until quite recently, I religiously avoided working with yeast. it seemed that every recipe I tried would end with flat, dense pucks or over-proofed, unpleasantly soft, and almost sour-tasting loaves.
I can still remember last fall, stressed from the travails of adjusting to 1L life, I decided to take on a really complex recipe for tebirkes, which are basically scandinavian croissants coated in poppy seeds. after two days of laborious lamination, the product was deeply unsatisfactory, crumbly and hard as a rock with an unappetizing wet flavor, filled with poorly homemade marzipan that overworked and ultimately broke my little food processor. though this incident still haunts me, I now make baked goods with yeast so often, I stopped buying the dried yeast packets and graduated to dried yeast in a jar. I owe thanks largely to a friend of mine, who introduced me to jim lahey’s foolproof no-knead bread. he’s since moved on to sourdough – I’m not there yet, but maybe one day!
anyways, I’ve dabbled with pita before, with resulting in surprisingly successful, fluffy pitas. however, that recipe really works best with a stand mixer, which I did not have space for in my first little d.c. apartment. I’ve been flipping instead to honey and co.’s recipe for pita bread, which has a sturdier structure thanks to the use of bread instead of all-purpose flour, and is therefore a bit more forgiving.
the other night, after returning from a party, I was craving a late night snack. unfortunately, my fridge is basically empty, so after a few unsatisfying bites of banana and kimchi, I decided to whip together the pita dough so I’d at least have something to eat the next day. the dough comes together wonderfully fast, and you get a pretty good arm workout out of it. I woke up the next morning to perfectly proofed dough and had 10 pitas with perfect pockets within the hour – and I’m happy to report it took very little effort, and no tears were shed.
makes 10 pitas
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 3/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp + 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water (just warmer than your fingertips)
2 1/2 tbsp olive oil
sarit packer and itamar srulovich. honey & co: the cookbook. new york: little brown and co. 2015.
2 start adding the warm water to the flour mixture, a little at a time, mixing in circular motions (with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula) until the dough starts to clump together. if there is still some flour residue in the bottom of the bowl, add a little more water, a tbsp at a time, until the dough just comes together. (don’t worry if there are some lumps at this stage.)
3 on a clean, flat surface, knead the dough, throwing it around a bit, then smoothing it out, working it again and again until the dough looks smooth and tight. (try not to add any flour!)
4 add oil and knead to combine. at first, the dough will be very slippery, but keep kneading to incorporate the oil. the final texture should be silky smooth.
5 cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 8-12 hours, until dough has at least doubled in size. (if baking on the same day, allow dough to rise at room temperature for at least 1 hour.)
6 place heavy baking tray upside-down on a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat to the highest setting. (if you have a convection oven, use convection.)
7 cut dough into 10 evenly-sized balls (~80g each). roll each between your palm and counter until dough starts to resist pressure and forms a tight ball. (again, don’t add any flour!) place each ball on a lightly floured tray, leaving a little space between each one. allow to rest, uncovered, until balls are the size of a small orange, 10-15 minutes.
8 dust work surface with flour and, using a rolling pin, roll out each pita to 1/4-in thick discs. once pitas are rolled out, carefully place on the hot baking sheet in the oven.* (if you have a bread/pizza paddle, feel free to use it, otherwise you can carefully drop them on the baking sheet, being careful not to burn yourself.) do not take the tray out of the oven – it will lose heat. quickly shut oven door.
9 monitor pita breads – once they have puffed up, which takes 2-3 minutes, remove them.
10 allow to cool slightly before stacking, then covering with plastic wrap or placing in a sealed bag to prevent them from drying out. pitas can be frozen once cooled.
*to achieve even pockets: I flip the dough ball so that the side that was resting on the counter is now facing up. I then roll out the dough without flipping it over. (you can rotate the disc; you just want to make sure the proofed side of the dough ball remains facing down since the dough is thinner on that side.) place the disc, rolled side facing up, in the oven.