24 August 2012

Imperfectly Pocketed Pita

While I love baking, as we've probably demonstrated several times over here already, I must confess -- I love baking simple things.  My track record with fancy, complicated recipes is less than stellar... we are still laughing about some of the more spectacular disasters several years later.  But humility is good for the soul, right?  I was definitely half-expecting a lesson in humility when I agreed to bake pita for lunch today.

Why pita today?  Well, it's the feast of St. Bartholomew, and as the baby is allowing me a little more cooking time I'm trying to ease back into making mealtime a part of our celebration of the liturgical year.  Flatbreads like pita originated in the Levant, where St. Bartholomew traveled extensively... it would probably have been a bit more accurate to make Indian naan, as several legends have St. Bartholomew traveling to India as a missionary, but our grill is not the most cooperative... Pita just seemed like a better option.

Pita bakes at a very high temperature, so a crust quickly forms to trap water vapor in the center of the dough.  When the pita cools, the steam dissipates and it deflates, leaving behind the pocket.  We discovered that allowing the pita to sit for at least 30-40 minutes before cutting them increased the volume of the pockets.

Our pita turned out better than I had expected.  They were strong enough to use for scooping up hummus, and sturdy enough to bear a substantial amount of smoked salmon salad.  The pockets... well, some were about as expansive as those in grocery store pita, some larger, some smaller.  Being fresh, though, they all tasted so much better than a pita which has been sitting in plastic on a shelf for days or weeks!

1.125 cups warm water
1.5 teaspoons yeast
1.5 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour

Combine water, yeast, and sugar; allow yeast to bloom.  Add oil.  In a medium bowl, combine dry ingredients.  Work in liquids until fully combined.  Cover and let rise one hour or until doubled.
Stretch risen dough into a 12-inch rope.  With a knife, divide into eight equal pieces and roll each into a smooth ball.  With a rolling pin, roll each into a 7-inch circle.  Cover all rounds with a towel and let rise 30 minutes while preheating oven to 500 degrees F.
Place 3-4 rounds at a time on a wire cooling rack.  Place the rack directly onto the upper shelf in the oven and bake 5-7 minutes, until the pitas have puffed up and the tops begin to brown.  Remove from oven and place directly into a paper bag, rolling the bag tightly closed for at least a half hour while the pita cools.
Makes 8 pita.

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