Sunday, June 22, 2014

Pita Bread

I found this recipe for pita bread back at Easter when my sister and I made an Israeli inspired meal to celebrate the holiday. There was no way I was going to make all of those Middle Eastern dishes and not serve fresh pita, it was just too perfect. I had made pita once before and I didn't love how it turned out, but it had been a long time. It was time to give it another try, and boy am I glad that I did. This time around the pita turned out perfectly! It was soft, delicious and just wonderful. 

There are so many options for what to do with pita. At Easter I just cut it up into wedges and served it along with homemade hummus. It was also perfect for soaking up all of the extra juices from the chicken I served. It also makes for a fantastic wrap, the perfect vehicle to stuff with your favorite ingredients. If you have some leftover, brush with some oil and salt and pop it in the oven for a little while until it dries out and you've got homemade pita chips. So many options, give it a try and find your favorite!

This recipe is pretty simple. I really like how the dough can be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days, so you can have fresh pita all week! It's so much fun to watch the pita poof up in the oven, almost like magic. It makes me happy every time. Beware, once you make homemade pita, you will be ruined for life. You'll never want to buy that hard, stale, flavorless pita from the grocery store ever again. 

Pita Bread
  • 1 teaspoon dry yeast
  • 2 1/2 cups warm water 
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • About 4 cups unbleached all-purpose or bread flour
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
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 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. 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 baking stone 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.

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