Pita bread, a staple of Middle Eastern tables, comes from the oven round and puffed, but flattens out and serves as a base for sauces and toppings. Pita bread's thin layers can separate for fillings or spreads, making it a sandwich bread as well as a side dish. Pita bread differs from other flat breads in that it uses yeast to make it rise. Pancakes and crepes use chemical leaveners like baking powder, and tortillas use no leavening. The yeast allows the pita bread to puff and separate when baked.
Things You'll Need
- All purpose or whole wheat flour
- Sugar (optional)
- Instant yeast
- Olive oil
- Baking sheet
- Rolling pin
Sift and measure flour into a large bowl. Plan to use approximately 3 cups of flour for every 1 cup of water. Use either all-purpose flour or whole-wheat flour, or try combining the two flours to taste. If you are combining the flours, sift them together into a large bowl. A higher flour-to-water ratio makes the bread tougher and denser and a lower flour-to-water ratio makes the pita lighter and more tender.
Mix one packet of instant yeast into every 3 cups of flour. Mix in the optional sugar at this point, use only a tablespoon or two for every few cups of flour. The finished pita bread shouldn't taste sweet. The sugar only acts as extra fuel to help activate the yeast and it also browns the bread slightly more than it would without sugar. Mix in a tablespoon of salt for every 3 cups of flour. More salt gives the bread a saltier taste, but don't eliminate it entirely even if you want a more neutral-tasting pita. Some salt gives it flavor.
Mix water and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a separate small bowl. Use about 1 cup of water for every 3 cups of flour. The olive oil and water won't combine completely -- just scatter as much olive oil throughout the water as possible by hand. More water makes a lighter dough and less creates a denser pita bread. Water can be added later after combining with the dry ingredients as needed.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry-ingredient mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until it forms a dough ball. If the dough ball seems dry, add another 1/4 cup of water at a time until the ball sticks together.
Knead the ball of dough for eight to 10 minutes on a lightly floured surface. Use the heels of your hands to press the dough away from you starting in the center with a downward motion. Fold the stretched end back into the center and then turn the dough 90 degrees. Knead again from that angle. Repeat until the dough is thoroughly kneaded. Kneading combines the ingredients more than stirring can and stretches the dough so that it can rise easily. Use a mixer with a bread kneading hook on low for a few minutes to achieve the same results.
Pour a small amount of olive oil into a large bowl. Use a paper towel or brush to coat the entire inside of the bowl with oil and remove excess. Place the ball of dough into the oiled bowl. Cover the bowl loosely with a damp towel and allow the dough to rise at room temperature until it has doubled in size, about an hour and up to 90 minutes. Dough will rise more quickly in a warm room and more slowly in a cooler room.
Remove the dough ball from the bowl and place it on a clean floured surface. Punch the dough in the center to expel some of the gas, which is a byproduct of the yeast process. Push the dough back into a loose ball.
Divide the dough into pieces roughly the size of your palm. Roll each piece into a ball. Cover the dough with a damp towel and allow the pieces to rest about 20 to 30 minutes. Each ball will bake into a round of pita bread.
Place the baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven and set it to a medium-hot baking setting. Higher temperatures brown the pita more quickly while more moderate temperatures allow the bread to puff more and then rest, resulting in a more tender round.
Roll each round of dough on a floured surface until it's approximately 1/4 inch thick and evenly round. Place the flattened rounds of dough on the preheated baking sheet in the oven without crowding. Depending on the size of your baking sheet, you should fit two or three rounds of dough on the baking sheet at a time. Bake the dough for three minutes or until puffed and golden brown. Baking longer results in a crispier pita bread.
Tips & Warnings
- To substitute a couple of teaspoons of honey for the sugar, mix the honey in with the water and olive oil before adding them to the dry ingredients.
- Substitute a packet of active yeast for the instant yeast. Add the active yeast to a bit of warm water and allow it to sit according to package instructions before adding to the wet ingredients in the recipe. Decrease the amount of water you use in the recipe by the amount you use to activate the yeast.
- Use the same technique to make fry bread, but fry the individual dough rounds in a skillet of hot cooking oil instead of baking them in the oven.
- Use caution when removing the pita bread from the oven. The dough and baking sheet with both be very hot and can cause burning on bare skin.
- The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook; Jack Bishop
- Oregon State University Food and Chemistry Blog: Why Does My Pita Puff?
- Photo Credit bhofack2/iStock/Getty Images sergeyskleznev/iStock/Getty Images
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