Here’s what I want you to know about making pita bread: you can do it! Honest- it’s easy, fairly quick (after an hour rise), and so fun to watch them puff up in the oven.
The worst that can happen is some might not have the pocket in the middle, but then you have flatbread, still wonderful with hummus.
I’ve taken pictures of every step so it will be super clear and then maybe you can picture yourself making whole grain pita bread. They are SO much better than store bought (and need I say pennies on the dollar, especially compared to the little bags of four for $2 or more?).
1. Start by dumping the flour in the bowl of a stand mixer. (Note: you can do it by hand, but it’s WAY easier in a stand mixer. I suppose the first mixing/kneading cycle of a bread machine would work, too, though you should check the flour amounts).
You will need 3-1/4 cups of flour altogether. I like to use 2-1/4 cups whole wheat bread flour (spelt works too, and I used a cup in the batter in these pictures) and 1 cup unbleached white flour. You can use all whole wheat, but the pitas will be a bit tougher. Your call.
2. Next add 1-1/2 teaspoons salt and 1-1/2 teaspoons instant yeast. Using instant yeast instead of active dry is one of the reasons why it can be added with the dry ingredients (without dissolving in water first to proof). It’s not hard to find- the bulk foods section of most stores carries instant yeast.
If you only have active dry, I would proof it first for 5 minutes in a little of the water. Just be sure to minus that amount from the water when you add it later.
3. Next add 1-1/4 cups warm water.
4. Lastly, add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Just dump everything together in the bowl. Don’t worry about mixing until all the ingredients are added. How easy is that?
5. Mix it all together, then switch to the dough hook and knead with the hook for 5 minutes. Whole grains act a little different than all-purpse, and may stick to the very bottom of the bowl, even after being kneaded. That’s OK. If it’s sticking too much, add a little flour, just a small spoonful at a time, being careful not to add too much, ’cause we’re aiming for a soft dough here.
Here’s what I mean by “soft dough:”
I took some pictures to illustrate what a soft dough should look like, because I remember when I was learning to make bread these were mysterious instructions (and I would usually add too much flour…).
See how the dough is sticking to the bowl as I transfer it to the other bowl for rising the photo above? This is good, it should need a little help getting out of the bowl. If it just rolls out on it’s own, it’s not a soft dough.
If you pat the soft dough and it doesn’t stick to your fingers, but is just slightly tacky, like I show above, that’s good. If it does stick to your fingers, then it would need a little more flour and a little more kneading.
If a light bread with a good rise is what you’re after (and who isn’t?) then all your whole grain bread dough, no matter what it is, should look like this. The moral of the story?
Don’t add too much flour.
6. Back to the instructions for pita: let the dough rise in a warm spot, covered with plastic, until doubled, 1 to 1-1/2 hours, depending on how warm your spot is. It was about 80 degrees in our house when I took these pictures (at 9:00 at night!), so it only took an hour on the counter.
7. When the dough has risen, start heating the oven to 500 degrees. Yes, these puppies cook hot and fast, it’s one of the secrets to the puffing which creates the pocket.
8. Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a lightly floured surface and cut in half. Place one of the halves under a slightly dampened cloth, and shape the remaining half into a circle. Cut this circle into four equal (somewhat…) portions.
9. Shape each of these pieces into a ball. I like to grab all the ends together on one side, cupping the other in my hand. It’s easy and makes a nice round shape.
10. Place the balls as you make them under the cloth. Repeat with the other half until you have 8 balls.
11. Let rest 5 minutes to make them easier to roll out. To be honest, I just start rolling the first ones I made into balls when I’m done with all the shaping. It seems like it’s been 5 minutes…
12. Roll out one at a time, flouring a tiny bit, but not so much that the dough goes sliding all over as you’re trying to roll it. Put this one on another cutting board (or peel, or whatever) and roll out another. Do two or three at a time.
13. Then place a baking cooling rack right on top of the oven rack. A baking stone will work, too, but mine broke awhile ago, and this worked great. Lay the prepared pitas on the rack. Don’t be too concerned with the shapes, or if an edge falls through a crack, they cook fast and the imperfect shapes are testament to homemade goodness!
14. Set the timer for 4-5 minutes. I used 4 minutes with my oven.
15. While one set is cooking, roll out the next set.
When you open the oven, voila! Puffy little pita pockets. (On a side note, little kids love this, it’s like a miracle!)
16. Remove these from the oven and immediately replace with the next set you’ve prepared.
17. Place the cooked pitas directly on a towel and wrap the towel around them completely while cooking the rest so they stay nice and soft (otherwise they’ll crisp up as they cool). Repeat with the remaining dough, keeping all the cooked pitas covered until serving.
So in my example, I fit 3 pitas at a time, making 3 rounds of cooking for the eight pitas, which equals 12 minutes (15 if adding the time to roll out the first ones). Can you believe it?
- Throw in some ingredients = 5 minutes
- knead = 5 minutes
- rise = 1 hour
- roll and cook = 15 minutes.
And only 20 minutes is hands-on. See? It really is easy!
- 2-1/4 c. whole wheat flour (spelt works, too)
- 1 c. unbleached flour (or use all whole grains)
- 1-1/2 tsp. salt
- 1-1/2 tsp. instant yeast
- 1-1/4 warm water
- 2 Tbl. olive oil
- Combine all the ingredients and mix them together - by mixer or by hand.
- Knead by mixer 5 minutes or by hand 8 minutes until you have a soft dough that is tacky to the touch.
- Cover the bowl tightly with plastic and let rise until doubled, 1 to 1-1/2 hours.
- Heat oven to 500 degrees.
- Turn dough out to lightly floured board, cut in half and place one half under a dampened towel. Divide the other half into four equal portions, shaping each into a ball and placing under the towel. Repeat with the remaining half of dough.
- Let rest 5 minutes. Place a baking/cooling rack directly on the oven rack.
- Use a rolling pin to roll each ball one at a time into a circle about 6 inches in diameter and ¼ thick on a lightly floured surface. Repeat with one or two more rolls.
- Place the rolled pitas directly on the baking rack in the oven. Set timer for 4 minutes, check for browning and puffing, and remove or continue cooking for up to 1 more minute, if needed.
- While the first pitas are cooking, prepare the next batch.
- When removing the pitas from the oven, stack them together in a kitchen towel to keep them from crisping as they cool. Immediately add the next batch of dough to the rack in the oven, repeating process until all the dough has been cooked.