Make Your Own Pita
When Mike and I went to visit a friend of ours in Windsor last fall, she brought us to a lovely Lebanese restaurant called Mazaar. The owner was a consummate host, moving easily through the tables and stopping to greet everybody individually (and most of them by name), sharing a glass or two of arak as he went. Our friend, along with the rest of the group that we joined, worked for a national radio station. Being a man who knew which side of the bread his publicity was buttered on, he treated our table of crazy loogins to much better service than we had any right to deserve. Along the way, he also just happened to keep popping by under the guise of bringing out several free ‘samples’ of the appetizers that he knew were their favorites: the cardiac special garlic dip, mouthwatering baba ganouj, and the house made pita pockets.
Have you ever had pita fresh from the oven, when it’s still warm, slightly sweet, and puffed out with a hot baked pride? After you have, the doughy pockets that you get from a grocery store just can’t satisfy you anymore. You need REAL pita. FRESH pita….HOMEMADE pita. The good news is that if you have flour, yeast, and an average set of kneading hands, making pita at home is totally in your pocket…oh jeez. Yeah, I’m sorry that I did that too.
Makes 16 rounds of 6″, or 8 rounds of 10-12″
- 1 tbsp active dry yeast
- 2 tsp granulated sugar
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1.5 cups warm water
- 2 tsp salt
- 4 cups all purpose flour *
* You can also use 3 cups of all purpose with 1 cup of whole wheat flour if you like a heartier pita.
In a large mixing bowl add the active dry yeast, olive oil and sugar.
The water should be warm like a comforting bath – not tepid like room temperature, and not scalding like a hot shower. If you can, try to picture just a few degrees warmer than body temperature. If your water is too hot then the yeast will die. Let’s try not to kill our yeast today. Tomorrow, maybe, but not today. If the water is too cold then they’ll stay fast asleep. Just like Goldilocks, you want the water to be juuuuust right. Add the warm water to the yeast in the bowl and give it a quick stir to combine.
Yeast likes warmth and sugar almost as much as I do, and if you leave it be for 5-10 minutes you’ll see it ‘bloom’. If you’ve waited 10 minutes and your yeast still hasn’t started to get a rabid froth going on, discard the mixture and start again. You may need to open a new packet of yeast if that one was past it’s prime.
Add the salt and flour to your yeast, and stir it around until it starts to come together. If it feels really dry you can add another tablespoon or two of water as you work the dough. This has less to do with the ease of kneading than the final product, because if the dough is too dry then it won’t puff up properly when you bake it.
Very lightly dust some flour over your work surface and turn the dough onto it. Gather it up into a ball and start to knead it gently. As the dough comes together it will get easier to knead. I find kneading dough to be an incredibly cathartic experience. Sometimes it’s a great outlet for my chronically bubbling rage, but other times (such as this one) I just blank out. Completely. Like when somebody comes over to say, “Penny for your thoughts?” and instead of muttering a caustic comment about inflation I just keep staring straight ahead, with my tongue lolling just slightly to one side.
I have a theory that a couple of years ago, the last time that I had a really good night’s sleep, malevolent dwarves snuck into my bedroom and stole a moderately unimportant part of my brain. I would try to prove it, but, well…..missing brain, and all that.
After about 10 minutes of kneading, you will feel the texture change from a rather thick ball of dough into a satiny smooth elastic orb. When it feels silky and resilient, you’re done. Lightly coat a clean mixing bowl with oil and turn the dough around in it until the surface is shiny. Cover the dough with a nice clean tea towel and leave it in a warm and draught-free spot to rise for an hour or two until it doubles in size.
So….I got distracted, as you can see from the dough below. That’s okay, it needs to be punched down anyway. Preheat the oven to 475F with the rack on the lowest possible level.
Ease the dough out of the bowl and onto your counter/work surface. If it feels really sticky (as opposed to puffy and oily) you may want to dust the board lightly with flour. Knead the dough for another minute or two until all of the air is pushed out.
Roll your ball of dough out into a long tube and cut it into however many individual pitas you want to make. This amount of dough will make about 16 small (appetizer) pitas, or 8 large (dinner) pitas.
Form each chunk into a small ball and roll it out until it’s 1/8″ thick. If the dough feels like it’s sticking to either your rolling pin or the table, dust it with a tiny bit more flour. Transfer 1-2 pitas (depending on how big they are) to an ungreased baking sheet.
After the dough is rolled out, let it rest on the sheet for 10 minutes before baking. Right before you pop it into the oven, sprinkle just a few droplets of water onto the top of the pita.
Bake your rounds in the oven for 3-4 minutes. If the dough is moist enough it will puff up like a gloriously tasty bread-balloon.
The pitas cook quite quickly, so keep your eye on them. They’re ready as soon as they’re puffed up and just golden brown around the edges. And if they don’t puff up perfectly? Meh. Life isn’t perfect. As long as they’ve bubbled up there will be a pocket on the inside. If you don’t have any swelling and bubbling at all going on…well, eh, HEY, YOU MADE FLATBREAD! That’s the magic of the kitchen.
Oh, warm pita, freshly baked – how deep IS our love?
Not that you need any suggestions on what to do from this point forward, but if you’re looking for a dip then pita pairs delightfully with Middle Eastern spreads like a roasted red pepper, walnut & feta dip, or a trio of hummus. Hummi? Maybe even an Indian spiced eggplant dip, just because.