Freshly made pita bears little resemblance to the plastic-packaged, store-bought variety and it is not difficult to prepare. I like to use these are the Lebanese do as wraps, putting filling onto around, rolling it up to eat. This recipe, though slightly adapted, comes from the wonderful cookbook "A Baker's Odyssey" by Greg Patent who writes "To the Lebanese, bread is an integral part of the meal because it is used as a case to enclose the food itself. Bread and food are thus entwined."
You will need a baking stone for this recipe. They are easy to come by in good kitchenware shops or you can have a terracotta tile cut to suit your oven.
2 1/2 cups warm water
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
6 cups unbleached all purpose flour, plus about 1/2 cup more
1 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoon olive oil
If you have a heavy duty electric mixer you can make use of it to make the kneading a bit easier.
Into a large bowl (or the bowl of your mixer) put 1/2 cup of the warm water and stir in the yeast and sugar. Let stand for about 10 minutes, until bubbly and frothy.
To the yeast add 1 cup of flour, the salt and the remaining 2 cups water and beat well with a wooden spoon (or in the electric mixer with the paddle attached). Add 2 more cups flour and beat until smooth and has the consistency of pancake batter. Beat in 2 tablespoons of oil. If you are using the mixer change to the dough hook at this stage. Gradually stir in the remaining 3 cups flour to make a firm slightly sticky dough. Knead by hand or mixer for about 10 minutes adding the extra 1/2 cup flour if needed. The dough should be smooth and elastic.
Rub a large bowl with the remaining tablespoon of oil. Shape the dough into a ball, place in the bowl turning the dough so all surfaces are coated with oil. Cover and let the dough rise at room temperature for about 2 hours. After which time if you press a finger into the dough and remove it, the depression should remain, then you know it is ready.
An hour before baking, adjust the oven rack to the lower third position and place a baking stone on the rack. Preheat the oven to 250C.
Turn the dough onto your work surface and pat it gently to deflate. With a sharp knife cut it 16 pieces. Shape each into a ball and place on a flour dusted baking tray. Cover lightly with a kitchen towel and let rest for about 20 minutes.
Roll out only one ball of dough at a time to about a 8 inch round, flipping it over as necessary using a floured surface. Let the round rest for a minute or two.
As you can see, compared to a matchstick, the dough is rolled out quite thinly.
I use an upside down baking tray as an baker's peel. Set the dough round on the end of floured baking sheet or baker's peel if you have one, and slide it off onto the baking stone. Work quickly to maintain the oven's heat. Within a minute it will start to puff up into taut pillows as the water in the dough converts to steamy pockets in the oven intense heat. Bake for about 2 1/2 minutes.
Slide a large egg flip or baker's peel under the bread and remove it from the oven. Be careful, the breads are hot! Slide them onto kitchen towels and over with another towel. Using pot holders gently press on the bread to deflate it. Keep them wrapped in a kitchen towel to cool. Continue with the rest of the balls of dough.
You can be rolling the next dough round as one is baking.
Enjoy your fresh pita as a wrap or a pocket! Once you try making your own you will never buy them again. They are that good!
Stay tuned for my favourite pita filling!