When you think "flatbread," it's likely that one of the first flatbreads that comes to mind is pita bread. Anissa Helou, who wrote this week's Cook the Book selection, offers this recipe for home baking in Savory Baking From the Mediterranean. Because of the automated process and high-temperature commercial ovens found in most Lebanese bakeries, she says, these might not have the most even, thin layers--and they might not separate equally when they puff up in the oven--but that shouldn't stop you from experiencing the pleasure of homemade pita.
- Heaping teaspoon (1/2 package) active dry yeast
- 3 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading and shaping
- 2 teaspoons fine kosher salt or sea salt
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
Dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup warm water and stir until creamy.
Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Add the oil to the well and, using fingertips, rub the oil into the flour until well incorporated. Add the yeast and gradually add another 3/4 cup warm water, bringing in the flour as you go along. Knead until you have a rough, rather sticky ball of dough.
Remove the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Sprinkle the dough with flour. Knead for 3 minutes, sprinkling with more flour if the dough sticks. Invert the bowl over the dough and let rest for 15 minutes. Knead for about 2 to 3 minutes more, until the dough is smooth, elastic, and rather soft. Shape the dough into a ball and place in an oiled clean bowl, turning the dough to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1 hour. Fold the dough, cover again, and let rise for 1 hour more. The dough should have doubled in volume.
Remove the dough to a work surface and divide it into 10 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball. Place on a floured surface. Cover with a wet but not dripping kitchen towel and let rise for 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 500°F. Roll out each ball of dough to a circle 6 or 7 inches in diameter, adding flour to the work surface and dough as needed. Try to form perfectly rounded circles; a good way to achieve this is to give the circle a quarter turn between each rolling out. (A pasta machine also may be used to roll out the circles.) Transfer the circles of dough to a nonstick baking sheet. Cover the circles of dough with a floured couche (baker's linen), preferably, or a dry kitchen towel. Let rest for 15 to 20 minutes.
Bake the pitas for 6 to 8 minutes, until well puffed and very lightly golden. The baking time will vary depending on how hot the oven is; it is a good idea to start checking the breads after 5 minutes. Bake in separate batches if the oven is not large enough. These are best served immediately or still warm. Or let them cool on a wire rack and freeze them in a plastic freezer bag. Simply defrost them in the bag, then remove them from the bag and reheat in a warm oven.
To fold dough, flour your work surface and hands well so that the dough does not stick. The invert the bowl that contains your dough, holding on floured hand open underneath it so that the dough can drop onto it. Place the dough on the work surface and flatten the dough by hand into a circle, expelling some of the gasses. Fold one third of the circle over, flatten again, and brush off any excess flour. Then fold the opposite third over and flatten to make a rectangle. Brush off excess flour, then fold one third of the rectangle and fold the other third over. Brush off flour and return seam side down to the bowl. Be sure to sprinkle your bowl with more flour before replacing the dough in it.