March 29, 2020
Today is our first recipe that uses yeast.
We're capturing our own yeast in the sourdough starter and the pancakes use a chemical leavener.
Today we'll make something else flat but it uses yeast - we're making Pita Bread.
Feel free to double or triple the recipe. This is enough to make five or six.
Start with 250 g of all purpose (or bread) flour. This is about 2 cups.
Lots of recipes tell you to proof or activate your yeast first by adding it to some warm water and sugar. I use instant yeast which doesn't need to be activated first. So I looked around to see if I had to still advise you to activate the yeast if you aren't using warm water and the answer, from King Arthur's wonderful PJ Hamel is "No". (Active dry yeast Do you really need to dissolve it first?)
So, add a half teaspoon of sugar, one teaspoon of salt (I cook with Kosher salt but I'm not sure it matters), and two teaspoons of yeast to the flour and mix the dry ingredients together.
Add 3/4 cup of warm water (it should feel warm on your wrist). As you mix the flour you may need to add a little more water so that you can work the dough.
If you have a machine to mix the dough go ahead and use it. I also love a swedish whisk for this stage. If not, use your hands and pour the water in a little at a time till it begins to come together. When all of the water is incorporated the dough should be in a ball.
Knead the dough until it starts looking smooth and is a tighter ball. Avoid adding extra flour if you can.
Now comes the weird part. This is easier and less messy in a machine but works fine if you're kneading on your counter top.
Add a little more than a tablespoon of olive oil (if you don't have olive oil, another vegetable oil will do) and knead until it is incorporated.
When you actually do this step you're going to think I'm out of my mind. It's going to feel gross and broken and like it's never going to come together. Keep at it and you'll have a really cool feeling slippery dough.
Put your dough in a large bowl and cover it and let it rise for an hour or so. Depending on the temperature of the spot where it's rising - you're looking for it to triple in size.
We've put a lot of yeast in this dough - it will rise plenty.
You can also do this a day ahead. So if you want to bake this tomorrow, skip the rising step and put the covered bowl in the refrigerator and let it rise there. The advantage with this is that you can mix the dough on a day you have lots of time and bake it off the next day when you might not have so much time.
About an hour before you're ready to bake, put a baking stone or an upside-down heavy baking tray in the oven and preheat the oven to its highest setting.
About a half hour before you're ready to bake, sprinkle flour on your counter and divide the dough into five or six even pieces (they'll be around 70 - 80 g each).
I dip the pieces in flour and form them each into balls by either cupping your hand over one and making circles with your hand til it begins to form a sphere - or these are small enough that your can round each ball between your two hands.
Take the ball and press down lightly on the counter to form a circle. Flip it over in the flour and press down a little more. You will probably have to flour your hands to keep the balls from sticking.
Let the disks rest for 10 - 15 minutes.
Depending on how soft the dough is, you'll either be able to stretch it by hand into a large circle or you can use a rolling pin to roll it out.
Stretch or roll out as many as will fit into your oven at one time.
Place the breads on the baking stone or metal tray.
In a few minutes the breads should be cooked but not browned. Feel them. If they feel cooked, take them out.
Now, one of three things will have happened.
After a couple of minutes in the oven the pita breads will have ballooned up and look like real pitas with a pocket and everything. This is the best. That's what you're aiming for.
I will tell you, this often doesn't happen. Often there are mini pockets here or there but it doesn't balloon up completely.
Or it doesn't bubble up at all and the bread is flat.
It is still delicious and gives you a reason to want to try again.
If the pita doesn't bubble up (or if it does), you can cut it into wedges and use it for scooping up dip.
Or you can cover it with tomato sauce, cheese and other toppings and make a pita pizza.
Or once its cooled you can slice it in half, separating the top from the bottom, and cut these halves into wedges. Brush these with olive oil, lightly salt them, and put them into a medium oven (350 degrees F / 175 degrees C ) on a baking tray and bake them til they brown turning them once.