(photo: courtesy of Dr. K; pita bread puffing up in the oven)
In the spirit of spreading love on Valentine’s Day I’d like to share a wonderful bread recipe and guest post by way of Dr. K. This week the super home cook made homemade pita and the results are outstanding, as usual. While pita isn’t an Italian food product it can be found in many parts of the Mediterranean, including Greece, the former Yugoslavia, and, of course, parts of North Africa.
The flat, round pocket bread known as pita is believed to have originated in Israel and Syria, but flatbreads in various forms were found in numerous areas of the Middle East dating to antiquity. Pita are baked in very hot ovens, which causes steam to separate the dough, giving them their unique two-ply structure. Pita may be used to scoop sauces and dips like hummus and tzatziki, and can also be cut in half and filled with a variety of ingredients, such as falafel, gyro, or shawarma/kebabs. As they are traditionally made with whole wheat, they are a relatively healthy bread. They also happen to be delicious and easy to make yourself at home. I’ve found the taste and texture to be vastly superior to store-bought versions, especially if you can get your hands on freshly milled whole wheat flour.
Whole Wheat Pita Bread Recipe
(photo: courtesy of Dr. K; pita bread right out of the oven)
Take a package of dry yeast and dissolve it in one cup of warm water until creamy, 5 – 10 minutes. You can add a little sugar or sucanat (a teaspoon or less) if you like, but as pita is often served with more savory accompaniments, don’t use too much. Mix 3 cups of whole wheat flour and a half teaspoon of salt in a mixing bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, and pour in the yeast/water mixture. Stir till combined, and add flour if too moist or warm water if too shaggy. You are looking to form a stiff dough.
Knead the dough in your mixer or on a floured surface till the dough is elastic and smooth, about ten minutes. Place some oil in the bottom of a bowl, and put the dough in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a moist towel. Let it rise in a warm area until doubled in size.
Deflate the dough and divide into six balls on a floured surface. Cover each ball with plastic wrap or a moist towel and allow the dough balls to rest for 15 minutes. While the dough is resting, crank your oven up to 475 degrees, and heat up one or two cookie sheets (a large rectangular cookie sheet should hold three pitas, so use two if your oven can fit them). Place the cookie sheets upside down on the bottom rack of the oven, atop a baking stone if you have one. The cookie sheets need to be very hot when you put the dough on them.
Using your hand or a roller, gently roll the dough into six inch circles on a floured surface. Be easy with the dough– any tears or creases or stretched areas will upset the pita form. Put the circles on your piping hot cookie sheet and pop them in the oven for five or six minutes till they look like they’re about to explode.
Remove the pitas from the oven and lay them on a terry cloth towel, one stacked upon the next, covering with another towel to keep them soft as they cool. Once they’re cool, you can keep them at room temperature for about a week or more depending on conditions, or freeze them for up to six months. Pita stores very well, but they don’t last long when we make them! They can be warmed again before serving if desired.
Makes six pitas.
(photo: courtesy of Dr. K; assistant to the master baker!)