Mediterranean Month: Homemade Pitas
I have always liked the idea of pita, it’s bread with a convenient little pocket that you get to stuff with anything your heart can imagine, but in actuality, for a long time pita was never even made the top 10 of my favorite styles of bread. This is because grocery store pita is, in my opinion, simply disappointing. I have purchased that pack of on-sale pita from the deli rack many times, full of excitement and with a list of well-meaning intentions a mile long that vanish as soon as I get home and untwist the little wire holding the bag closed. Grocery store pita bread is dry. Desert-island dry. And when you try to pry open that much anticipated little pocket, the bread tears and breaks leaving you with no pocket to fill and flimsy shards of pita to contend with.
These pitas are not at all like those grocery store-style pitas. They are soft and fluffy, moist and chewy and there are no flimsy pita shards that fall off when you try to open them. They also keep well for a few days, freeze excellently, and are not very labor intensive or difficult to make. The key to making a good pita is giving it enough resting time for the gluten to get used to its new size, so that it has the ability to puff up when you bake it. To make these pitas, you just mix together your dough and then give it an hour to an hour and a half to proof and double in size. Then, you punch it down, divide your dough into equal pieces, and shape those pieces into little pita spheres. Let them rest about ten minutes before you roll them into their final pita shape. After you have your final discs, it is super important to let them rest about 30 minutes (covered with plastic wrap because we do not want them drying out) before baking them off. The pitas bake in batches of 4, depending on the size of your cookie sheet and oven, and only take about 7-9 minutes to bake.
A little effort goes a long way here and once you try your hand at home-made pitas, you’ll never be able to go back to those grocery store “pitas” again.
Homemade Pita Bread
Yield: 8 pitas
1 cup water
2 tsp active dry yeast
Pinch of sugar
2 1/2-3 cups of flour, plus more for dusting
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
Heat water to 110-115 degrees, add the sugar and yeast and then set aside to let yeast hydrate. After about 2 minutes, you can stir the yeast into the water and then let it sit for another 3-4 minutes, until it starts to create a foam at the top of the water.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, toss together 2 1/2 cups of flour and salt. Add the olive oil and yeast mixer and mix on medium-speed with a dough hook until everything is combined. Increase the speed to medium and continue to mix for 5-7 minutes until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Add the last 1/2 cup of flour in tablespoon increments if the dough seems wet —you may not use all of the flour. You are looking for a smooth, slightly tacky dough with full gluten development.
Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover and let proof for 1-1/2 hours, until doubled in size.
When dough has proofed, turn out onto a well-floured work surface. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces and shape each piece into a smooth ball. *It is important to keep your dough balls covered with a piece of plastic wrap as you roll so that they don’t develop a skin because of air exposure.* Let your dough balls rest, covered, for about 10 minutes.
While the dough rests, prepare a large cookie sheet by dusting it with flour.
After they have rested, begin rolling each dough ball into a circle 6-7 inches wide, turning and moving the dough as you roll. If the dough starts to stick, add a little more flour to your rolling pin our work surface. As you roll out each circle, place it on the floured cookie sheet and cover with plastic wrap.
When all of the dough has been rolled out, let your dough circles rest, covered with plastic wrap, for 30 minutes.
While the dough is resting, place a cookie sheet, upside in your oven and preheat your oven (and the pan) to 450 degrees.
When the dough is rested and the oven and pan are preheated, carefully and quickly place 4 pitas (or however many you can fit) on the bottom side of your hot pan. Close the oven door quickly and bake pitas for 5-8 minutes, until they have puffed and are beginning to lightly brown on the bottoms.
Transfer baked pitas to a plate or towel to cool and repeat baking process with the final 4 pitas.
Let pitas cool before eating. Serve with hummus, tzatziki, stuff with falafel, or just eat them plain!
Note: Pitas are a temperamental bunch and no matter how many times I have made them, some pitas will puff and some will not. Allowing your pitas that 30 minute resting period will increase your puff likelihood so that is an important step! Don’t fret though, because even if your pita doesn’t puff, you should still be able to split open the pockets and it will still taste delicious.