I’m exhausted.  We’re entering our third night of viral croup with poor L., and our fourth full day of potty training P. has just come to a close.  I left work early today to take L. to the doctor for an official diagnosis, though we’re far more familiar with croup than I’d care to recall.  Somewhere between taking P. to the potty a half-dozen times this morning and putting the kids to bed tonight, some things got done, dinner was made and eaten (at least, by J. and me), and I marshaled enough functional brain cells to sit down and write this post.  Happily, it’s an easy one; many of you have been asking for recipes, and I’m more than willing to oblige.

Tonight’s array is sort of a follow-up to my recent post about the satisfaction of making everything we eat from scratch.  It’s a commitment, to be sure, making your own breads and so forth when they’re so easily procured from the store; but it’s far cheaper to make them, and often, the homemade stuff tastes so much better than the store-bought that it’s certainly worth it.  I look at homemade bread the same way I used to look at visiting the gym (back when I was an avid gym-goer, before the kids, job, blog, choral commitment, etc., etc. made leisurely hours of treadmills and circuit training an impossible luxury): It sometimes feels like I just don’t want to devote the time and energy to it, but I’ve never regretted doing it, afterwards.

We’re not all bread-makers, I know, but even if you’re not up to the task of sandwich breads and dinner rolls and all of that, you can probably put together these three basic dough recipes and impress your family and friends.  If you can make your own pitas, tortillas, and pizza dough, you’ve mastered some really versatile breads that can be used in a multitude of different meals and snacks; as a bonus, once you’re comfortable with these recipes, it’s likely that you’ll have the confidence and some of the skill required to progress to more challenging bread-baking projects.

In each of these recipes, you can use regular all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, or a mixture of the two.  I often use a bit of bread flour mixed with whole-wheat flour because I generally have bread flour on hand in large quantities, and I don’t always like to use exclusively whole-wheat — I find it’s a bit heavy and grainy for my taste.  If you’re a devotee of whole-wheat pastry flour, that might be just the thing, but I’m so far resisting the temptation to have yet ANOTHER bag of miscellaneous flour in my pantry.

The much-requested tortilla recipe is not mine; I found it on a blog called 100 Days of Real Food.  I enjoy the blog and have found that the tortilla recipe is my newest obsession (J. even walked into the kitchen the other day and exclaimed, “Oh good, your homemade tortillas!” as if he’d just been presented with a gigantic inheritance).  As a disclaimer, I’ll honestly say that I don’t necessarily agree with everything the 100 Days blogger says, but I don’t have to — one of the nice things about being a food blogger is that you get to experience so many different points of view, and you can appreciate somebody’s work and perspectives without always thinking they’re totally right about absolutely everything.  She’s done some pretty admirable stuff, and this recipe alone is worth a visit to her site.  For what it’s worth, when I make these tortillas I use 1 1/2 cups of whole-wheat flour and a cup of bread or all-purpose; that’s what gives us the best results in flavor and texture for our family’s tastes.

One of the nice things about a tortilla is that it doesn’t contain any yeast and doesn’t require any proofing time; but there’s no need to be skittish about yeast.  I think most people who struggle with baking breads are timid and unsure about what is supposed to happen with the whole RISING thing.  It does take some practice to get a perfect rise, and beyond that, getting just the right texture for every bread dough can be hard to master.  But this pizza dough recipe, which I know I got originally from somewhere — God help me to remember where — and have tweaked to my tastes, rises beautifully in the refrigerator overnight.  That makes it just as convenient as a store-bought dough, and as a bonus, any dough you don’t use right away can be frozen and will thaw in just about an hour on the countertop.  We use it not only for pizzas, but for calzones, breadsticks, and focaccia.

Basic Whole-Wheat Pizza Dough
4 cups flour (I use 2 1/2 of whole-wheat flour and 1 1/2 of bread flour for a nice chewy texture)
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups warm water (it should feel like bathwater, but better slightly too cool than too hot)
2 tsp. honey
1 package active dry yeast
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for oiling the bowl

Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl.  In another dish, whisk together the honey and water, then add the yeast and stir to dissolve.  Let the yeast stand for 5 minutes to proof.  You should see some foam start to develop on the surface of the water; if there’s no foam after 10 minutes, discard the batch and start over with cooler water.
Using a food processor, stand mixer with dough hook attachment, or just a wooden spoon and your hands, add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture and stir until thoroughly combined.  Gradually stream in the olive oil until the dough has come into a single mass and is soft and shiny.  Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead quickly, for just a few minutes, until it’s a smooth ball.  Place the dough in a clean bowl coated with olive oil, turning the dough to coat it completely.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise 45 minutes in a warm place, or in the refrigerator for 18-24 hours.  Bring the dough to room temperature before working with it.  You will have enough dough to make four medium-sized (8-10 inch) pizzas.

The last recipe is so similar to the pizza dough that it’s striking — proving my theory, I suppose, that once you’ve mastered one dough it’s not so difficult to move on and conquer many others.  Again, this pita recipe is something I have scrawled on a piece of paper, and I know it’s not originally mine — it either came from one specific location, or is my amalgamation of several different recipes, which I will sometimes do if I find many different recipes for a single item and don’t know which to try.  In any case, I haven’t noted where it’s from, but if it’s yours, please forgive me for reprinting it and feel free to take the credit!  The biggest difference between the pizza dough and the pita bread is that I wouldn’t necessarily let the pita dough rise in the refrigerator.  I feel like the softness and delicacy of the pitas can only be served by keeping the dough warm, supple, and fresh.  However, once baked, these will hold in a zip-top bag for 3-5 days; just warm them slightly before serving to bring them back to life.

Basic Pita Bread
3 cups flour (I use 2 cups whole-wheat and 1 cup bread flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon honey
1 package active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water (again, it should just be like bathwater)
2 tablespoons olive oil

Either in a bowl with a wooden spoon, or in a stand mixer with dough hook, combine the flour and salt.  In a separate dish, dissolve the honey and yeast in the warm water and let proof for 5-10 minutes, until foamy.  (If it doesn’t foam, discard and start over — try cooler water.)  Combine the flour mixture and yeast mixture and add the olive oil, stirring until the dough becomes a single mass.  Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and soft.  Place the dough in a clean bowl coated with olive oil, cover loosely with a damp towel, and let rise for 90 minutes or until doubled in size.  Punch the dough down, divide into eight equal pieces, roll each piece into a small ball and cover again with the damp towel.  Let the dough balls rest for 20 minutes so they will be easy to roll out.  While they’re resting, preheat the oven to 400 degrees; place a cookie sheet upside-down on the oven rack to preheat at the same time.
Using a rolling pin, roll the dough balls out into circles roughly 1/4 inch thick (they’ll be between 4 and 6 inches across).  When the oven and the cookie tray are preheated, place two or three of the dough rounds at a time directly onto the hot bottom of the cookie sheet and bake for 3-5 minutes, until they’re puffed up and lightly golden.  Repeat with all the remaining dough rounds.  Serve warm.

With these three recipes, you can make pizzas, quesadillas, falafels, gyros, calzones, hot pockets, and any number of other dishes, all for far less than it would cost to purchase the ready-made breads at the supermarket (and with far healthier ingredient lists).  While skills like rolling out tortillas and pitas may take a few tries, I’d encourage you to keep trying and to accept less-than-perfect results at first.  My first batch of tortillas was so misshapen, I was positive they were a total failure — until we tried them.  My first few homemade pizzas were anything but round, and I was constantly patching together holes in the too-thin dough before I got the hang of stretching it gently into compliant disks.  But over time, I’ve learned, and more importantly, I’ve recognized the fact that real food, homemade food, shouldn’t look perfect.  It shouldn’t look like it came from a factory, because it didn’t.  It came from you.  And that’s a gift of food love that’s worth a little effort.