weekend class: homemade pita

fresh, homemade pita

Making pitas is right up there with making cheese or any of the things that one might generally consider store-bought–it’s damn empowering. And like “cheese”-making, there are 3 reasons I wanted to do it: I knew they’d taste amazing, the process seemed easy, and HI! bragging rights. Sure I was only bragging to myself but it was a big brag, especially considering my fear or all things calling for flour. The LS baking academy series helped me to overcome the paralysis but I still approach any bread recipe with a little hesitation. It helped a lot to know that I could make these on the stove (if I chose), because as with making hoppers, the extra participation makes me feel a little more in control of the outcome than when things are tossed into the oven. (Who knows what goes on in there?)

pita puffing up

This recipe comes from Whitney Chen of the Gilt Groupe and the whole process is even easier than her reassuring post would have you believe. For instance, I made and kneaded my dough at midnight, while paying more attention to The Californians sketch on SNL, and, I don’t mind telling you, a little tipsy having just come home after dinner out with my girlfriends when I realized “Eff! I need to make that pita dough!” I’m a fan of the overnight rise, you see. The kneading was messy (forgot to flour my board…no, I’m not kidding) and in the morning, realizing I’d lent out my rolling pin (eff!) and forced to use a rather stubby mineral water bottle–half-full which made it wobbly too (good times), I was not expecting much in the way of good pita. I ended up, though, with great pita. Imagine what your flour-confident, sober, rolling pin-equipped-self will end up with.

(Best pita ever.)

grilling pita

(See how this recipe fits into a Lebanese lunch menu!)

Homemade Pitas
(Via Gilt Groupe, adapted only slightly)

1¼ cups warm water (about 110⁰F)
¼ ounce active dry yeast (1 packet)
1 tablespoon of sugar
1½ cups whole wheat flour
1½ cups all-purpose flour, plus about ½ cup for dusting
1½ teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

Activate the yeast: In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the yeast into the warm water and add the sugar at the same time. Let the mixture sit for 3-5 minutes; after a couple minutes, you should start to see some foam rising to the top. (If there’s no foam at all, especially if the water isn’t warm, wait a few minutes longer; if there’s really nothing, you may have to start over with another packet of yeast.)

Combine the flours and salt in a large mixing bowl. Form a well in the center of the bowl and pour in the yeast mixture. Top it off with the two tablespoons of olive oil. With a big spoon, stir the ingredients until almost all of the flour has been absorbed, and it looks shaggy, but mostly together. Dump it onto a floured surface and begin kneading the dough. It should stick a little, but if it’s way too sticky, give the dough ball and your board a dusting of flour here and there. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes. You can also mix and knead the dough in a mixer fitted with a dough hook, until it’s smooth and taut. If you poke your finger into it, should bounce back at you.

Spray a clean, large bowl with non-stick spray or wipe it with olive oil. Place the ball of dough in the bowl and cover it with a damp cloth or plastic wrap. You can either let the dough rise overnight in the fridge covered in plastic (for up to 12 hours) or, let it rise at room temperature for one hour.

After the rise, give the center of the dough a punch with your fist and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Gently roll it into a thick log. Cut it in half, and then cut each half into five equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball. Cover the balls with a damp towel and let the dough rest once more for about 20 minutes. If you’re planning on freezing the dough, arrange the balls in a freezer bag so that they’re touching as little as possible. Lay the bag flat in the freezer so that each dough ball freezes individually. The day you’re ready make the pitas, thaw the dough balls in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

Using a floured rolling pin on a floured surface, roll each ball into a round, flat disk, about 1/8” thick. If you roll the pitas thicker, about ¼”, they might not puff as much, but they’ll turn out softer and deliciously chewy.

Cook them at high heat, since it’s the moisture in the dough turning to steam that makes them bubble up:

To cook the pitas on a sheet: Preheat oven to 450° F but first, put a pizza stone or another flat surface that conducts heat well (like a baking sheet turned upside down) on the rack.  You want the pita to touch a hot surface as soon as it goes into the oven. Once preheated, open the oven and quickly place the flattened dough discs, as many as will fit with a good 1” all around for clearance, on the hot surface and close the oven door. Cook the pita for 3-4 minutes if you’re aiming for soft and chewy; or another minute or two longer for a crisper, light brown crust.

To cook the pitas on the stove: Heat a dry cast iron skillet over medium heat until very hot; it should be hot enough to make the dough sizzle for a moment as soon as it touches the pan. Lay a dough disc in the skillet – no oil necessary. Watch it puff up! After about 2-3 minutes, flip the pita and cook for 1-2 more minutes.

Makes 8-10 pitas.