Pita bread is the third recipe in the Breads section of the Modern Baker Challenge. This is another flatbread and one that I was really looking forward to making. After all, who doesn’t love soft, puffy pitas? And the thought of them pillowing in my oven had me fairly quivering with excitement.
So, let’s just get this out of the way. My first time attempt at pita bread was an epic disaster. The dough was really wet, so when I went to roll out the individual pitas, I knew there was a danger of them sticking together. The logical thing to do, as any beginning home baker could tell you, would have been to flour the dough before rolling it out. But did I do that? No.
I rolled the dough on my Roul ‘Pat, so I knew it wouldn’t stick. But as I finished each pita, I had to stack them somewhere. Again, logic and even basic experience would have told me to flour them. Instead, I stacked them between layers of wax paper. By the time I had finished rolling them all out, they were glued to the wax paper, and nothing was going to get them unstuck.
The last two pitas were still on the Roul ‘Pat, so I decided to go ahead and bake them. I floured my peel, gently placed the dough on it, and slid the pitas into the oven, whereupon both of them folded over coming off the peel. So, for my first attempt at pitas, this is what I ended up with:
Frustrated and slightly humbled, I was nonetheless undeterred. And so the next day, I made pita bread again. The dough is mixed in the food processor and comes together really quickly, even with a 10-minute autolyse. Once the mixing is finished, the dough is set aside to rest for an hour before rolling out the pitas.
As mentioned above, the dough is really wet. Although NM doesn’t mention how slack it should be, I got the impression from the recipe that is was supposed to be that way. Several times in the recipe, he says to scrape the dough from the bowl, which leads me to think it’s supposed to be wet and somewhat sticky.
After fermenting the dough, I turned it out onto my bench (floured this time), divided the dough into 12 pieces, and rounded each piece into a ball.
While the dough rested for 15 minutes, I got the oven ready to bake by putting my baking tiles in place and preheating the oven to 500° F. Pitas bake very quickly in a hot oven, so it’s important to preheat the oven for at least half an hour (45 minutes is better) so that your stone is really hot.
I rolled each dough ball out to about seven inches in diameter, moving my rolling pin in every direction to try to get the pitas as round as possible.
The dough is supposed to rest for 15 minutes after rolling, and I planned to bake three pitas at a time, so I started my timer after I had rolled the third dough ball. That way, I could start baking as soon as the first three pitas had rested for the correct amount of time. Sufficient flour on both the dough and the peel guaranteed that there would not be a repeat of my first disaster.
I loaded the first three pitas in the oven, closed the door, and held my breath. Would then puff up like they were supposed to? I needn’t have worried, because within a minute or two, they looked like this:
I baked them for four-and-a-half minutes each, until they were puffy and slightly browned.
OK, so they didn’t stick. And they looked and smelled great. But how did they taste? I can honestly say these pitas were as good as any I have ever eaten. So much so that I made them again the next day. And I already have a request from my wife to make more.
When I baked them for the third time, I hit on something that really helped. When I loaded the pitas onto the baking stone, instead of putting them directly on the peel, I put them on parchment paper, which I had placed on the peel. The pitas slid right off the peel, and the parchment didn’t interfere with the heat from the baking stone. I alternated between two pieces of parchment, and they held up through the baking process.
If you’ve always wanted to try your hand at making pita bread, give this recipe a try. It comes together quickly, is really easy, and makes some of the best pitas you can imagine.