Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Of Lamb, and the Perfect Puff

DucCat came home a few nights ago with a lovely little leg of lamb. I watched him carefully butterfly it, mix up a marinade, and throw the whole thing into a plastic bag for that perfect melding of flavours.

We’d been expecting company, but the next evening found just the two of us sitting at the table, a bottle of wine, perfectly grilled lamb, and sautéed squash n’ zucchini our only companions. Somehow, we were okay with that.

The wine was a Chalk Hill 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon, another velvety wine with dark fruits and that luscious mouth feel.
Hints of chocolate and spicy leather peeked out, and basked in the tannins.
An excellent choice for the lamb, and all the more celebratory for just the two of us.

DucCat ate only a small portion of his lamb, then said the he wasn’t so fond of the way it tasted. I retorted that maybe he ate too big of a lunch, because the lamb was superb, perfectly cooked, and redolent of garlic and fresh herbs. Silly boy.

Marinade for Leg of Lamb

4 lb leg of lamb, butterflied
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 scallions, sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
whopping scoop of Dijon mustard
dash of Worcestershire (or however you spell it)
fresh oregano and thyme

Let marinate for at least one day. Remove from marinade and grill to desired degree of doneness. Let rest 10 minutes, then slice, crack salt over, and serve.

Of course, we had a fair amount of lamb leftover, which can only mean one thing: pitas!I’d only made pitas once before, and achieved perfect puff on a precious few.

I divided the dough into two portions, and baked several that first night. One got partial puff; the rest were more like slightly pebbled flatbreads- at least they tasted good.

Several nights later, I pulled the rest of the dough out of the fridge, and baked off that lot as well. Curiously, this batch did much better; the positive puff rate was slightly over half. Wine was drank, and much merriment was made.

With this in mind- and an utter lack of positive puff notes scribbled on the margins of the recipe- I approached the pitas with a small bit of trepidation. The dough was made, and left to sit for two days in the fridge.

As DucCat sliced the remaining lamb, and began to warm it in a simmering pan of veal stock and red wine, I quickly rolled out three pitas. Into the oven they went, and I hovered nervously, trying to peer through the speckled black glass of the oven door.

After a few minutes- I saw puff! It rose gorgeous and high, but only the one pita. The rest stayed closed, and developed that slightly pebbled-looking surface. Sigh. I tried a couple more, but only got another pita to lackadaisically half-puff.

I carefully pulled apart the half-puffed pita, and gave DucCat the full-puff beauty. Someday, I will discover the secret of the perfect puff. *tears shining in eyes* Someday.

recipe kindly proffered by ‘mean chef’ of the Cook’s Talk Forum

1 teaspoon dry yeast
2 1/2 cups warm water (approximately 105 degrees F)
2 cups whole wheat flour
4 c About 4 cups unbleached all-purpose or bread flour
1 Tablespoon salt
1 Tablespoon olive oil -- (1 to 2)

Note: Recipe can be made with ALL A/P flour

Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water in a large bread bowl. Stir to dissolve.
Add whole wheat flour, one cup at a time, then 1 cup white flour. Stir 100 times (one minute) in the same direction to activate the gluten in the flour. Let this sponge rest for at least 10 minutes or as long as 2 hours.

Sprinkle salt over the sponge and stir in the olive oil. Mix well. Add white flour, one cup at a time. When the dough is too stiff to stir, turn it out onto a lightly floured bread board and knead for 8 to 10 minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic. Return the dough to a lightly oiled bread bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until at least double in size, approximately 1 1/2 hours. Gently punch down. Dough can be made ahead to this point and then stored, covered, in the refrigerator for 5 days or less.

If at this time you want to save the dough in the refrigerator for baking later, simply wrap it in a plastic bag that is at least three times the size of the dough, pull the bag together, and secure it just at the opening of the bag. This will give the dough a chance to expand when it is in the refrigerator (which it will do). From day to day, simply cut off the amount of dough you need and keep the rest in the refrigerator, for up to one week. The dough will smell slightly fermented after a few days, but this simply improves the taste of the bread. Dough should be brought to room temperature before baking.

This amount of dough will make approximately 16 pitas if rolled out into circles approximately 8 to 9 inches in diameter and less than 1/4-inch thick. You can also of course make smaller breads. Size and shape all depend on you, but for breads of this dimension the following baking tips apply:

Place unglazed quarry tiles, or a large baking stone or two baking sheets, on a rack in the bottom third of your oven, leaving a one inch gap all around to allow air to circulate. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. [note: I do remember that I had previously cranked the oven up to 500-degrees. I'd forgotten to do that this time.] Divide dough in half, then set half aside, covered, while you work with the rest. Divide dough into eight equal pieces and flatten each piece with lightly floured hands. Roll out each piece to a circle 8 to 9 inches in diameter. You may wish to roll out all eight before starting to bake. Cover rolled out breads, but do not stack.

Bake 2 at a time (or more if your oven is larger) directly on quarry tiles or baking sheets. Bake each bread for 3 or 4 minutes, until the bread has gone into a full "balloon" or until it is starting to turn lightly golden, whichever happens first. If there are seams or dry bits of dough - or for a variety of other reasons - your bread may not go into a full "balloon". Don't worry, it will still taste great. The more you bake pitas the more you will become familiar with all the little tricks and pitfalls, and your breads will more consistently "balloon." But even then, if you're like us, it won't always "balloon" fully and you won't mind because the taste will still be wonderful. When baked, remove, place on a rack for about five minutes to let cool slightly, then wrap breads in a large kitchen towel (this will keep the breads soft). When first half of the dough has been rolled out and baked, repeat for rest of dough, or store in refrigerator for later use, as described above. You can also divide the dough into more, smaller pieces if you wish, to give you smaller breads.

Yield: 16 pitas about 8 inches in diameter, or more smaller breads.


Blogger ilva said...

I just have to ask you if I understood one thing, he butterflied, i.e. opened I suppose, the lamb leg but did he cut loose the bone completely or did he leave it a bit attached and then wrap the meat around the bone as a shawl when he grilled it?

November 03, 2005 1:27 PM  
Blogger s'kat said...

Hi Ilva- He cut out the bone completely, and laid out the meat flat for grilling.

November 03, 2005 1:29 PM  
Blogger ilva said...

Thanks! I have done lamb's legs for years and years and I never eve THOUGHT about the possibilty of doing it this way! How dumb and dull and boring do I feel? Thanks a lot for giving me this wonderful way of doing lamb!

November 03, 2005 1:50 PM  
Blogger kitchenmage said...

try the pitas on foil on the rack above the stones, i did this just the other day and it made all the differencein the world (grokked from farmgirl's pita recipe, which is what i used

November 04, 2005 7:42 PM  
Blogger s'kat said...

ilva- no problem, you will have to let me know how it turns out!

kitchenmage, I'll give this a shot, though it will be with my next batch of pita bread. Thanks for the tip!

November 07, 2005 9:43 AM  
Blogger Just some girl said...

I was told by alice at "adventures in the breadbox" that, since it's steam that makes them puff, you have to knead in less flour - the dough should be fairly sticky instead of dry enough to handle comfortably. (She rolls it on a silpat with a nonstick rolling pin.)

I haven't tried it yet, but it makes sense to me!

December 20, 2005 12:18 AM  
Blogger s'kat said...

You know, that does make sense. I will have to remember to try that next time.

December 20, 2005 8:10 AM  

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