this bread, like almost all flatbreads, is an ancient one. it was, and in some families still is, the bread originally used for jewish sabbath purposes. called kmaj كماج in arabic or pita פיתא from its roots in aramaic, it simply translates to mean nothing more than "bread". not exclusively common to only jews and arabs, it is also well known and loved throughout the mediterranean and balkan region in places such as turkey, greece and bulgaria. various versions are also common throughout the caucasus regions, too.
pita was also popular, no doubt, due to its ability to be cooked very quickly and its portability. this bread is still cooked in certain situations as was done since antiquity — on rounded inverted wok-like surfaces (saaj), clay ovens (tanur/tabun) or extremely hot flat stones.
pita comes in different sizes and shapes from very massive, the size of a (small) bicycle wheel, to very small hors d'oeuvre sizes. pita can also differ in thickness depending on how thin it is rolled, and in shape like the turkish pide which are often oblong looking. i like the thicker israeli type pita which is between 3/8 and 1/2 inch thick for something like falafel, as opposed to the lebanese paper thin kind. both types, however, have their specific uses — the thinner ones are perfect for making sandwich "wraps", pita pinwheel sandwiches, a crust or base for a super quick pizza or pita "chips" or points which can then be used to make the famous fattoush salad. i suggest experimenting by making a very, very thin one and a thicker (prebaked) 1/4" thick one to see the difference.
you can also use part wholewheat flour if you like or use dilute apple juice in place of the water (for לחם מזונות).
for more information, this is an interesting article about pita.
this recipe makes 8 pita bread.
basic pita • פיתה • pide • كماج
1 c + 2 tbsp warm water
1 3/4 tsp instant yeast
2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil [optional]
1 tsp salt
~ 3 c AP or bread flour, or more as needed
place the yeast, warm water and sugar in a bowl to prove for 5 minutes. after 5 minutes, mix well.
add the flour and knead for 10 minutes until the dough is elastic, adding flour if it is still very sticky. let sit for 30 minutes in a warm spot. the dough will be slightly tacky so don't go overboard adding too much flour. it will lose some of its stickiness, too, once it rises. you will dredge each side with flour when rolling the pita out so it won't be an issue by then.
separate into 8 balls. set aside covered on a floured surface. make sure they do not touch each other or they will get stuck together.
preheat your oven [mine is 550 F] to its highest setting and move the rack up to the upper 1/3 of the oven.
prepare your baking sheets with parchment paper or tin foil. you can also bake on top of a baking stone.
flour your board, take one ball of dough and flour both sides of the dough. roll each ball out to about 1/4 inch [for israeli style thicker ones] or 1/8 inch for a thinner one. they will be about 6 to 7 inches wide once rolled out or larger if you roll them very thinly.
transfer to your baking sheet and cover well. repeat with all pitas and let prove for 20 minutes.
place the pita in the oven and bake for 4 minutes. quickly flip them over and bake for another 3 minutes. they should lightly colour. if they don't all fully puff up, don't worry. it takes practice. they will still taste great.
remove them and let them cool for a minute or two. with a spatula, depress them to flatten each pita and then either wrap stacked in a tea towel or place in ziplocs. they will soften further as they steam and cool down.