I Pita the Fool!

I was flipping channels once upon a Saturday morning and landed on a “Baking with Julia” marathon. A gentleman with a Lloyd Christmas-meets-medieval pageboy haircut was making pita bread, and I thought, why not? I’ve never made pita bread.

Adapted from an episode of “Baking with Julia” with guests Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.
Bread baking is time consuming, so clear your calendar before you start.

2 ½ cups warm (about 110˚F) water
1 teaspoon dry yeast
2 ½ cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus additional for greasing bowl
About 6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

– Preheat oven to 200˚F. As soon as it reaches temperature, shut the oven off. Dough likes to rise in warm places, and this guarantees a cozy resting place.

– Place warm water in large bowl. Sprinkle yeast over water and wait for it to dissolve, about 1 minute. Stir in the whole-wheat flour with a wooden spoon. “Stir 100 times in the same direction,” Alford recommended—this will prevent the gluten strands that begin to form from breaking.

– Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rest in oven, 30 minutes and up to 8 hours.

– Remove bowl from oven and remove plastic. Stir in salt and oil. One cup at a time, start stirring in the all-purpose flour. The dough will absorb different amounts of flour, depending on the day (dough is affected by numerous factors, including humidity – I added about 2 ½ cups flour when I made it). The dough will be sticky and shaggy, but will have some body (see photo 1).

– Turn the dough out onto a clean, dry, and well-floured surface. If you’ve never kneaded dough, here are some pointers: With the heel of your hand, push the dough away from you, firmly, as if you were scrubbing clothes the old-fashioned way, on a wooden plank. Fold the far end of the dough towards you, then turn it counter-clockwise, and repeat action.

– Now you’re ready: Begin kneading, adding more flour as necessary, until the dough has “a certain tension,” about 10 minutes (see photo 2). Normally, I would say the finished dough will have a smooth, satiny texture, but the whole wheat flour makes this dough a bit more like coarse leather. It will be tight, like a firm muscle.

– Place dough in a large, well oiled bowl. Lightly coat the dough with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic and place oven. Allow the dough to rise 2 to 3 hours, until it is doubled in size. An old tip: when the dough is ready, you can poke the dough and your finger’s indentation will remain.

– Preheat oven to 400˚F. If you have a pizza stone, set it on the bottom third the oven. Otherwise, place an inverted rimmed baking sheet in the oven.

– Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. With a bench scraper, cut the dough in half. Cut each half into 8 pieces (see photos 3 and 4).

– Roll each piece into a ball. Flatten each ball to about 4 inches in diameter. Then, with a rolling pin, roll it out to about 7 inches in diameter (see photos 5 through 8).

– Carefully transfer 4 to 6 rounds to the pizza stone or baking sheet. The pitas will puff after about 3 minutes. Allow 30 seconds more and remove from oven. Stack pitas together and wrap in a towel to keep warm.

– If you don’t want to use all the dough, save half and refrigerate. Use the next day. Alternatively, use it all, cool the pitas, and store them in plastic Ziploc bags in the freezer. Pop in the toaster or oven when you’re ready to eat them.