Homemade Pita Bread

April 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

I had a horrible experience, an embarrassing experience, a humility-inducing experience with homemade bread about 20 years ago. It was a “loaf” of rye bread that more accurately could be called an anvil. It defied some law of physics in how something so small could become so dense.pita bread

I swore off baking yeast breads for … oh, I’d say 15 years. And then, I let the embarrassment go. I’m a different person, I said. I can make different bread. I can make bread and be successful at it.

I’ve made a bunch of different bread overs the last five years or so. Various takes on wheat, white, whole grain, pizza, focaccia, sourdough—made with my very own sourdough starter! And it’s all turned out pretty tasty, too. I admit I need to work on my loaf shaping, but that will come with practice.

There’s one recipe for which I don’t need to shape up my boule-making skills, and that’s for pita bread. It’s flat and round, slightly puffy in the middle. I thought I could handle that pretty well. And it turns out it’s as easy as it seems. Why everyone everywhere isn’t making pita bread everyday, I have no idea. Get after it, people.

Pita Bread, adapted from The Moosewood Cookbook
1 cup wrist-temp water (about 95-100F)
1.5 tsp. active dry yeast
1 tbs. sugar or honey (I used raw sugar)
1 tsp. salt
3 to 3.5 cups flour (1 cup can be whole wheat)
a bit of oil
extra flour

1. Combine yeast and water in the bowl of a stand mixer and let it get foamy over the next 5 minutes.

2. Add sugar/honey and salt and stir until dissolved.

3. Put bowl onto mixer with a dough hook attachment, add one cup of flour and start to combine on low speed. Slowly add in two more cups of flour and continue to let the dough need in the bowl over the next 3-5 minutes. If it seems wettish, add in a sprinkling of flour as it mixes. You’re looking for a smooth dough.

4. Put dough in an oiled bowl and roll it around in there until the dough surface is oiled, too. Cover with a clean tea towel or plastic wrap, set in a warmish place (75F is good) for about an hour or until the dough has doubled in bulk. It could take up to 1.5 hrs.

5. Punch down dough and set it onto a clean and floured surface. Kneed it by hand for 5 minutes. Cut the dough into equal-sized pieces, anywhere from 6 to 12 segments. I made 8 because it was simple, and the pitas turned out just the size I wanted. . Knead each little dough ball for a minute or so (I turned each 30 times and figured that was about right). With a rolling pin, roll out each dough piece into a VERY THIN circle (or near circle, it doesn’t matter exactly). You WILL need to throw down extra flour. DO make sure the dough is no more than 1/8 inch thick—otherwise you end up with a pizza crust, no kidding. Let the dough circles rest for 30 minutes. After I rolled out each circle I placed it on a half sheet-sized piece of parchment, four per sheet overlapping slightly. It’s ok, don’t worry.

pita dough circle

NOTE: This circle-making process takes some time. By the time you are done rolling out the whole batch, the first circles have already been resting about 15 minutes. So at this point set the timer for 15 minutes, get your oven ready and start moving toward the next step.

6. Preheat oven to 500F. OR, if you have a silly oven like mine that will not go above 450F (Ggrrrrr…), set it to 450F and work with it. Place a sheet pan in the oven to warm up a bit then brush it with oil or cornmeal to prevent the dough from sticking. OR, place the dough circles on parchment and slide them onto the baking sheet, fitting as many dough circles in the oven as you can without them touching. Due to the craziness of my oven I am able to fit just two dough circles, which were placed on the parchment.

7. Let the circles bake for 6-8 minutes or until the circles puff up and are lightly browned and, more importantly, look like pita! At 450F, 8 minutes was the perfect amount of time. As soon as one batch is done, remove from the oven and wrap the pitas in a clean but damp tea towel and place them in a brown paper bag. Close the bag for 15 minutes. This keeps them soft(ish) for a day or so. After a day I would transfer them to a plastic bag.

golden pita bread

As an experiment, roll out one dough circle a little thicker than 1/8 inch and bake. Whereas the thinner circles puff up like you’ve filled them with helium, you’ll notice the thicker circle doesn’t puff up much at all—if at all. It’s ends up more like a pizza crust. Which tells me why not have this same recipe handy for when you want to make pizza?

stacked pita breads

Give pita a try and let me know what you think!

Rye Bread Day 1

January 31, 2011 § 3 Comments

Beatrice doesn’t ask much from me. So, when she asks a favor or makes a request, I’m on it.

“Can you make some rye bread?” she texted to me last Wednesday. I was at the airport, headed out of town until Saturday night. I didn’t have my cookbooks nearby to reference. Rye bread? There’s nothing like a good Jewish rye from New York. Thin toasted slices with butter – nothing beats it. You want rye bread, Beatrice? Rye bread is what you’ll get.

First thing Sunday morning I turn to my go-to bread-baking book, Amy’s Bread (2nd edition) and look up rye. Now, keep in mind that in this cookbook, all but, I don’t know, maybe four or five recipes DO NOT call for some sort of starter. And bread starters take at least 24 hours to develop. At least. So, I’m not surprised when I see this Amy’s Rye with Caraway and Mustard Seeds recipe call for a “firm levain.”

I’m new at this starter thing. I’ve made one once before – the one Joanne Chang has in her cookbook – and kept it going for a couple of months. It was super easy. And reading through Amy’s Bread several months earlier, I knew there were several different types of starters. This levain thing was one of them.

Okay, I’m on my way.

Amy’s Bread – that’s a real bread-baker’s cookbook. I should have known there’d be something more to making this “levain” than  … than whatever I had imagined.

So, I turn to the recipe for firm levain. And the recipe for firm levain itself calls for Active White or Rye Sourdough Starter. Hmm…. okay.

So, again, I turn the pages and find Active White Sourdough Starter. I read over the recipe: organic grapes, cool water, organic unbleached all-purpose flour. At least four 24-hour interval steps. And I say to Jennifer, “Text Bea – tell her the bread’ll be done on Saturday. Maybe.”

A levain is a sourdough starter made without yeast. That’s why the recipe calls for grapes. I’m assuming, correct me if I’m wrong, the grapes’ naturally musty-ness – the yeasty beasts that hang out on fruit – will provide the umpf needed to begin the fermentation process. If you add a pinch of yeast to a starter, that will kick your starter off right. And get it going quickly. With grapes, apparently you need to give it more time. Like, three days more.

So, yesterday at 4pm I mixed the grapes, the water and the unbleached flour. “Let it sit at room temperature (75F to 78F) until it starts to bubble. This will take 12 to 24 hours, longer is your room is cool.”

Levain at 4 hours

Okaaay … raise your hand if your room temperature in January is 75-78F?? Anyone? No, didn’t think so. 68F, yes. Not 78F. So, right there I know this levain will take some steady watching; I can’t rely on just watching the clock. This photo shows the levain at 8pm – four hours into the process. The mark on the blue tape records the levain’s original level. You’ll see it’s risen maybe one or two microns …

Oh, you’ll also see that it’s in my microwave. It’s a bit warmer in there. And, as soon as I’m done posting this, I’m going to heat a cup of water to boiling and keep that in there with the levain. The dissipating heat will warm the microwave hopefully 1o degrees or so and keep the levain warmer for a few hours.

If all goes as planned, we’ll have rye bread just in time for the Super Bowl. And a levain to nurture for years to come.


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