Can you pass up freshly baked bread? I can easily pass on the bread basket served at most restaurants, unless with one sniff as the basket is laid before me, it’s freshly baked, warm from the oven. Then I need to immediately rethink my ordering to balance out the bread. I am one of those, do not combine foods girl. That means no protein and carbs at the same meal. Yes, it gets tricky with sandwiches and spaghetti and meatballs, but I’ve done it for so many years, I hardly think about it. When I eat pasta, I eat pasta!! but no meatballs!
And when I eat bread, it has to be worth every bite. There is a pita bread that I so love and miss from Ohio that every time I visit I have to bring some back with me. They make it ultra thin, soft with a slightly chewy texture. I can eat them warm from the oven, toasted for a crisp crunch, topped with a tossed salad, perfect with hummus and especially good paired with a warm brie which we enjoyed over the holidays.
I’ve attempted to make pita at home before. Mostly using the method that bakes the pita in the oven. It magically puffs up as it bakes, so cool. But it always produced a thicker pita and not the texture I loved. Finally, I came across Chef John’s Pita Bread recipe and honestly, my kitchen has turned into a pita making bread factory! And I write pita ‘making’ not ‘baking’ as the key to this great recipe is NOT baking the pita, but rather cooking them on a cast iron skillet. Just as Chef John said, “”Unlike lots of other baked products which are better from a bakery, this is so far superior to the stuff you get at the grocery store, it’s not even close. And in addition to being delicious to eat, it’s also extremely easy to make!”
It really is that easy as I’m not a huge bread baker, weighing and hand kneading dough is not for me; I dip and scoop out my flour using measuring cups and use my KitchenAid for kneading. The dough has turned out perfect every time. I have also been playing with different flours. From a mix of spelt, white and wheat in the pita photo on top, to using all white unbleached flour both regular and “00”, and whole wheat pastry flour. I found I really like using spelt flour; however, as the pita I’ve always loved was made with white flour, using white flour reminds me more of the authentic taste I’m familiar with.
Through these photos you can see how beautiful the dough rises after 1 hour with rapid yeast, 2 hours with regular yeast. The dough is then formed into a oval shape and cut into 8 pieces.
Form each piece into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
Then roll out each ball into a large round, about 1/4 inch thick. Allow to rest again for about 5 minutes as you heat up a cast iron skillet. Like magic! The pita cooks on one side for about 3 minutes, flip and cook for another 2 minutes until lightly charred and puffed!
As I am an honest blogger, not all my pita breads puff up this perfectly. Some only on parts but that is okay as neither did the professionally baked pitas I bought were easy to slice open all the way. Appearance does matter but taste and texture win me over on these for sure.
Chef John’s Pita Bread
For the sponge:
1 .25 oz package active dry yeast or rapid rise
1 cup warm water, about 90-100 degrees
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
for the dough:
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 3/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour – or the flour of your choice (more as needed)
1 teaspoon olive oil
Start by making a loose sponge: Combine the yeast, warm water and 1 cup flour into the bowl of a stand up mixer. Whisk together and let stand 15 – 20 minutes for the sponge to bubble and rise slightly.
Continue making the dough: Pour in the 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil and salt into the sponge. Add in the 1 3/4 cup flour. Using the dough hook, mix at low speed until dough is soft, supple and lightly sticky. If dough sticks to the side of the bowl, add 1/4 cup more flour, just a little at a time.
Turn the dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to double in size; about 1 hour using rapid rise yeast, 2 hours for regular yeast.
When risen, remove the dough from the bowl and place on a lightly floured board. Lightly form into an oval, semi flat shape. Use a knife to cut into 8 pieces. Form each piece into a small round ball by tucking the edges under and forming a smooth top. Cover dough balls with a lightly oiled plastic wrap and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
Begin to roll out each dough ball on a lightly floured board, about 1/4 inch thick. Allow to rest for 5 minutes while beginning to heat a cast iron skillet lightly brushed with a touch of olive oil to medium high heat. Lay pita bread into hot skillet and cook until bread begins to puff up and bottom has golden brown spots and blisters, about 3 minutes. Flip, cook 2 more minutes and flip back onto the original side to cook for about 30 seconds. The pita will begin to puff up and fill with hot air. Stack cooked breads on a plate to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 8 pita bread rounds. Use within a few days – if they last, or freeze to keep longer.
I love being in the kitchen. Early mornings, soft music, a hot espresso. Easing into the preparation of delicious meals. Glancing through cookbooks, gathering inspiration and planning my day. I look forward to the cycles of the seasons, the pleasures of tasting and savoring and sharing this with those dear to me. Weekends are special to me as my week days are often rushed, but still I create the ambiance, light the candles, set the table and uncork the wine.