I’ve been curious to try making pita bread (for Iraqi pita bread, Dan posted an excellent recipe two years ago) . I found the process to be fairly simple, but a bit time-consuming. Fortunately the delight of watching the pitas expand — literally like a balloon — was enough of a delight that I see me continuing to make them for a good while.
Recipe (makes 10-12 pita pockets):
- 1 tsp sugar (I used evaporated cane juice)
- 1/2 cup warm water (somewhere between 95 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit for the yeast, my pleasing-yet-unreliable method is to stick my finger in and go, “hm, does that feel comfy for yeast?”)
- 1 package of yeast (or if you buy it in bulk, about 2.25 tsp).
Mix these items together. Let them sit 10-15 minutes, it will form a big foamy head. This means it is happy. If there is no foam, it will NOT make your dough rise. This is because it is UNhappy. The yeast being dead or the water being the wrong temperature may also be contributing factors.
Separately, in a big bowl, mix together:
- 3 cups flour (I like white whole wheat)
- 1 1/4 tsp salt
Form it as if you were making a volcano in a sandbox, a big mountain with a chasm in the middle. Pour in the foamy yeast mix, and begin stirring it with one hand. With the other slowly/intermittently pour in:
- 1 cup warm water
Mix it in pretty well, and then take the whole fleshy ball and place it on a well floured counter or cutting board. Begin kneading it.
With this recipe, I continually flour the board generously throughout. I’d say I added at least 1/2 cup more of flour while kneading, in bits whenever it started sticking to everything. In fact, let’s add that to the ingredients for all of you pre-cooking recipe skimmers:
- 1/2 cup flour
Knead it for 15 minutes. Grab the front part of the dough and fold it back, and then push down with your palms. I love this. Love it!
This is quite a vigorous workout for your yeast, as you could imagine, and so it needs a nice warm place to relax before the final race. Oil the inside of your mixing bowl, place the ball of dough in, then flip the dough (so that both sides are greased). Cover it with a towel, and put the bowl in a warm place (I actually set the bowl on top of a yogurt maker turned on, which provides a nice low-level heat. An oven turned on for a minute and then off for a minute should work well too), and then sing it a lullaby. I have not found any lullabies for yeast, and so I wrote one especially for it:
Baby yeast, swim summer’s sea
When waves do foam, come back to me
I’ll hug you, kiss you on the head
and cover you, warm in bowl’s bed
when morning opens up your eyes
Let’s make the bread, it’s time to rise.
Let the dough rise 2-3 hours, it should be double in size. Gently punch it down, pull it out of the bowl, and then knead it on your floured surface a couple minutes. The tear it into approximately 10-12 pieces.
At this point, move your oven rack to the lowest position in the oven (you will be baking there), and turn on your oven. You want it at 500 degrees. This is pretty dang hot, so listen carefully: when you open the oven, a gust/cloud/wave of burning heat will leap from the stove. So make SURE your face is turned away and you are out of the line of fire. Trust me from personal experience, this blast of heat in your eyes HURTS.
Back to the dough. Take one the pieces, wet your fingertips, and knead it with your fingertips for about 10 seconds. Then put more flour down, and put the now-rounded piece in the flour, then flip it, and then roll it out with a rolling pin. You don’t want it too thin, maybe 1/4 inch. And as round as possible. Then set it aside for baking (note: I stack mine, but the bottom ones tend to stick together, I would recommend maybe not stacking them more then 6 high).
Once the oven is preheated (don’t begin until it is), put your cookie sheet (or baking/bread stone if you have one. Hm, maybe a stone should be put in earlier, not sure) in the oven for a minute to warm it. Take it out, put some of the dough discs on it (I generally can fit 3/sheet), and then pop it back in the oven. After 4 minutes they should have blown up like a baloon, flip them. Bake them another 2 minutes. Take them out and put them on a cooling rack. Repeat until you’re done.
Make these. They taste super good. Roll a few to be 3/4″ thick and eat ‘em like english muffins. Or make Hummus to go with it. You won’t be disappointed. Unless you screw up.