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    Pita — Near Eastern Pocket Bread

    Pita bread is a very versatile, useful yeasted flatbread made in the Near East. It is made with a moderately wet dough, 63%, and rises for a relatively short time. I scale my pitas at 3 1/2 ounces / 100 grams. A pita may or may not puff up to form a pocket; there are good examples of both styles. The pocketless pita is used as a wrap-around for a sort of sandwich or as an accompaniment to a main course. The pocket pita is usually split and stuffed with food and is more familiar. That’s what I’m making here. Pita is good for cookouts, too, as you can put barbequed meat and vegetables in it and have a handy meal. You can cut pitas into wedges and toast them to make tasty, healthy dip chips.

    One of my favorite pita sandwiches is made by splitting a pita and putting in sliced tomato, a bit of lettuce, a little mayonnaise and a bit of balsamic vinegar. This is hard to beat for a quick lunch on a hot summer day. Adding a bit of cheese makes it even better. Another is a pita BLT, bacon, lettuce and tomato. Don’t laugh if you haven’t tried it.

    You can also split the pita into two disks and use them as a base for a toasted sandwich or a flat appetizer akin to the Armenian lahmajoon, a tasty disk of bread covered with a thin layer of spiced lamb and broiled. Another alternative is to make a real lahmojoon from scratch and bake the bread while the meat cooks.

    This is a wonderful bread to make with children. It’s simple, it doesn’t take a lot of time and rolling out the dough is a lot of fun. The pay-off is watching through the oven glass as the pitas bake. They will sit on the stones for a bit, then, POOF! They puff up like a balloon. Watch out for the hot oven and tiles, though.

    Here’s a short video clip of two pitas puffing up in the oven. PITA PUFFING UP   Pita freeze well;  you can take them from the freezer to the toaster oven without thawing them. Just toast them for a minute or three and they will puff up, just as if they were in the oven the first time.

    The trick to making them puff and form a pocket is to

    1. Roll the dough thin.
    2. Have a moderately wet dough — 63% works well for me. You may find that your technique and kitchen require an even higher hydration, maybe as high as 67%.
    3. Lower the oven rack to the lowest level you can. The combination of the low rack and the stones or tiles will replicate the sole of an industrial oven or wood-burning oven, if that’s your preference.
    4. Bake for a short time, I use 3 – 4 minutes, on a tile or stone at a high heat — I use 500F / 260C, although I have had success baking at both 500F and 550F.
    5. If you want a crispier pita, bake a longer time, up to 6 or 7 minutes, but watch for burning.
    6. You can also bake at a lower temperature, say 450F / 230C and get a chewier, softer pita.
    7. The bottom line on this recipe is that it is very forgiving and adaptable — you can get the pitas to turn out any way you want them to.

    I used a poolish that I had made the night before. You don’t have to use a pre-ferment, the recipe does well
    if made as a straight dough.

    Total Ingredients

    Ingred Ounces Grams
    Bread Flour 26 740
    Water 16 1/2 470
    Dry Yeast 1/2 14 2 packets
    Sugar 1/2 tsp 3
    Salt 2 tsp 10

    This is probably an authentic Greek pita bread recipe. I “translated” it from the original Greek
    while standing in the cookbook section of a Greek store. I’m pretty sure I got things right,
    because the pitas always turn out well and taste great.

    Although I specify a bread flour for this recipe, I’ve made the pitas with all purpose flour and they turned out fine.

    Ingredients

    Poolish

    Ingred Ounces Grams
    Bread Flour 10 285
    Water 10 285
    Dry Yeast 1/4 tsp 1

    For instructions on how to make a poolish, click here make a poolish

    I let my poolish develop for at least 4 hours and up to 6 hours.

    Because I used a poolish of 10 ounces / 285 grams each water and bread flour and 1/4 teaspoon / 1 gram yeast,
    I cut the yeast to 1 Tablespoon / 10 grams.

    Ingredients to add to the Poolish 

    Ingred Ounces Grams
    Bread Flour 16 455
    Water 6 1/2 185
    Dry Yeast 1 Tbsp 10
    Sugar 1/2 tsp 3
    Salt 2 tsp 10

    Method

    1. Mix for a minute or two, rest for 20 minutes and knead for 6 minutes.
    2. The fermentation is fairly short, 45 minutes. Even with this fairly short fermentation the dough may double.
    3. Scale at 3 ounces / 85 grams.
    4. One trick I use is to pat and pull the pitas out about halfway to the proper diameter. This seems to help
    the pita form a pocket and will lessen the tendency for the dough to resist rolling out, which will reduce the amount of flour you will need.
    5. Roll out on a floured surface until the pitas are very thin.
    6. Because I am rolling out the pitas and they have a fairly high hydration, I use bench flour, which is a rare thing for me.
    7. You can then bake at once or rise for up to 40 minutes. I’ve done it both ways and there isn’t much difference.
    8. Position the oven rack as low as it will go. This replicates the floor of a big oven. This is critical for puffed-up pitas.
    9. Bake a few at a time on the stones. They will bake in about 3 minutes, although you can go as long as 4 with no harm.
    10 I like a softer pita, so I usually bake for 3 minutes; if you like a crisp pita, go to 3 1/2 minutes or even more, but watch for signs of burning on the bottom.
    11. When you put the pitas on the tiles or stone, you can put them either side up — in other words, if you have given the pitas a bit of a rise, one side will have been exposed to the air and the other will have been down on the counter. The down side will be moister than the up side.
    12. Try baking pitas with either side up and see if it makes a difference in your kitchen.  In other words, to flip or not to flip, that is the question. They seem to balloon better with the damper side down.
    13. Because I bake for a softer pita and bake a slightly shorter time, I sometimes don’t get full puff.  The pitas will still separate, they just don’t balloon up. However, the new method of placing the oven rack at the lowest point solves this problem.

    Here we go

    Click on the thumbnail to see a larger picture.

    Click on the large image to return to the discussion.

    Pita Artisanal Artisan Bread poolish ready to go. Pita Artisanal Artisan Bread poolish close-up. Pita Artisanal Artisan Bread all ingredients except salt into bow.l Pita ARtisanal Artisan Bread mixing slurry.
    Pita Artisanal Artisan Bread measuring flou.r Pita Artisanal Artisan Bread dough mixing, ready for autolyse. Pita Artisanal Artisan Bread dough after autolyse. Pita Artisanal Artisan Bread dough after 7 minutes kneading.
    Pita Artisanal Artisan Bread dough ready to ferment. Pita Artisanal Artisan Bread dough after fermentation. Pita Artisanal Artisan Bread dough divided and scaled. Pita Artisanal Artisan Bread dough rolled out.
    Pita Artisanal Artisan Bread baked.