The great thing about pita bread, besides its deliciousness, is that lovely pocket you can stuff with all sorts of things (mmm… falafel, souvlaki, gyros… I could go on and on.)
We have steam to thank for that pocket. Pita bread is traditionally baked on baking stones in brick ovens because really high heat is necessary for this bread. With such a high temperature, the dough gives off a burst of steam that puffs the pita right up:
When you first make these, you may find that not all of the pitas puff up properly. Even with practice, you will most likely get the occasional pita that wants to stay flat. Not to worry if it doesn’t puff up; the bread is still delicious and you can use it to dip in hummus or tzatziki. If you absolutely must have the pocket, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Make sure the dough isn’t too dry. Moisture is necessary to create the steam.
- Let the yeast do their thing and allow enough time for the dough to rise properly.
- Your oven needs to be HOT (at least 500 F or even hotter if your oven goes that high)
- Preheat your baking sheet or stone. The pita needs as much heat as quickly as possible.
- No peeking! If you open the oven to check on the pita, you will be releasing the steam necessary to puff it up.Try to get the pita in the oven and shut the door as quickly as possible to keep that heat in.
3 cups all purpose flour (420 g) *
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. sugar
1 package dry yeast (2-1/2 tsp.)
1-1/2 cups warm water (375 mL)- you may need more or less
1 tbsp. oil
*If you prefer to use whole wheat flour, you may do so but will have better results if you use 1 cup whole wheat flour + 2 cups AP flour or even half whole wheat, half AP. It is more difficult to make bread with whole wheat flour because the bran cuts through the gluten strands. This results in a more dense and less elastic dough. If using whole wheat flour you may need to adjust the amount of water you add. The amount of water absorbed by flour differs depending on a flour’s protein content.
Dissolve sugar in 1/2 cup warm water (approx. body temperature). If the water is too hot you could kill the yeast! Sprinkle yeast on top and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Mix to ensure all yeast is dissolved.
In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour and salt.
Make a well in the middle of the flour and add the yeast mixture. Mix with a spatula and slowly add more water until flour is incorporated. You can also do this with a stand mixer and dough hook. I tried using the dough hook attachment on my KitchenAid for the very first time and it worked really well!
Once a ball of dough is formed, knead the oil into the dough.
Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until it is elastic and no longer sticky (approximately 10 minutes.)
Coat the inside of a mixing bowl with oil and place dough in bowl to rest. Cover with a damp towel and allow to rise until it has doubled in size (1-2 hours.)
Punch down dough and pinch off 8 sections. Roll each piece into a ball and cover with a damp tea towel. Allow to rest for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 500 F (260 C) or even hotter if your oven can.
Also preheat ungreased baking tray (it is very important that the tray is very hot before the pita gets placed on it.)
Roll out dough on a floured surface until about ½ cm thick. When rolling, don’t let the rolling pin go over the edge of the pita, always keep at least ½ cm in front of the pin.
Transfer pita to baking tray and bake for approx 5 min (or until puffed up and golden on top). In the first few minutes in the oven (before the pita puffs up) it is important not to open the oven.
Remove pita from oven and immediately cover with a damp tea towel and then in storage bag to prevent them from drying out.
You may need to press on the pita with a spatula to flatten out. While still warm, cut open and fill the pocket to make a pita sandwich or cut into wedges to eat with dip. Just look at that pocket:
You can also freeze the pita bread and toast it to reheat (no need to defrost.)