Monday, July 16, 2012

Homemade Pita Bread

I love pita.  Warm, soft, bread that I can dip into things like carrot hummus or top with spiced chicken and veggies to make into a sandwich, it's one of my favorites.  Buying fresh Greek pita at the store costs me about $5 for a small package but I recently discovered that I can make a pile myself for just pennies.

Making pita is a little time consuming because you need to let it rise like bread for a total of 2 hours, which you can think of as work intensive, or just find something else to do while it rises.  The cooking time, however, goes really quick.  Don't be afraid if you've never made bread before, this is really easy and you can even get the kids involved!  Just make sure your water is good and warm-not lukewarm, but not hot, either. 

Fresh pita bread

Adapted from Fine Cooking

1 tsp sugar
4 ½ tsp quick rise yeast (or, two ½ oz packages of quick rise yeast)
3 cups unbleached all purpose white flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp salt, plus more for sprinkling
1/3 cup plus 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Measure out the flours, sugar, salt, and yeast into the bowl of a stand mixer.  Give it all a good whisk to mix together.   Using the dough hook attachment and with the motor running, gently pour in 2 cups of warm water mixed with 1/3 cup of olive oil.   The dough will come together into a ball.  Knead the dough in the mixer for about 5 minutes.  It may crawl up the dough hook, so stick around and make sure it stays put.   Turn out onto the counter and shape into a ball.

If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can do this by hand.  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the water/oil mixture, while stirring with a wooden spoon.  It will take some muscle, as it’s a stiffer dough.  Turn out onto the counter and knead for 5 minutes, until smooth and elastic.   Shape into a ball.

Measure out the 2 tbsp of olive oil into a large bowl and slather it around the bowl, then put the dough in the bowl, turning it so that the oil coats it all over.  Cover the bowl with plastic film and set aside in a warm place for about an hour.

Once the dough has risen and is double in size, gently punch it down and let it rest for 20 minutes.  Divide into about 12 pieces at about 3 3/4 oz each (I actually ended up with 16-18 pieces in the end)  Shape each piece into a ball.

Your finished balls of dough will look like this. Not perfect, but nice and round.
Place a ball of dough on a clean counter, then cup your hand over it and quickly move your hand in a circular motion.  If the counter has no flour on it and the dough is a little sticky, this is a great trick for shaping the dough into a tight ball.   When you have finished doing this with all the balls of dough, lightly flour your counter and then roll out each ball into a circle 7 inches in diameter.  Set each aside on a floured surface and cover with a damp tea towel.  Let them rise for another hour.  They won’t rise a whole lot now, since the cool tea towels will stop that.  However, they will get slightly puffy.

Pre-heat your oven to 500F.  You will need a rimless baking sheet but if you don’t have one, don’t worry-just take your rimmed cookie sheets and turn them upside down.  Weird, right?  It works.

Waiting to be baked
Try not to crowd on too many.  I could fit 3-4 pitas.  Don't forget to sprinkle with a little salt!

Set however many pitas that will fit on your baking sheets and sprinkle with salt.  I liked using a coarser salt here, as it gave a little bit of crunch on the finished product. 

Your oven rack should be around the middle to bottom third of your oven.  Bake the pitas about 4-5 minutes, watching carefully at the 4 minute mark.  You want the bottoms of the pitas to be golden, but it’s a fine line when they go from golden to slightly burned.  I burned the first batch and found that 4 ½ minutes worked the best for me.  You be the judge!

Remove the freshly baked pitas from the oven and pile on a cooling rack to cool.  These are best eaten warm, but if you can’t eat them all,  once cooled they also can be wrapped up and stored in the fridge for about 3 days or the freezer for 6 months.
They are extra tasty when warmed up in the oven-just wrap in foil and heat in a 350 F oven for about 5-10 minutes.

Makes about 14-18

Note:  These pitas typically don’t always become super puffy and have pockets, as are common with pita breads you buy at the store.  Some poofed up in the oven, and some didn’t.  Greek pitas don’t have pockets, and are more for dipping and piling ingredients onto, rather than stuffing.   Either way they are very tasty and good with tzatziki, hummus, souvlaki, or just on their own.
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