Wednesday, June 13, 2007

summer pita

people often think that pita is only baked in a conventional oven. this really is the furthest from the truth. in ancient days, there were no home ovens as we know them. instead, the pita was cooked on either flat hot surfaces or convex ones, sort of like an inverted wok. pita was, in fact, bread used by people "on the go" and was quick to make, requiring very little processing and waiting in between.

a while back i gave a recipe for making standard pita and the method for how to make it in an oven. this post is to show an alternate method, a more controlled one, for baking the bread as was originally done and which is very feasible in any standard kitchen. it is much like the method for cooking indian roti or chappati breads though it does differ a bit in terms of technique.

this way of "baking" the bread is done especially during summer months when it is way too hot to set an oven to 550 F. the resulting breads are exquisite in that they are silky soft, chewy with a spongy interior and somewhat caramel-y tasting exterior due to the way they are cooked. they keep well for a few days if wrapped properly and are excellent for filling.

note before starting that you really are best using a cast iron pan if you have one as it achieves the proper heat. an indian type "tawah" or griddle pan also gives the same results. you can make these on a griddle pan used for crepes, too. oil is NEVER used to "bake" the pita. you must use a dry pan. also, buttering or applying oil to them after is not necessary as with indian chappati as they become extremely soft on their own.

the breads will puff up on the pan, or at least should, producing steam which will cook the interior of them. they will further "cook" as they rest. key is ensuring you start with a preheated pan and that they have a golden exterior, indicating when to flip them over. if they blacken, your heat is way too high and must be turned down. blackening also makes holes in the breads and prevents them from puffing up.

don't feel badly if they don't all puff up or don't puff up completely. it takes practice and a gentle hand. repetition of making pita is the best teacher. even i, who has made these countless times, do not have 100% each time. rolling the dough properly does make a difference, however.

when cutting the dough into its 8 equal pieces, i find it best to make a sausage shape from the risen dough with very little manipulation and then cutting it into 8 equal portions. once cut, do not make them into another ball. placing them flat on their cut side makes rolling easier and reduces constriction of the gluten. if you do roll them into balls, you will have to wait a bit for the gluten to relax a bit before forming the pita. both methods are correct; i happen to think the former is easier than the latter.

as they cook, one by one, place them stacked in a large tea towel or cloth so that it absorbs the excess steam. do not put them directly in a plastic bag or they will go soggy. once they've cooled, store them in a plastic ziploc type ["cello"] bag. these are great eaten warm :)

so that's it. to make the pita, follow the recipe in pita 101 and then continue here for the pan method.

summer pita
pita cooked in a griddle pan

forget heating the oven to its maximum temperature during the hot months of summer and make your own homemade fresh pita on the stove top. cooked in the matter of a few minutes in a hot griddle pan, you save both energy and extra money on your electric bill. why shvitz?


look here

*if making for shabbat for hamotzi, omit sugar, salt and oil [sefardi way, otherwise include]; can be made friday morning and used later.


after letting the pita rounds prove for 15 minutes out of the 20 minutes, heat your pan or griddle iron over medium to medium high heat. you may need to adjust after making the first pita bread.

once hot, take your pita round and place it down on the hot pan. be gentle as any rips mean it won't rise properly.

wait until you see approximately 2 bubbles form on the surface after about two minutes or so. do not press down on them or the pita itself like you would normally do for a roti or chappati bread. this will make a hole in the bubbles and make the steam escape. it doesn't bubble up all around so only wait for 2 to 3 big ones.

after several minutes, check underneath the bread with a spatula and see if it has started to brown. if it has, flip it over.

after about a minute or two, you should see signs of the pita rising a bit. take the spatula and start to press down gently on the rising parts to try to pry the rest of the pita to open up and fill with steam. do not dishearten if it doesn't work perfectly. press gently and turn it a bit while you are doing this.

the pita should puff up at this point. if it doesn't, flip it over and try again for a few seconds. if you see steam escaping from a certain spot, cover it with the spatula to prevent it escaping and you should be able to make it puff up more.

once golden brown on each side, place them stacked and covered in a tea towel.

once all cooked, let them rest covered until cooled down. they can, of course, be eat while warm.

enjoy with a sauce like tzadziki or tehina or make a falafel sandwich. perfect for lunches, you can fill them with your favourite things.

next day tip: flatbreads, like pita, are always best the day they are made but will still be good for a day or two later. to revitalize your pita before using or eating, cover them with a dish towel or [absorbent] paper towel and heat in the microwave for 10 - 15 seconds on high, no longer (depending on your microwave). this re-steams them, making your breads soft again. they can also be reheated, wrapped in foil, in an oven; you may need to give them a shpritz of water before wrapping though.



Beenzzz said...

Yum! I love pitas. Do you know a good gluten free recipe for them?

burekaboy — said...

hi beenzzz - unfortunately, i don't think there really is much of an GF equivalent except to make something like "missi roti" (chickpea flour roti) or a bean flour type tortilla. it's very difficult to get the same thing bc of the missing gluten component :(

Coffee said...

Do all of your pita breads puff up like this or some even fail to???

Any secret for puffing of pitas?

trupti said...

That looks so fluffy, BB.....I do love my Falafels even more when the Pita bread is fresh.....and yours looks just right!


thanks for the mail BB! Will let you know when the first article goes up!

Asha said...

That was very informational post.I always thought you would bake Pitas in the oven! All my cookbooks say that.Looking at your pics,it's amazing to see it all puffed like Phulka on the pan!!I must try now:))
Thanks for this post.

burekaboy — said...

coffee - hi :D i usually get approximately 70 or 80% COMPLETELY puffed up, the other 20 or 30% partially. it's a little tricky as any small hole you don't know about can cause the steam to escape. as i say in the post, your technique greatly improves with practice. they are fairly simple to make and similar to making indian breads except they have yeast.

hey trupti - these are "uber-fresh" (LOL) and so much better than the storebought kind. keep me posted about the article.

asha - thank you; i'm glad it was helpful. most people don't know that pita is not always cooked in the oven and i've not seen it in any books done like this (so far). it does look like a phulka and is cooked almost exactly the same way. hope you give them a try some time. i don't think you'll be disappointed — they're perfect for indian food, great for raitas :D thanks for your comment and visit, asha.

R said...

I have been reading your blog with great interest.Your photography are tempting to near blogger's award.Do you mind if I give some opinion which would do better in some of your recipes which are indian. Becozs I am from India & would like to lend a helping hand for no confusing.
BTW,I am now temporarily offline and will be back to blogging after some time.

burekaboy — said...

hi r - thanks for your comment and compliment about my blog. if you like, you can email me; it's at the top right hand column. i'd be interested in hearing what you have to say. LOL, i'm sure i'm in trouble now re: the indian food! :P will look for your (future) email ....

Emily DeVoto, Ph.D., said...

Yay, more pita ideas! Making them in a hot pan is a little closer to my archetypal memory of pita-making, the old woman in the Galilee Arab village of Piq'in (sp?), throwing great disks of dough onto a mushroom-shaped hot stone over a fire (outdoors). (They were then served, of course, with labne, olives, and olive oil made at the local press which we'd just visited... mmm...).

Been meaning to ask you - the last couple times I made them per your earlier recipes, they did all puff, but they didn't separate evenly - i.e., one layer was thin, almost crips, and the other was bready. Any thoughts?

burekaboy — said...

hi emily - all puffing up is a pretty good success rate, i'd say! :D i've never had them separate completely perfectly either, and that's with any recipe i've tried -- they're all pretty much the same. usually one side is thinner but as for the crisper part, that may be a matter of how you are storing them right after you make them. try making a batch this way and see if it makes a difference. as for even layers, try cutting them in half and then with a knife, carefully slit them. we usually just put a filling at one end and then rolled them up and then wrapped them in paper or foil to keep it all together. i'll ask around about the "evenness" issue and report back if i find out anything.

i wouldn't be surprised if that 'village woman' is the same one i, and countless friends, have a picture of, all from different trips and years LOL.

Pink Granite said...

Thank you so much for this super recipe! I made them this morning and they are delicious! Mine aren't as beautiful as yours, but I'm tickled to have had such a successful first try.
I posted my results on my blog in this Homemade Pita post.
Thanks again,

burekaboy — said...

hi lee :) - you're very welcome & thank you ever so much for the really nice write-up and detailing your first time experience making these. trust me, it takes a few trials and practice at both rolling and cooking them but over time you'll get perfect results. i've been making these almost weekly for many, many years which is why mine look the way they do (not that it takes years to perfect!). the adage, practice makes perfect, is true.

let me know how it goes on the second trial :D now that you have the feel for it you can adjust your method/s and you'll for sure see a big difference.

Pink Granite said...

Hi -
You are most welcome! It was my pleasure to introduce you, your recipes and your blog to the folks who read Pink Granite!
It was fun making the pita and the dough was a delight to work, so I'll be making them again! This batch was delicious, but with your tips I'm confident I'll keep getting even better results!
Many thanks...
- Lee

burekaboy — said...

glad it was a pleasant experience, lee. thanks for the [blog] exposure, and hope to see you again in the future :) i never know who's reading my blog and trying things until someone comments, so it is much appreciated.