Large loaves of leavened bread are primarily seen in cultures based in Northern and Western Europe, where plentiful forests and cold weather made long-lasting fires both possible and desirable. In warmer, less-forested countries, quick-cooking flatbreads are more practical. One of the best known of those is pita bread, made in many versions throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East. It’s sometimes called “puff bread,” because the bread puffs up like a balloon to create its characteristic pocket.
Things You'll Need
Prepare the dough according to your favorite recipe, and let it rise as directed. Form the dough into portions the size of a tennis ball for small pita, or larger as desired.
Roll or pat the balls of dough into circles approximately 1/4 inch thick. The more evenly you can roll them, the better they’ll puff. Space your rounds of dough on a floured surface and cover them with a clean towel. Allow the rounds to rise again until slightly puffed.
Place a baking stone or cast-iron griddle in your oven, and preheat it to its maximum temperature. If you don’t have a baking stone or griddle, use your heaviest baking sheet. Let this improvised “hearth” heat for at least 20 minutes before baking your breads.
Mist the tops of two or three rounds using a spray bottle filled with water, and slide them onto your baking stone or griddle. Close the oven immediately, and bake the rounds for six to 10 minutes until they’re browned and puffy. Don’t open the oven door to peek at them during this time, or you’ll lose too much heat for them to puff.
Remove the first group of pitas from your oven and wrap them in a clean kitchen towel. Wait for the oven to return to temperature, then repeat until all the breads are baked.
Any breads that won’t be eaten on the same day should be bagged or wrapped, and then frozen.
If your breads don’t puff, set your oven to its broiler setting for 30 to 45 seconds. The burst of intense heat will usually make your pitas balloon properly. Return the oven to its previous setting before baking the next batch of rounds.
To transfer your pitas easily to the oven, use a European-style cookie sheet with only one raised edge. Dust it well with flour or cornmeal, and place the rounds on your sheet. With a bit of practice, you’ll be able to easily slide each batch of breads onto your hearth from the flat side of the pan.
Many kitchenware stores sell bands that can be placed over the ends of your rolling pin, ensuring you roll evenly. They’re intended for pastry use, but are also helpful when making pita bread.
The high baking temperature of pita breads means your kitchen will become smoky. If your range hood doesn’t vent to the outside, it’s best to bake pitas on a day when your windows can be opened wide for ventilation.
References and ResourcesA New Book of Middle Eastern Food; Claudia Roden
Flatbreads and Flavors: A Baker's Atlas; Jeffrey Alford, Naomi Duguid