Buying pitas in the store can get expensive - we've been paying around $4 (depending on the brand) for a bag of 4-6 pitas. Yikes! Making my own seemed only the reasonable and financially savvy way to go, not to mention how much better they'd taste, freshly made.
Deb at Smitten Kitchen posted about making your own pita bread using a recipe she adapted from The Bread Bible, and her pictures looked so fabulous that I knew I'd have to give them a try. I bookmarked the recipe and haven't, until now, made it.
-from Smitten Kitchen adapted from The Bread Bible-
3 cups plus a scant 1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
2 tsp salt
2 tsp instant yeast
2 tbsp olive oil
1 1/4 cups water, room temperature
About 1 1/2 hours before shaping, or for best flavor development, 8 hours to 3 days ahead, mix the dough.
Mixer method: In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all the ingredients. With the paddle attachment, mix on low speed (#2 if using a KitchenAid) just until all the flour is moistened, about 20 seconds. Change to the dough hook, raise the speed to medium (#4 KitchenAid), and knead for 10 minutes. The dough should clean the bowl and be very soft and smooth and just a little sticky to the touch. Add a little flour or water if necessary. (the dough will weigh about 27.75 oz./793 grams.)
Hand method: In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except for a scant 1/4 cup of the flour. With a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until all the flour is moistened. Knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together.
Sprinkle a little of the reserved flour onto the counter and scrape the dough onto it. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, adding as little of the reserved flour as possible. Use a bench scraper to scrape the dough and gather it together as you knead it. At this point it will be very sticky. Cover it with the inverted bowl and allow it to rest for 5 to 20 minutes. (This rest will make the dough less sticky and easier to work with.)
Knead the dough for another 5 to 10 minutes or until it is soft and smooth and just a little sticky to the touch. Add a little flour or water if necessary. (The dough will weigh about 27.75 oz./793 grams.)
Let the dough rise: Using an oiled spatula or dough scraper, scrape the dough into a 2-quart or larger dough-rising container or bowl, lightly greased with cooking spray or oil. Press the dough down and lightly spray or oil the top of it. Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap. With a piece of tape, mark the side of the container at approximately where double the height of the dough would be. Refrigerate the dough overnight (or up to 3 days), checking every hour for the first 4 hours and pressing it down if it starts to rise.
Preheat the oven: Preheat the oven to 475°F one hour before baking. Have an oven shelf at the lowest level and place a baking stone, cast-iron skillet, or baking sheet on it before preheating.
Shape the dough: Cut the dough into 8 or 12 pieces. Work with one piece at a time, keeping the rest covered with a damp cloth. On a lightly floured counter, with lightly floured hands, shape each piece into a ball and then flatten it into a disk. Cover the dough with oiled plastic and allow it to rest for 20 minutes at room temperature.
Roll each disk into a circle a little under 1/4 inch thick. Allow them to rest, uncovered, for 10 minutes before baking.
Bake the pita: Quickly place 1 piece of dough directly on the stone or in the skillet or on the baking sheet, and bake for 3 minutes. The pita should be completely puffed but not beginning to brown. The dough will not puff well if it is not moist enough. See how the pita puffs, then, if necessary, spray and knead each remaining piece with water until the dough is soft and moist; allow to rest again and reroll as before.* (However, those that do not puff well are still delicious to eat.)
Proceed with the remaining dough, baking 3 or 4 pieces at a time if using a stone or baking sheet. using a pancake turner, transfer the pita breads to a clean towel, to stay soft and warm. Allow the oven to reheat for 5 minutes between batches. The pitas can be reheated for about 30 seconds in a hot oven before serving.
To cook the pitas on the stove top: Preheat a griddle or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly grease the surface and cook the pitas one at a time. Cook for about 20 seconds, then turn the dough and continue cooking for 1 minute or until big bubbles appear. Turn the dough again and cook until the dough balloons. If the dough begins to brown, lower the heat. The entire cooking process for each pita should be about 3 minutes.
Whole wheat variation: For a whole wheat version, use half whole wheat and half white flour. If using regular whole wheat flour, for best results, grind it very fine or process it in a food processor for 5 minutes to break the bran into smaller particles. Finely ground 100% whole wheat flour (atta), available in Middle Eastern food markets, is the finest grind available. Or, for a milder but wheatier flavor and golden color, try 100% white whole wheat flour. You will need to add 1/4 cup more water, for a total of 1 1/2 cups (12.4 oz./354 grams).
I followed Deb's instructions to the letter. There was no way I was going to stray until I had tried her recipe exactly - I could tweak later if I felt it necessary.
Baby Bear helped with some of the kneading; I passed the dough under his nose and he immediately reached out and pressed his fingers into it. Shauna of Gluten-Free Girl gave me the idea of allowing Baby Bear to smell the things I'm working on in the kitchen - her Little Bean fell in love with ginger!
I decided that I would make the dough earlier in the day, allow it to rest and develop it's flavors overnight then bake them up the next day.
Surprisingly, this dough came together so easily and so very beautifully! Don't laugh, but I probably could have gone on kneading it for a while and not have minded a bit.
As it turned out, the dough was smelling so good that I decided to let it develop one more day, and baked them up this afternoon.
The whole process was so easy!! I will never again buy pitas from the store - the flavor and freshness from pitas out of my own kitchen is un matchable. I admit that I ate one right out of the oven, all puffy and steaming and hot - and it was amazing.
If you've ever thought about making your own pita bread - start with this recipe.