Saturday, September 8, 2012

Wheat Pita Bread


This pita bread is one of the coolest things I've made in the kitchen in a long time. The first recipe I tried was a bust and I ended up with flat, dense, rounds of bread. They tasted nice, and were great dipped in soup so they weren't a total loss, but definitely not pita bread. I did some poking around online (and cried to my friends on Facebook, who gave me some tips), and my second try (with my own modified recipe) was awesome!

As I watched the first one start to bubble up and then puff up like a pillow I totally yelled and jumped up and down. And that made the dogs come and bark at me...and my two little girls run to the kitchen wanting to know what was wrong. I wanted my girls to see the full effect, so I made them wait to look until I put more in the oven. 

It takes about 30 seconds before anything starts to happen, long enough for my youngest (5 years) to start to lose interest in what was supposed to happen inside the oven. "Wait for it...wait for it..." I kept saying. Then it happened! And we all yelled and jumped up and down. And my youngest nearly collapsed in a fit of giggles, because, well, watching pita-bread magic happen before your eyes is pretty fantastic. 

Of course they wanted to share it with their older sister. She was impressed, but without all the yelling, jumping, or giggling. Teenagers. Pfffft.

Some great things about these pitas: There are no extra ingredients needed to preserve freshness and extend shelf-life like store-bought pita bread, they taste better and are softer than store-bought, they were pretty fast to make because you only do one rise (and I just love making bread, anyway), and the cost was so much less. I pay $2.69 for 6 halves at my grocery store. Even if this batch of pita bread cost me the same (which I don't think it did), the recipe made 24 halves. Wow! 

So far we've eaten them with turkey-sandwich fixings, and stuffed them with scrambled eggs, crumbled bacon, and cheese. (Ok, I may or may not have also spread one (or two) with butter and eaten it straight.) I can't wait to use them with other meals. And since I can make them any size, I want to try making them for an appetizer: imagine a tiny pita stuffed with hummus, minced red onion, and a little bundle of alfalfa sprouts. Or a tiny pita stuffed with hummus and a tiny little falafel... Yum! And so cute, which, you know, is the most important part of an appetizer, right?

Here are the tricks I learned:

*You have to roll your dough out very thin, like 1/8-inch thin. But not too thin because then they crack on the top as they puff.

*You have to have a very hot oven. Temperatures I came across in my looking around the internet ranged from 400-500. 400 didn't work for me the first time, and 500 just seemed a little excessive (and I didn't want them to brown very much), so I settled for 475.

*You have to preheat your cooking surface in your very hot oven. I used my pizza stone, but a friend uses a baking sheet turned upside down and it works great for her.

*The baking time is fast, like 3-minutes-and-your-done fast. If you want them to be soft and not dry, don't cook them any (or much, as ovens vary) longer. They will barely be brown, even on the bottom.

*When they come out of the oven they are full of very, very hot steam. Don't use your hand to try to flatten them. Ouch.

*If you put them in a plastic bag before they've cooled enough there is too much condensation inside the bag and they get wet and mushy in places. Cool them to barely warm, and then put them in the bags. That way they aren't still giving off any steam, but there is enough moisture to keep them soft. 

Note: I like to make my bread by hand. I love kneading the dough with my hands and watching it change from a mess into a lovely ball of dough. If you're not into that sort of thing, this can easily be made in a mixer with a dough hook, or even in a food processor with a dough blade.

Wheat Pita Pocket Bread
printable recipe

2 1/4 teaspoons dry yeast (or 1 envelope)
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 1/3 cup very warm water (about 110 deg)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1. In a 2-cup glass measuring cup (or other medium bowl) combine the yeast, sugar, water, and oil. Stir it well and let it sit for 5 minutes, or until it has foamed and puffed up. Meanwhile, combine both flours and salt in a medium bowl, mix well.

2. Add the yeast mixture to the dry ingredients and stir with a spatula or wood spoon until it sort of comes together (it's going to be a mess). Dump it all out onto a lightly floured surface and gather it all into a pile. Knead the dough until it forms a nice ball that isn't especially sticky, and is pretty smooth and stretchy. This usually takes me about 10 minutes. Dust your surface with more flour and use a bench scraper if the dough wants to stick. Spray a bowl with non-stick spray, put in your dough ball, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rise at room temperature until double (this usually takes between 30-45 minutes).

3. Put your baking surface (pizza stone or baking sheet turned upside down) into your oven and preheat it to 475 deg.

4. Gently dump your dough onto a lightly floured surface and use your fingers to deflate it and shape it into a more-or-less circle. Cover it again and let it rest for 5 minutes. Cut the circle into 12 equal wedges, form each wedge into a ball, cover them with plastic wrap and let them rest for 5 minutes.

5. Roll each ball into a thin disk, about 1/8-inch thick, about 5 1/2 inches across. Use a wide spatula to gently lift the disks and flip them onto your very hot baking surface. I found it was easier to flip them over onto my pizza stone rather than try to slip them off the spatula. When I did that they got stuck and bunched up. Put as many on your baking surface as you can fit. I was able to fit three on my round pizza stone.

**And watch the magic!!**

6. Within about 30 seconds you'll see the dough start to form bubbles. The bubbles will get bigger and then join into one giant bubble that puffs the whole thing up like a round pillow. Seriously one the coolest things ever. Bake them for only about 3 minutes so they stay soft. There should be some very light browning, but not too much.

7. Use tongs to gently remove them from the oven and put them between two clean kitchen towels (I love flour sack towels). Repeat with the rest of your dough balls.

8. Let them cool to barely warm in the towels. Then gently stack them on top of each other and let them deflate each other. Store them in a plastic bag at room temperature for 2 days (mine developed mold after that--sadness!!). For longer storage wrap them well and put them in the freezer.

Makes 12 whole pita pocket breads (24 halves)
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