"What's a pita?" Asked my husband when I announced my next baking challenge from Beth Hensperger's The Bread Bible. "It's a puffy flat bread that makes a pocket", I tried to explain. Based on the knowing nod of his head I realized he understood. "For what?" was the next question. "For lunch" was my response. "You or me?" "Me", I assured him. "Ok" And off he went to work in the yard. The funny thing is, after the pita pockets were baked and cooling on the rack he appeared again. The next thing I knew he was walking around munching on one. My husband looked at me as though he were thinking and said "hmmm...these are pretty good". Then he grabbed another. Approval at it's finest.
The dough came together very nicely. The problem that I had was the first batch that I baked. I made them too thin. For some reason I felt the need to roll them out to a larger size resulting in what looked like a flat bread - no pocket. The flat bread is good, don't get me wrong, but it wasn't a pita. I sprinkled coarse sea salt on the "mistakes", baked them, and set them aside to use as flat bread.
What I found worked was to barely roll the ball to 6", then let it set for 10-15 minutes prior to baking. This seemed to turn out perfect, store-bought looking pita pockets. I baked mine on a baking stone in the oven as described in the recipe. Although the recipe directs you to bake them for 8-9 minutes, mine were done at 6-7 minutes. Also, I've seen other reviews of this recipe on the internet where they have successfully baked them on indoor grills and in cast iron pans.
The recipe calls for half whole-wheat pastry flour and half unbleached all-purpose flour. I'm not a huge fan of the whole-wheat flavor, so the next time I make them I'll try substituting 2 T. of the water with fresh squeezed orange juice (takes away the wheat taste) as I do when I make whole-wheat bread. Will I make them again? Yes. They turned out great. I stored the extras in the freezer since pita bread only lasts a day or two.
Recipe Source: The Bread Bible
2 1/2 c. warm water (105 - 115 degrees Fahrenheit), divided
1 T. active dry yeast
pinch of granulated sugar
1/4 c. olive oil
1 T. salt
3 c. whole-wheat pastry flour (can be substituted with equal amounts all-purpose flour)
3 - 3 1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
In a small bowl pour in 1/2 c. of the water. Sprinkle the yeast and the pinch of sugar over the surface of the water. Stir to dissolve and let stand at room temperature, until foamy, about 10 minutes.
In a bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the remaining water, olive oil, salt and whole-wheat pastry flour. Beat hard until creamy, about 1 minute. Stir in the yeast mixture. Add the all-purpose flour, 1/2 c. at a time, until a soft, shaggy dough that just clears the sides of the bowl is formed.
Switch from the paddle to the dough hook and knead 2-3 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and springy and springs back when pressed. If desired, transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead briefly by hand.
(If stirring dough by hand - start with a whisk and switch to a wooden spoon when adding the all-purpose flour. Knead by hand 3-5 minutes.)
Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl. Turn the dough once to coat the top and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until doubled n bulk, 1-1 1/2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit, with a baking stone set on the bottom rack. Heavily flour a peel. Gently deflate the dough and divide it in half. Cover half with plastic wrap or a clean towel to prevent forming a skin. Divide into 8 equal portions and form each into a ball. Let rest 10 minutes while dividing the second half of the dough. Dust the work surface with flour. Using a rolling pin, roll the balls into 6" circles, about 1/4" thick. Loosely cover the circles. Do not stack as they will stick together. Let rest 10-15 minutes.
Transfer the circles to a peel and with a quick action of the wrist, slide the pita rounds from the peel directly onto the hot stone. Four will fit at once. Do not open the oven door for a full 4 minutes. Bake for 2-4 minutes more (in addition to the first 4), until fully puffed and light brown. Be careful not to overbake. Let cool on a wire rack or on clean dish towels.