phynedyning

Baking pita AND A BONUS RECIPE

In Recipies on March 30, 2011 at 9:08 am

I love pita and it is the staple bread on the Phyne Dyner’s everyday table.  I often wonder if more Americans would eat pita instead of store-bought pseudo bread if store-bought pita was less expensive to buy.

 

In defense of the store price, pita is a very dense bread and about 7-8 flats that are around eight inches in diameter use the same amount of flour as two loaves of French or Italian bread.   So it is small wonder that a bag of five flats runs close to four dollars.

 

On the other hand, one flat of pita is usually enough bread for one person.

 

We use pita to scoop up homemade hummus and dip it in herbed oils for breakfast or for late suppers.  A table set with light cheeses, olives, pickles, torshi lift, and pita with oil or hummus makes for a great way to end the day.  (Note:  Torshi lift is turnips and beets pickled in a brine…fantastic!)

 

Pita can be easily frozen and it keeps well in the freezer.  Just partially thaw them in the microwave and either pop them in the toaster for a few minutes, or use a terra cotta tortilla warmer to heat them up.

 

Most recipes for pita are very similar to that for French baguettes.  The ingredients are: unbleached flour, whole-wheat flour, yeast, salt, water, and a pinch of sugar to start the yeast.  My recipe uses 20% whole-wheat flour which gives the pita a nice consistency.  Too much whole-wheat flour gives them a “filled with sawdust” consistency I do not like.

 

There are a couple of important points to remember when making pita:

 

First, be sure your oven gets hot enough to properly bake pita.  The absolute minimum temperature is 450F and 500-525F is desirable.  I am not sure why so few ovens sold for household use cannot be set above 450F.  If your oven does not, or cannot, reach close to 500F you can cheat by baking the pita on a pizza stone and occasionally flipping the broiler on.  Just be careful to watch the pita so it does not burn.  You will have to experiment a bit with the technique, but it works well for “cool” ovens.

 

Second, a heavy-duty stand mixer makes dough preparation much easier.  Pita dough is supposed to be somewhat stiff and if you kneed it by hand it can be exhausting by the time you get the dough to the proper consistency.

 

I also put a pan of water in my oven during baking.  It helps keep the pita from cracking and they come out a bit softer.

 

Let’s bake some pita…

 

4 C unbleached white flour

1 C whole-wheat flour

2 ½ tsp active, dry yeast

½ tsp salt

1-2 C water

pinch sugar

splash of olive oil

 

Dissolve the sugar and yeast in one cup of warm (110F) water and allow it to stand for ten minutes or until it becomes very frothy.  Mix the flours and salt together thoroughly and place them in a mixing bowl.  Using a bread hook, kneed the flour as you pour the water and yeast mixture into the flour.  You will need to add more water, up to a cup more, to get the dough to a stiff, yet elastic, consistency.  Do not fret if you get it too wet.  Just add a bit more flour.

 

Lightly oil a large bowl and dump the pita dough into it, thoroughly covering the outside of the dough ball with a light coating of oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a moist towel and place in a warm oven for 1-2 hours or until the dough doubles in size.

 

Some people like to separate the dough into small balls after the first rise and then allow the balls to rise.  I do not use a second rise for my pita because I find it does not contribute much to the bread…in my opinion.

 

Punch down the dough.  Pre-heat the oven to 450-525F with a large pan of water on the lowest rack.  If you have a pizza stone, place it on the middle rack.  If not, just put an upside-down cookie sheet on the middle rack.

 

Form dough balls, 2-3 inches in diameter and roll them out thinly on a lightly floured surface to a 6-8 inch diameter.  I do this while one loaf is baking.  If you roll them out too early, the dough dries out.  Keep the plastic wrap on the bowl to cover the rest of the dough while you work up each loaf.

 

CAREFULLY toss the rolled out dough onto the pizza stone, close the door, and watch the fun.  The flats will puff up like those big fungi balls in your yard and then deflate.  The loaf is done when its top has several light-golden spots on it.  Remove the loaf with a VERY long-handled spatula.  Remove the loaves to a cooling rack and cover with a damp towel until cool.  Toss another one in!

 

Baking time varies a lot depending on your oven.  So just watch the first few loaves carefully.  Usually, baking time is 2-6 minutes per loaf.

 

Try to resist eating all of your pita fresh out of the oven!

 

BONUS RECIPE!!!!!!!

 

This is quite possibly the finest late evening supper when the weather is warm.  We always take trays of this out to the patio table with glasses of red wine and enjoy it by candlelight.  If you close your eyes, you can hear the waves of the Mediterranean lapping up on the beach.

 

Pita “Bruschetta”

 

1-2 loaves of pita per person

1 red onion, thinly sliced

2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and thinly sliced

1 C good feta cheese

1-2 cloves of garlic

1 bunch fresh basil, chiffonade

¾ C olive oil

kosher salt for sprinkling (optional)

freshly ground pepper

 

Place the red onion slices in a bowl of cold water and soak them for 15-30 minutes to make them less bitter.  Crumble the feta into a small container and reserve.  Press the garlic into the olive oil and allow to stand for 30 minutes.

 

(NOTE:  To chiffonade the basil, stack about ten leaves on top of each other and roll them up like a cigar.  Then, with a very sharp knife, cut the “cigar” perpendicularly in slices.  This gives long strips of herb.)

 

Arrange 2-4 loaves of pita on a baking sheet and pre-heat your broiler.  Brush the garlic-flavored olive oil generously on each loaf.  Sprinkle the onion slices, tomato slices, and feta thinly on each loaf.  Sprinkle generously with basil strips.

 

Place under broiler until the vegetables begin to wilt and the feta just starts to melt.  Do not overcook.  Serve hot and sprinkle with a bit of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.

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