Building better pita

In Recipies on November 10, 2011 at 10:18 am

It's so'll get fahrklempt!

There is nothing better than fresh, hot pita from the oven with a bit of hummus, oil, or butter slathered on it.  The whole house smells wonderful during its baking and pita is wonderfully simple to make.  I had used the same recipe for my pita for years, until an accident (yesterday) resulted in a changed recipe.

The result was spectacular.

I did not notice that my bag of whole wheat flour was empty until I had already measured out the other ingredients.  The recipe calls for one cup of whole wheat flour and I had about half of a cup in the bag.  I went to my secret stash in the freezer (it keeps bugs out of flour) and found that I had long ago raided my reserve supply.  I noticed a 20# bag of my hand ground graham flour on the bottom shelf and began to wonder about using it.

Graham flour is the king of fiber, so I wondered about the wisdom of putting an entire cup of it into my pita recipe.  I measured out some into a small bag for my kitchen freezer and went back to my pita-making.

I used about two tablespoons of the graham flour and made up the remaining difference with the small amount of whole wheat and unbleached flours.  The dough had a much courser texture and I wondered if I had now ruined an entire batch of pita dough.  Still, I pressed forward.

Everything went normally with the baking and I could not wait until the first pita was cool enough to handle so I could have a taste.

The result was a much more “Old World” type of pita, with dark grains scattered beautifully in the bread.  I served the new, improved pita for lunch and we found it to be much more satisfying and filling than that made with my standard recipe.

One thing I was glad of…

…that I did not use an entire cup of graham flour to substitute for the shortage in whole wheat.  The result would have been a sort of “prison bread” with enough fiber to clean out an elephant.

Thanks to my caution and inventiveness in the face of a commodity shortage, I have a new pita recipe to share with Phyne Dyners.

There are some other improvements as well.  I added a small bit of oil to the dough as it was kneaded and also a bit of sugar to the yeast when I started it.  Traditional pita recipes do not use oil as the flour provides a small amount of simple sugars to nourish the budding yeast.

I know that I published a pita recipe earlier, but there are a few technical aspects that are worthy of repeating.

First, make sure the water with which you start your yeast is at almost exactly 110F.  Too cold and the yeast will not bud and too hot and you risk killing much of it.  Use an instant read thermometer to confirm the temperature.  Around 2-3 degrees off is not a huge matter, but try for 110F.

Second, before adding the started yeast, be sure to blend the salt into the flours.  If you just toss the started yeast into the pile of flour with salt heaped on top, the salt may kill a lot of the yeast and your pita will be tough or like matzohs.  Before adding the yeast, just swish your hand in the bowl of ingredients a few times and start your mixer (or mix by hand) immediately after adding the yeast.

Third, be sure your oven can reach 475-500F.  Traditional pita bakeries have ovens that are blazing hot and the baking takes only a few minutes.  I have found that temperatures lower than 475F result in a pale, tasteless cracker.

Give this a try, I think you’ll enjoy the difference.

Let’s get started!

3 1/4 C unbleached flour

1/2 C whole wheat flour

2 TBS course-ground (hand ground if possible) graham flour

1 tsp salt

1 TBS olive oil

2 1/4 tsp dry, active yeast

1/4 tsp sugar

1 to 2 C warm water

Start the yeast by putting the sugar, yeast, and ONE CUP of 110F water into a pre-warmed measuring cup.  Allow to ferment about 10 minutes.  Pre-heat your oven to 150-200 degrees.  Place the flours and the salt into a large mixing bowl and swish them a few times to mix in the salt.  TURN OFF THE OVEN.  Mix with a stand mixer using a dough hook, or mix the dough by hand in a heavy bowl.  Drizzle in the olive oil and then the yeast/water mixture.  Keep adding water, very slowly and in 1 TBS amounts until the dough is stiff, but smooth.  Form the dough into a ball and place it into a lightly oiled bowl.  Cover the dough with a damp towel or plastic wrap and place it in the warm oven to rise for one hour.

Remove the dough from the oven and set aside covered while you pre-heat your oven to as close to 500F as it will go, placing a heavy baking sheet on the middle rack and a deep pan of water on the bottom rack.  When the oven reaches baking temperature (about 15 minutes), punch down the dough and form just over 1/2 C of it into a smooth ball.  On a lightly floured cutting board, roll the dough into a thin pancake (1/4″ to 3/8″ thick).  Carefully (!!) open the oven door (there will be steam) and gently toss the rolled dough onto the baking sheet.  Bake 1-3 pita at a time, being careful not to crowd them.  After about 2-3 minutes, the dough will puff up (really cool for the kids to watch) and, after small golden areas appear on the loaf (2-3 more minutes), remove it from the oven to a cooling rack or basket covered with a slightly damp towel.  If you have never baked pita before, it will take some trial and error to avoid opening the oven door to check on progress.  Remember, every time you open your oven, the temperature can fall by as much as 50-100 degrees (depending on how long you linger).  An oven door window is “nice”, but being able to directly observe the loaves gives you a better result.

Pitot freeze very nicely and thaw/warm very well in a conventional toaster…which is why I bake my pita into 4-5″ diameter (max) loaves…so they fit in the toaster.  You can also re-warm them in a moistened terra cota tortilla warmer or by wrapping them in a damp towel, placing the package into a Dutch oven and placing the whole works into a 300F oven for 10-15 minutes.

This improvement is so good…you’ll get fahrklempt!

Fun Fact to Know and Tell:  Graham flour is an American invention by a Presbyterian minister, Rev. Sylvester Graham.  Graham was an early health food advocate of the same era as Dr. John Harvey Kellogg…except that Graham did not advocate circumcision to “prevent masturbation” and Graham was also not a klysmophile.  Graham flour differs from “ordinary” flour in that its components of the wheat kernel are milled separately and then are re-mixed to form a very high fiber flour.  And yes, graham flour is the chief ingredient in “graham crackers”.  And now you know!






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: