Okay. Somewhat fails to bake pita bread. What I made was completely edible, it just wasn’t totally right.
I mentioned in my last post that I was interested in trying the Mediterranean diet for the rest of the summer (minus cakes, of course). What better way to get started than making my own pita bread! One thing is for certain—there are million different recipes online. Like so many. How was I even to choose?
Pita bread is pretty fascinating. It’s bread, but with a pocket. A damn pocket! How is that even possible? How do I put this magical pocket in my bread just by cooking it?! The Greeks, man. They are quite proficient.
The first recipe I looked at is Chef John’s from Food Wishes. I don’t know, I just find him soothing. He knows what he’s doing (unlike me). But I found his recipe (and every other recipe) sort of lacking…can’t I jazz it up at all? You know, throw in some garlic or fresh herbs or something? Apparently not. I thought about doing it anyway but what if I effed up the science of it and ruined any chance of a pocket? I had no idea if that would happen, but the thought of it seemed tragic. Science ruins everything. I did find one recipe that added a bit of honey though, so I decided to try that. Yeast loves sugar, so I figured they’d eat it all up do their yeasty thing, producing a lighter and fluffier pita.
Well, let’s see.
- 1 packet of dried yeast
- 1 cup (8 oz) warm water
- 1 tsp honey
- 3 cups (375 g) all purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp olive oil
The first thing I did was combine my yeast, water, and honey in a small bowl or in the bottom of my stand mixer. Look—I know the Greeks didn’t have stand mixers, okay? I just like watching my bread hook twirl around like a pretty ballerina. You can absolutely make this dough by hand.
Next, I mixed together my flour and salt. Salt kills yeast, so mixing it into the flour first should prevent that. Great, now I’m thinking about how cruel it would be to let the yeast get drunk off of sweet honey only to pour murderous grains of salt on them. 🙁
Speaking of yeast, I used instant yeast here since that is what I had on hand. I know that instant yeast is convenient in that it allows you to skip certain steps of the dough making process, but I tend to use it like traditional yeast out of paranoia. Perhaps that is why I ran into issues with my dough, which I’ll get to soon.
I waited to make sure the the yeast was active. It foamed up like this:
Next, I followed Chef John’s advice by stirring in 1 cup (125 g) of the flour/salt mixture and let it chill out for like 15 minutes. Then I added my olive oil and the rest of the flour. Apparently, you can either mix it together with a wooden spoon or use the magical ballerina attachment on your stand mixer (That’s the dough hook in case you forgot.) If the former, you’re supposed to dump that mess out on a floured surface and begin kneading, adding more flour if necessary (but not too much). I did the latter, simply set my machine to spin and watched the dough hook twirl, twirl, twirrrrrrrlllll. Chef John says 8 minutes in the mixer, so that’s what I did. However, you’ll see below that 8 minutes was not long enough, so I guess the real answer is “until it is ready.” It’s supposed to look like I a baby’s bottom.
This is where it all turned to poo for me. My dough was not like that. It looked lumpy. It had a bunch of little dimples and still seemed really sticky. What did I do wrong? Did I need more flour? Less flour? Was it my brand of flour? Should I have kneaded it more? I kneaded it by hand for quite a few minutes, adding a bit of flour each time it got too sticky. No change. I eventually gave up because I knew that adding too much flour would produce a bread that was hard as a rock.
I still find it very frustrating. Chef John’s dough was perfectly smooth. Did I ruin mine with the honey? Was it my choice of instant yeast? I decided to keep going.
I brushed my bowl with a bit of olive oil and threw your dough ball in there, tossing it around a bit to coat it in the oil. Then I covered it with some plastic wrap and let it rise. Chef John lets his rise for two hours, but being that it is so damn hot here mine took just one hour. Perhaps that’s another reason I failed. It’s so funny looking at it now. It obviously wants to gluten soooo bad and I’m like NOPE, GET IN THE BOWL.
Once it doubled in size, I knocked all the air out of it and divided it into eight balls. Still lumpy. Damn. I covered the balls with a tea towel and let them rise for another 20-30 minutes or so.
Still trucking, I coated a pan in some olive oil and set it on medium heat (Chef John says med/high but in my experience that was just way too hot. I’m not good at listening to him). Then I rolled out 2-3 of my balls into flat circles about 1/4 inch thick.
I placed one of the circles in the pan and prayed. “Don’t worry though, you have 8 chances to get it right!” I thought. Here’s the thing about pita bread that I learned later: you aren’t guaranteed a pocket every time. Shocking, right? Especially since every recipe makes it sound so easy. The pocket is created when steam gets trapped inside the dough. Sometimes you’re lucky and the whole thing blows up like a balloon (best case scenario); sometimes you just get multiple bubbles or one big bubble off to the side; and sometimes you get no bubble at all. That’s just how it works.
Chef John recommends cooking them 3 minutes per side. I quickly discovered that this was too long for my particular stovetop/pan combo. Here is my first pita. No pocket. 🙁
I had much better luck when I reduced the heat a bit (to medium) and let the first side brown for just 45-60 seconds before flipping it over. When I did that I’d get a nice huge bubble! Evidence of the perfect pocket being formed:
Apparently, the trick is to flip it over quite a bit rather than once. You can use your spatula to press some of the steam out of it to make it easier. I got a little excited and took this one off too early, but look! A pocket!
Looks like my lumpy dough wasn’t an issue after all, though my goal is to aim for smoother dough in the future. The ballooning dough on the pan is the best lump of them all. Fergie was right! Lumps really are lovely. So if you’re wondering what you gon’ do with all that lump, all that lump inside your dough, don’t throw it out! It is still usable. Check out my mountain of fluffy pitas as evidence:
So here is what I’ve learned:
- Lumpy dough can be salvaged. You probably get a better end result when it’s not lumpy, but that doesn’t mean that what you create won’t be edible. In fact, it will be pretty good!
- According to every single source I’ve read, I should have kneaded my dough even more. I think too much about the end result. I figured that if I didn’t stop soon the gluten would be so tight that my bread would be tough. Turns out you want tight gluten! You want a nice smooth ball that holds its shape in your hands. So knead, knead, knead, even if you’re kneading for twenty minutes.
Since making these two days ago I’ve crisped them up further for hummus, stuffed them with feta and chicken for a sandwich, and dipped them in herb and garlic-infused olive oil. They are completely delicious, so I hope you’ll give them a try!
Until next time. <3