Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Homemade Pita Bread

I don’t know what is more exciting, the fact that I can make my own pita bread or that it’s really pretty easy. It all starts out as a fairly standard bread dough, not that much different than the dough for a basic sandwich bread. The magic must be in the extra yeast and sugar. And magic it is! You just roll out balls of dough into flat discs, bake them at high temperature for just a few minutes and the discs blow up into big balloons. It’s really pretty fun to watch. That balloon collapses upon cooling, forming a handy pocket just right for sandwich fixings.

I started with a recipe from The Joy of Cooking and swapped in whole wheat flour for some of the bread flour. I also changed a few things in the procedure. While I used a pizza stone to bake the breads, I eliminated the step in which the stone is sprayed with water before baking. The last time I tried this, I ended up with a broken pizza stone. Not cool! I’ve found that the breads come out just fine if I don’t spray any water in the oven. It not only saves the stone (and I’ve heard of folks who broke their oven light bulbs by spraying water in the oven), but it saves a round of opening and closing the oven as well.

A pizza peel is also nice for transferring the dough disks into and out of the oven, but you could use a cookie sheet, or even carefully place them in by hand. You also could use an inverted baking sheet instead of a pizza stone to bake the breads upon. Just be sure to preheat it.

These pitas are soft and fluffy with a nice whole wheat flavor. The pockets on this batch turned out to be very delicate, that is just a thin layer of dough separated when it ballooned out in the oven. The outer edge of the pocket tears easily, but I don’t mind. I just made my own pita bread!

It might also happen that the pocket doesn’t form in the bread, especially if the dough gets kinked or folded when rolling out or transferring to the oven. While this is disappointing, you can still carefully cut into the bread to make a pocket if you like, or wrap the whole soft pita around your chosen sandwich filling. Luckily, experience seems to help this problem, and I rarely have it happen anymore.

Pitas are sneakily easy to make, especially if you use a heavy-duty stand mixer to mix and knead the dough. (I’ve been doing this lately to save time.) Once you get to the stage where the balls of dough are ready to be rolled out and baked, the whole thing only takes about half an hour, (assuming you can bake 2 breads at once.) If you have any experience making bread dough, you really should try this. If you’ve got an oven window and light, you might want to call in all the youngsters to watch the pitas puff up. Heck, call me in to watch. I love seeing them puff up.

Just make sure you tell everyone that you made your own pita bread. Nobody will give you credit as the magician you are if they think you just went to the store.

Whole Wheat Pita Bread
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking

1 ¼ cups warm water (about 100 F), divided
4 teaspoons active dry yeast (or about 2 envelopes)
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups bread flour (or a little more if needed), divided
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 ½ teaspoons salt

1. In the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer or other large bowl, combine ¼ cup water, yeast and sugar. Let stand for about 5 minutes or until the yeast is foamy.

2. Add the whole wheat flour, about 1 ½ cups bread flour, butter and salt. Mix with the paddle attachment until well blended (or mix with a spoon if not using a mixer). Exchange the paddle attachment for the dough hook or turn out the dough on a floured surface. Knead the dough with the dough hook or by hand for about 10 minutes gradually adding in the remaining bread flour, or more if needed. The dough should be smooth and stretchy, but still very soft and a little tacky.

3. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a large bowl that has been greased or coated with cooking spray (I use the mixer bowl). Grease or spray the top of the dough ball and place a piece of plastic wrap on top. Cover the bowl with a towel and let stand until approximately double in size, about 1 hour.

4. Gently inflate the dough and form it into a new ball. Let stand for a few minutes. Cut the dough into 8 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball. Lightly flour a surface on which to set the dough balls. Cover with a towel and let stand for 20 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, preheat the oven and a pizza baking stone or inverted baking sheet to 450 F. I put my pizza stone on the bottom of the oven, since it doesn’t have a heating element there. You can put your stone or baking sheet on the lowest rack in the oven.

6. On a floured surface roll one dough ball into a round disk about 1/8 inch thick. Try to get it as round and smooth as you can. Place the disk on a peel or a floured cookie sheet or inverted baking sheet. Repeat with a second dough ball. Slide the two discs onto the preheated pizza stone or baking sheet.

7. Bake about 3 minutes. The dough should puff up and brown just a bit. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. The balloon will collapse as the bread cools. Repeat with the remaining dough balls. To serve, cut the circles to expose the pockets and stuff with desired fillings, or wrap the whole pita around desired fillings.

Makes 8 pita breads. They will keep for a few days in a zip-top bag, or you can freeze them for longer storage.

Other recipes like this one: Naan with Whole Wheat Flour, Yogurt Tortillas with Whole Wheat Flour

One year ago: Squash and Pinto Bean Chili

Two years ago: Roasted Winter Squash Puree

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