Baking bread has been a passion of mine for going on 6 years now. Some of you might be nervous or scared to bake your first yeasted dough thing, but I’m here to tell you that it’s nothing to be afraid to try. It’s really an enjoyable process.
I love the smell of the yeasty dough, getting my hands covered in flour, and kneading away all my worries and anxiety right out of my soul and into that sticky lump. For me, making bread is a kind of therapy, or at least an exercise, in the therapy the kitchen provides. It’s a lesson in the greater things that are going on around me, things that I can’t see and that will continue long after I’m gone. In this way, yeast can be a comfort, and sort of a wide-eyed mystery.
Baking bread is humble, noble and downright delicious. Once you bake a simple loaf of white bread, you can bake so many yeasted things. English muffins, rolls, and things you thought were only bought in a grocery store, such as this pita bread.
Pita bread is yeasted, but then it’s flattened down again, and when it bakes briefly in the hot oven, the air trapped in the middle of it makes it puff up and gives you a glorious pocket that you can fill will all manner of deliciousness.
This bread is both sustenance and utensil. You can use it to fill a sandwich quite easily, and you also scoop up hummus with it. Pita has been around for about 4,000 years, and originated in the Mediterranean. Originally, pitas were a mixture of flour and water which was left sitting out to collect the wild yeast that lives in the air (that’s right, there’s yeast in the air!) But then it was discovered that brewer’s yeast works to leaven bread, and most pitas have since been made with commercial yeast.
Pitas can be made with white or whole wheat flour, and with spices and herbs added in to the dough. This pita is made with dukkah, a spice and nut mixture that originally comes from Egypt. Dukkah on its own can be used as a dipping seasoning for bread (or pita!) or as a sort of side dish to a main course. I like the dukkah method described by the Kitchn.
You can mix up your own dukkah in a matter of minutes, or look for the spice blend in Mediterranean or middle eastern grocery stores. If you are in the Portland area, here are two that I love, same owner, two locations.
If you don’t want to experiment with something as exotic as dukkah, try mixing in a tablespoon of whole cumin seeds. You’ll get a crunchy bit of smokey flavor every other bite.
The recipe for these breads is simple, and baking them off in the oven is fun to watch. I would imagine kids would like to watch them puff up and help place little rounds of dough on the baking sheets. Try it with my tomato harissa sauce, or with this vegan bean salad!
This recipe is slightly adapted from The Bread Bible by Beth Hensperger.
- 2 ½ cups warm water
- 1 tablespoon dry active yeast (1 package is 2 ¼ teaspoons, so you will need a little more then one ¼ oz packet.)
- Pinch of sugar or ¼ teaspoon honey
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 3 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
- 3 to 3 ½ cups unbleached all purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons of Dukkah or Whole Cumin Seeds (optional)
- In a small measuring cup, combine the yeast, ½ cup of warm water, and the pinch of sugar or honey. Stir and let it stand on the counter until it foams up. This should take about 10 minutes.
- In the bowl of stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl using a whisk), add the remaining water, olive oil, salt and whole-wheat pastry flour. Beat very hard, for about one minute, until it looks slightly creamy. Stir in the yeast mixture. Add the unbleached all purpose flour, slowly, about ½ cup at a time, until you get a soft shaggy dough that just clears the sides of the bowl. At this point you can mix in the dukkah, cumin seeds, or any other flavorings. You can switch to a wooden spoon if hand mixing.
- Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured counter and knead until soft and springy, between 1-5 minutes, depending on if you made it in the mixer or not (mixer made dough will take a little less time to come together when kneading). Dust with flour as needed, a tablespoon at a time, only to prevent it from sticking. You are aiming for dough that is soft, springy and still moist.
- Lightly oil a large deep bowl, and place the dough in to it. Turn the dough over once to lightly coat the top of the dough with oil from the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Let it rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 to 1 ½ hours.
- When it is done rising, space out your oven racks so that you have one in the upper third of the oven and one in the lower third. Preheat the oven to 475°F (add a baking stone at this point, if you are baking directly on that, and just use one rack directly in the center). Line several baking sheets with parchment paper. Gently deflate the dough and divide it in half. Cover half with plastic wrap or a towel and set aside for the moment. Take the other half and divide it into 8 pieces, getting them as equal in size as possible. Form each piece into a ball. Rest the balls 10 minutes while you divide up the second half of dough.
- Dust your surface with flour. Using a rolling pin, roll the balls into roughly 6-inch circles about ¼ inch thick. Loosely cover them with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel. Don’t stack them, they will stick together. Place them on lightly floured baking sheets and let them rest for about 15 minutes, or until slightly puffy. The dough rounds should be placed about an inch apart. On large baking sheets you may be able to fit 2-3 pitas at a time.
- Bake 8-10 minutes, leaving the oven door shut for the first full 4 minutes. After 4 minutes, switch the baking sheets from top to bottom, and rotate them from front to bake. Continue to bake, for the remaining 4-6 minutes, or until they look fully puffed and light brown. You’ll want to watch them; they can burn easily.
- Remove the sheets from the oven. Gently remove the hot puffed bread from the sheets, on to a large platter or cooling rack. Let the sheets cool slightly before placing more dough rounds on them and continuing to bake the rest of the dough. I usually allow the rounds to do their puffing while on the counter, and add them to the sheets as I can.
- You can eat the pitas hot, dipped in oil and more dukkah, hummus or tomato-harissa sauce. Store cooled pitas in gallon plastic bags in the fridge. They will last in the fridge for about a month.