Those little restaurant moments we look forward to, perhaps even unknowingly, which make the experience just a bit more special. One of my favorites is fresh, warm, homemade pita bread. Pillow soft and light….
You can tell when they are homemade. Instantly.
And when they’re not, you’re a little sad. Right?
Well, the good news is pita bread’s pretty simple to make. And when your people (be they family, friends, or just curious onlookers) taste it fresh from the pan they will look at you and usually say something profound like, “Seriously?”
Let me show you.
Check the date on your yeast to make sure it hasn’t expired. Trust me.
Stirring just enough to mix, combine a cup of warm water (shoot for 95°F-110°F) and an envelope of yeast together in the bowl of your stand mixer. (An envelope is about 2 1/4 teaspoons if you’re using bulk or jarred yeast.)
After enough practice you can get the water straight from the tap without using a thermometer. If, like me, you instinctively remember bringing baby bottles to temp in your sleep, you’ll do this by reflex. However, it is important to get this right. If the water’s too hot (~120°F+), you’ll kill the yeast and if it’s too cold, it won’t proof right. So use a thermometer if you need to.
Wait about 5 minutes. Is it a bit frothy? Does it smell a bit yeasty? If so, you’re good to go. If not, don’t use it. It’s called proofing the yeast because we’re trying to prove it’s alive.
Add a tablespoon of olive oil, either your everyday or your good stuff, and half-a-tablespoon of kosher salt. Finally, add 2-1/2 cups of all purpose flour to the bowl.
Using the dough hook on your stand mixer, start on the slowest speed until everything’s mixed together — otherwise you’ll have flour everywhere. Then increase the speed to medium and let it knead the dough for you. You’re going for a smoothness more than a set time but it usually takes about 7-8 minutes when I do it.
As it kneads, after the first couple of minutes, watch for the dough to come clean off the sides of the bowl. If it doesn’t, you might need to sprinkle another tablespoon of flour into the bowl. You might even need to do this a few times (but don’t go crazy). It depends on the humidity in your kitchen, what brand of flour you’re using and how much gluten it has, and so on.
Cooking should be forgiving, it’s you and the food working together to make the magic.
Put the dough ball aside (on a lightly-floured surface). Clean the bowl and lightly oil it with a little more olive oil. Put the dough ball into the bowl and turn it over a few times to coat it. Then cover it (I just use a kitchen towel) for about an hour and let it rise.
Turn the risen dough back onto your lightly-floured surface or cutting board and gently deflate it. Divide it into 8 pieces and shape these into discs. Flour your hands and your board if the dough sticks — don’t flour the dough directly.
Roll one the discs to about 8″ in diameter. Gently shake off any extra flour if needed.
(If your dough won’t seem to roll out and keeps springing back on you, cover it with the dish towel and let it rest for a few minutes.)
In a non-stick (or at least well-seasoned — cast iron works well too) pan over medium-high heat, wipe a few drops of olive oil around the pan and drop in your first disc of dough.
After about 30 seconds, flip it over.
Cook for about two minutes and flip it over again.
Cook for a final two minutes.
Now, if your pan is a bit too hot, cook for less time, say a minute and a half each side. That is, don’t burn it just because I said two minutes!
Conversely, if it’s taking longer than two minutes to get the characteristic little brown spots, turn up the heat a bit.
By the way, while it’s cooking, roll out another disc of dough. Keep the dough covered with your towel otherwise so it doesn’t dry out.
You’ll be amazed how good this tastes. You can serve it with some fresh made hummus or tzatziki.
Classic Pita Bread
Homemade pita bread, warm and pillow soft, is a joy to cook and serve.
- 1 cup warm water 95°-110°
- 1 envelope yeast
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Mix yeast and water in the bowl of your stand mixer. Let sit for about 5 minutes to proof the yeast. It should be a bit frothy.
Add the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine.
Using the dough hook of your stand mixer on medium speed, knead the dough for about 7-10 minutes or until smooth.
Let dough rise in a covered lightly-oiled bowl for about an hour.
Divide the dough into 8 discs.
Roll out each disc to about 8" across. (It doesn't have to be perfect.)
Over medium-high heat in a non-stick or well-seasoned pan, with a bit of oil spread on the surface, cook a pita for about 30 seconds.
Flip and cook for about 2 minutes.
Flip and cook a final 2 minutes.
Set aside, covered with a towel, while you cook the rest. (Don't put them in a sealed container or they'll get soggy.)
I’m thinking it’s time I make homemade gyros. What do you think?