Gluten Free Bread and Lunchboxes - Pumpkin Pittas

Weeks have passed since I sat down for a chat with you my dear readers. They flew by in a rush of kitchen drawings, estimates and deadlines. Solicitors were engaged in an airless volley of words, typed on reassuringly heavy paper. Pennies trickled relentlessly through our fingers whilst we held each other tightly and waited for the eureka moment that would bring our future house just that little bit closer. Our nails are quite bitten to the quick, but we're almost there, almost...

I have been baking bread though, in an attempt to nail a perfect, lowish GI, gluten-free sandwich loaf for a course I should be teaching soon. It's pretty much there and I promise to share it when it's just so. It also happened that this month's Go Ahead Honey event boasted two themes - Bread (hosted by Choupichen of C'est Sans Gluten) and Packing a Healthy School Lunch (hosted by Ali Segersten of Nourishing Meals). I realised with some relief that I could kill both birds with one stone by posting a pitta bread recipe I've been working on! Hurrah!

I have found it strange to gather bags of flour in the cupboard again after more than a couple of years grain free. Teff and chestnut flour take up space on the shelf like exotic and temporary exchange students. I'm not about to start eating grains again, but I do love to bake and my boys gratefully sample anything bready I pull out of the oven.

First my head ticks through the properties of each flour; taste, texture, glycaemic index, colour, or digestibility - chalking up a formula for bread. After a while I start to feel the rhythm of bread making come back to me as I move about the kitchen with silent purpose, from scales to cupboard to kettle. Yeast blooms in the dough while trays are oiled and seeds sprinkled. This type of baking can be a meditation - karma yoga we used to call it when I was a child.

My breath slows to a steady in-out, hands moving with innate bread knowledge. As the kitchen warms and the windows take on a steamy tint, I feel cocooned, softened, timeless. My centre is in the middle again.

Making your own bread is deeply satisfying; whether grain free nut breads - raised with egg whites beaten stiff, or gluten free yeasted breads, beaten up from the endless possibilities of grain and starch, nuts and roots. Just try one loaf, or a batch of pitta breads and you won't look back once you've pulled those delicious morsels from the oven and seen the look of awe in your family's faces.

As this post is also about Packing a Healthy School Lunch (hosted by Ali Segerston of Nourishing Meals), I would suggest packing one of these pumpkin pittas with a combination of leaves and protein to get a balanced meal that your darling can hold in one hand whilst they pick their nose with the other (essential life skills). Good combinations would be;
* Cheddar and watercress
* Roast chicken and round lettuce
* Roast beef and rocket
* Egg mayonnaise and gem lettuce
* Walnut pesto and baby spinach
* Cinnamon lamb-mince with pine nuts and fresh coriander
* Nut butter and banana slices

Accompany the stuffed pitta with  a few items from a selection of raw salad vegetables according to season; colourful bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, celery sticks, carrot sticks, cucumber slices, some leaves and maybe a small handful of nuts. Fin has his fruit for morning break, so we don't include any more here as one or two pieces are enough for one day. 

I also fill Fin's stainless steel tiffin-tin with; rice salad, Pesto-Pea-Pikelets, grain-free pizza slices, cold roast meat and leaves, courgette tortilla, tuna mayonnaise and cruditées, carrotslaw and cheese crackers, home-made chorizo sausages, waldorf salad, nut bread sandwiches, egg crepes or a flask of warm soup (pea and basil, velvet soup, hot and sour coconut soup...) in the winter.

Yes, people do comment on the green-ness of his lunchbox - and he just smiles back, with a bit of spinach in his grin.

If you would like to contribute a recipe to the Bread theme, visit Choupichen here and get a contribution in quick - you could even send an old recipe if you don't have anything to post right away. To contribute to the Packing a Healthy School Lunch theme, visit Ali here. If you can find something that covers both then that would be great!

Pumpkin Pittas (makes 9-10)

I know the list of ingredients looks long, but it's mostly just a spoonful of this and that... If you can't get teff flour, then you can substitute sorghum (or buckwheat) - but sorghum is much higher on the glycaemic index than teff, and unavailable gluten free certified in the UK.

8oz (peeled weight) Acorn or Butternut Squash, peeled, de-seeded and chopped (about 1/2 - 3/4 of a small squash) or the same weight of roast squash.
4oz Ground Almonds (Almond Flour)
1oz Buckwheat Flour
4oz White Teff flour (or buckwheat)
2oz Tapioca Starch (or arrowroot, sweet potato starch or cornflour)
2oz Brown Rice Flour
25g Ground Flax Seeds
8g fresh yeast or 1 tsp Quick Yeast (check packet for gluten)
1 tsp of Date Syrup (or sugar - but not honey as this inhibits yeast)
1 tsp Fine Sea Salt
1 Tbs Virgin Olive Oil
1 Large Free Range Egg
165-180ml Cold Water
Juice of half a lemon

Steam the squash until tender and leave to cool a little while you weigh out the rest of your ingredients. Or use roast squash.

In a mixing bowl, mash the squash into a purée when still fairly warm and stir in; oil, date syrup, salt, 165ml of the water, lemon juice and finally the egg - beating until nice and smooth. Make sure the temperature of the mix is no more than lukewarm when you add the egg, or it will start to cook.

Sift in the remaining dry ingredients except for the yeast and beat as hard as you can with a wooden spoon, until smooth. You want a very sticky dough at this stage, so you may want to add the remaining 15ml of water if it feels too stiff to beat with a spoon. The consistency should be stiff enough to make beating tiring, but not so stiff so that you could roll it in your hands. It will firm up a little as it proves.

Set the dough aside, covered with a tea-towel for 6-8 hours, to allow the lemon juice to start working on the phytic acid and the grains to soften and absorb the liquid. If you need to leave it overnight, stick it in the fridge and then let it come up to room temp for a couple of hours before you go on with the next stage.

Add your yeast - fresh or dried. Beat again with your spoon for a couple of minutes to mix it in and check the consistency - it should be a sticky dough that you can scoop, but not firm enough to roll in your hands without copious amounts of flour.

Leave aside for another hour to prove and beat well again to mix the yeast evenly and get rid of the gasses that have built up.

Oil 3 large baking sheets (if you only have two, just use the loose insides of sandwich cake tins - anything flat will do) and put a small pile of rice flour or maize flour (slightly crunchier) on the worktop. Scoop a satsuma sized ball of dough with the spoon, ease it onto the flour and turn over to coat with your fingers.

Press lightly between your palms to flatten into an oval ball and then pass between your flat palms to stretch it out a little - don't let it get too thin in your hands or it will tear (unless you're a pitta ninja). 

Pop it on the tray and flatten out to about 3/4 of a centimetre (about 1/3 of an inch), with the edge of your hand, in a very gentle, swedish-massage style. Flour your hands if they start sticking.

Repeat with the rest of the mix until finished. Prove in a draught-free place for about 2 hours - over proving is better with these as you're more likely to end up with a pocket.

About 15 minutes before the end of proving time, set the oven to 220C. When it's at temperature, sprinkle the trays with water and bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden and crisp around the edges.

Cool on a rack and freeze any that you aren't going to eat that day. Either defrost overnight, or toast straight from frozen.

If you under bake them slightly, they will be fine toasted. If you use Xanthan gum they do tend to go soft in the middle again when you toast them, so my advice is to toast and wait 5 minutes before splitting, or you may find the inside just rolls into clumps. If you over bake them then they make great crackers (only kidding - don't over bake them ok?)

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