To puff or not to puff? That is the question (well, maybe not if you are Hamlet, but most certainly when it comes to pita bread).
Because the truth is, when you are making pita, it doesn't always balloon as you were hoping. It didn't matter that much to me because the pita was very authentic in texture in flavor and I made it to accompany a dip, but if I had been planning to stuff it with falafel and more, I surely would have been disappointed.
So I thought for a while whether to post this recipe at all and whether I should call it pita bread or flat bread if I did. I did not, after all, succeed in getting a big pocket in all my breads. Some puffed a lot, some puffed a little, bubbles here and there, and some barely puffed at all.
I finally decided to share my experience for these reasons:
1. The pita was good, exactly what you would expect from a pita bread.
2. It was easy to make, quick and straightforward.
3. Pita stores very well.
I think any recipe that makes you want to make it again, that connects you with your primal instincts (flat bread is the most ancient form of bread, baked long before ovens or baking utensils existed), that is cheap, that yields a result that is so much more than the sum of its components, that makes leftovers that can last you a week and that allows you to feed your family unprocessed food is a recipe to be posted.
In the meantime I have learned to use instant yeast that has not been open too long, a very, very hot oven and to try it on a stovetop next time.
Recipe from here.
Ingredients (8 pitas)
1 cup warm water
2 tsp active dry yeast
3 cups all-purpose flour (2 1/2 plus 1/2)
2 tsp salt
up to 2 tsp olive oil
In a large bowl (or the bowl of your kneading machine), mix together water and yeast and let sit for a few minutes until yeast dissolves. Add 2 1/2 cups of the flour (put aside the rest for the kneading), salt and olive oil and stir with a wooden spoon until a shaggy dough is formed.
If you have a kneading machine, knead according to instructions until the dough is smooth and elastic (or knead for about 5-7 minutes by hand after sprinkling the work surface with some flour). Add enough flour to avoid the dough from sticking, but use as little as possible.
Place the dough in a bowl you will previously have greased with some olive oil , turn it so the ball is fully coated and cover with plastic wrap or a dish towel. Let the dough rise for a couple of hours, until the dough approximately doubles.
Now you have two options: refrigerate the dough until needed (for up to a week) or make your pita bread.
When you decide to make the pita, deflate the dough with your hands and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide it into 8 equal pieces and flatten each piece into a thick disk. Sprinkle the pieces with some more flour and cover them with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap until you are ready to bake them.
Using a floured rolling pin, roll one of the pieces into 8-9 inch circles, about a quarter inch thick. My disks turned out a little smaller and thinner, despite using exactly the same amounts. I am wondering if my dry yeast package had been open too long? Anyhow, when you are rolling make sure the pieces do not stick to the work surface and sprinkle with extra flour if needed. Also, if the dough starts to spring back, set it aside to rest for a few minutes and then continue rolling.
Now you again have two options: baking the pitas in the oven or making them on your stovetop.
I opted for the first choice.
Pre heat the oven to 450°F/230°C. If you have a baking stone use it, or heat a baking sheet in the middle rack. When your oven is very hot, place the rolled-out pitas directly on the baking stone or baking sheets and bake for about 3 minutes. The dough should start puffing up after about a minute and is done when it has fully ballooned. Cover baked pitas with a clean dish towel while baking the others. I baked mine two at a time. As I mentioned above, not all of my pitas ballooned and the ones that did, did so in parts, in large bubbles. Besides the yeast I used (the package had been open a while), I am pretty sure the heat levels were not high enough: I used parchment paper instead of putting the bread directly on the baking sheet and realized I was getting better results when I increased the heat by ventilating my oven.
I did not try the stovetop method but will be sure to in the future. Here is what to do if you decide to go this way.
Warm a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until very hot. Drizzle some oil in the pan and wipe off the excess. Lay a pita on the skillet and bake for 30 seconds, until you see bubbles starting to form. Flip and cook for 1-2 minutes, until large golden spots appear on the underside. Flip again and cook another 1-2 minutes. If you have problems with the puffing try gently pressing the surface of the pita with a dish towel.
Pitas can be stored for a few days in a closed plastic bag or frozen.