheat oven to 500°F if it is clean and won’t smoke, or 400°F it it isn’t spotless. For the pillowy version gently transfer the balls of dough to a parchment covered baking sheet and bake 7-12 minutes until slightly browned on the bottom. For the traditional pita version (where there is a pocket)* gently flatten the balls with a rolling pin or pat down with your hands and let rest another 10-20 minutes, then bake on parchment covered baking sheets 7-10 minutes or until you see them pop-up like a balloon, then settle down as they cool, which forms the traditional space you can stuff things into. Serve straight away, or cool on a rack then store in a plastic bag.

*After much experimenting I’ve found the traditional pita with a pocket really does benefit from a hot, hot oven. So if you’re oven is going to smoke at 500°F consider making the pillowy version.

Note: this bread doesn’t last for a long time so if you’re not going to eat it all in a few days wrap and freeze.

Pita with pesto

I love both versions for scooping up hummus or topping with heaping spoonfuls of Moroccan Carrot Purée. Shawn enjoyed them slathered with pesto. Homemade pita bread is also the perfect base for a chocolate hazelnut spread sandwich. Especially when the pita is still warm. Decadent & delightful. Of course you may want to take a walk (or a nap) after munching all this deliciousness.

Chocolate hazelnut spread on homemade pita bread

Brook along Grass Hill Road


Filed under 50 Recipes