02 September 2010
Believe it or not, despite the fact that I make homemade bread every few weeks, and despite that I've made Middle Eastern breads like mishtah and qurban, I've never actually made pita bread. In my defense, very few people in the Middle East make their own pita bread either.
One of my favorite routines in Damascus was to go to my local bakeries, where the fresh baked bread tumbled down on a sort of bread escalator, and was sold to a waiting crowd by the ounce (see pictures here). Young boys could be seen carrying stacks of bread taller than themselves while simultaneously munching on a round of fresh baked khobz.
Old ladies could be found practicing a bizarre form of bread maintenance on view across the Middle East: spreading their fresh bread out to dry on whatever surface available. And yes, that included spare railings, cars parked on the street, and even patches of sidewalk. As unhygenic as it might sound, there is a logic here: fresh baked bread releases steam, and if you immediately stack all your breads together that steam will lead to moisture and to mold.
But on to making pita bread. It won't ever be the super-thin large rounds you find at a Middle Eastern bakery, but homemade bread has its own puffy charm. As for getting your breads to puff, I have no special tricks here. Like making pancakes, the first few never quite turn out right, but luckily even the un-puffed ones are just as tasty.
Pita Bread (Khobz)
It is important that the dough is very moist, and it helps to have a moist environment in the oven, so spritz a bit of water in there if necessary. However, don't worry about the dough being too wet, it's okay to have a little flour on the dough to keep it from sticking to the baking surface. Keep in mind pita bread goes bad pretty quickly, so keep it in a sealed moisture-free bag, and store it in the fridge after the second day or so.
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1/4 cup more for kneading (16 oz. total)
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/4 cups water, at room temperature (10.4 oz.)
1. Mix all ingredients with wooden spoon. Knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together. Sprinkle the additional flour on a work surface, turn dough out and knead until the dough is smooth and slightly sticky, at least 5 minutes. Pita dough needs to be very moist so try not to add additional flour.
2. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled in size (in a warm room this will take 1 hour, but in the winter it could take as long as 3 hours).
3. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 500 F at least 30 minutes ahead of time. You want to make sure the oven is nice and hot. Place a pizza stone in the oven if you have one, or a greased sturdy baking sheet.
4. Separate the dough into 8-12 pieces and keep them covered with a cloth. On a very lightly floured surface, roll out 3 of the breads to just under 1/4 inch thick. Let rest a few minutes, then place them in the oven. It is important that the oven is moist, so you may want to spritz some water in it before you put the bread in (if you live a very humid climate like Beirut or Washington DC than you should be fine). Bake the breads for 3-4 minutes each until puffed but not browned.
5. While the breads are baking, roll out the next set of breads. Continue baking until all breads are done. Let cool at room temperature.