Pita with Variations

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Pita with Variations

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Published prior to 2008

Pita bread is another ancient flat bread made from the same sort of dough that pizza and focaccia is. It's the way it's baked that creates the pocket. Here's a recipe for the kind of pita you'll find on the grocery shelf.

Pita Plain

2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
5 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 scant tablespoon salt

Pitas are best made ahead of time so they'll have a chance to cool and deflate before you fill them. So if you're going biking or hiking on the weekend, you'll probably want to make them up during the week.

If you work away from home during the day or even if you work at home, you can make up a sponge with about half the flour. Putting a sponge together takes almost no time at all, and because it will work for several hours on its own, it produces great flavor in the finished product. (You can use this method to make any bread, which makes it possible for anyone who has to be away during the day to make their own delicious homemade bread, focaccia, pizza, sticky buns, ad infinitum.)

In the morning before you go off about your day, stir together in a mixing bowl 1 cup of the water, 2 cups of the flour, the sugar, and 1/8 teaspoon yeast. This is called a sponge. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it go to work.

When you get back to the sponge later on, add the remaining 1 cup water, the remaining 2 3/8 teaspoons yeast (don't be fussy about this–2 1/2 teaspoons is fine), the salt, and the remaining flour, enough to make a dough that is a bit stiffer than that for a focaccia, one that you can easily knead by hand.

Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a floured surface and knead it until it is smooth and bouncy, adding only enough more flour to keep it from sticking to the board or you. Give it a rest for about 5 minutes to relax the gluten and make it more cooperative about being shaped.

Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Flatten each piece with your hand and then roll each piece with a floured rolling pin, or a pin with a cover, on a floured surface into a circle about 6 inches in diameter and 1/8-inch thick. You may need to let the pieces rest occasionally to relax the dough.

Sprinkle baking sheets with cornmeal and place two circles on each. Or place circles on pieces of parchment paper. Let the dough circles rest here for at least 15 minutes while you preheat your oven to a hot 500°F.

When the pita circles have finished resting, place the baking sheet on the oven bottom or, if this is not possible, on the lowest rack. If you're using a baking stone, make sure it's on the oven floor, or on the lowest rack. Use a peel to transfer the pitas-on-parchment to the stone. Close the oven door and keep it shut for 1 minute. Don't peek or the pocket may not form. It's this initially fast, hot searing of the outside dough of the pita that makes it separate from the inside. The carbon dioxide gas created by the yeast expands inside and accentuates the separation until the pita blows up like a balloon and the pocket is created.

At the end of the minute, place the sheet on a rack higher in the oven and continue baking anywhere from 3 to 7 minutes, until the pitas have blown up into balloons and are lightly browned. If the pitas baked right on the stone, you'll probably want to transfer them to a baking sheet, which is already in place on the oven rack, for this second part of their baking. When they're done, remove the baking sheet from the oven, slide the pitas off and let them cool. They will probably deflate somewhat after cooling. Once they're thoroughly cool you can press more air out of them so they take up less storage room.

Pita Fancy

Now that you know how simple it really is to make pitas, here are some pitas with more interesting ingredients.

Pita with Herbs

    1 recipe Pita Plain dough (with the following changes)
    2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil in place of an equal amount of water
    2 tablespoons fresh basil (or 2 teaspoons dried)
    2 tablespoons fresh oregano (or 2 teaspoons dried)
Put this version together the same way you did the plain variety but add the olive oil and herbs to the sponge.

Follow the pita bread directions above for finishing the dough, shaping and baking.

Pita with Yogurt & Dill

This next variation is a bit more daring in terms of the liquid ingredients. Although it, too, is a variation on Pita Plain, we'll give you the whole thing, variations, additions and all.
    1 cup warm water
    1 tablespoon sugar
    2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
    1 cup plain yogurt
    5 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
    1 tablespoon salt
    2 tablespoons fresh dill weed (or seeds)
Combine the 1 cup water, sugar, 1/8 teaspoon of the yeast, and 2 cups of the flour. Stir in the dill, cover the sponge, and let it go to work. Proceed from this point as described in Pita Plain.

Pita with Cheese

This variety is fairly heavy and about 20 percent of the time these pitas don't want to blow up. But they're so good, they're worth trying.
    1 recipe Pita Plain
    3 tablespoons chopped chives
    3 cups grated Cheddar cheese
Put this together as described for Pita Plain, but add the chives to the sponge. Blend the cheese into the sponge just before you add the remainder of the flour. These heavier pitas needed to be baked a bit longer than the other varieties.

A couple of other compelling flavor combinations to add to your sponge are honey (use 1 heaping tablespoon in place of the sugar) and 1 to 2 teaspoons of curry powder. Or try a tablespoon of minced garlic and 1/2 cup chopped spinach.

To do your own experimenting, cut our basic Pita Plain recipe in half, keep the liquid to flour ratio in mind, and let your creative impulses go. Once you get the hang of it, you'll be making pitas that you'll never find in a store.

This recipe reprinted from The Baking Sheet Newsletter, Vol. II, No. 7, July 1991 issue.