Sunday, February 04, 2007

pita 101

we see it everywhere these days but it wasn't until the early 1980's (i believe) that this now ubiquitous flatbread was sold in regular everyday grocery stores in north america. the first mention of "pita" in the english language supposedly wasn't until the 1950's! it is now one of the most popular and best selling breads in north america (see interesting article link below).

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) bic
ycle 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 salt and olive oil and mix well again.

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.

after 30 minutes in a warm place like the inside of an oven with the pilot light on, it will have risen some. it does not need to double. if it has shown no movement however, wait longer.

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.

serve with your favourite mezze snacks or fill with something you love!



Beenzzz said...

Freshly made pita bread is the best thing ever! Your pitas turned out beautiful by the way. I bet they were delicious!

burekaboy — said...

hey beenzzz - thank you :) fresh from the oven is the best, especially for these types of breads.

Pamela said...

Hi Burekaboy,

When I am in the middle east I eat pita bread and hummous and baba ganough for breakfast lunch and dinner if possible. I make my own hummous at home but I don't like to buy pita bread's just too doughy and fluffy and not authentic. And I'm afraid to make bread, the whole yeast thing and the rising thing and the kneading thing, it's all way too hard! I'm a very lazy cook! I admire those that do. I knew a girl who would whip up pies on a daily basis. Chick was a heifer, gotta say!

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

Yummy! I knew you'd come through for me on this, BB ;-) . Looking forward to trying these, since the manakish were so easy (and they were very popular, by the way!).

By the way - how do you think these would work with 1/3 or 1/2 whole wheat flour?

burekaboy — said...

pammie - some pita you buy here really is unappetizing; i guess when you are used to the authentic kind and know the difference, it pales in comparison. we are lucky here in montreal as we have quite a few different kinds to choose from, most of them very good.

was the heifer red? LOL.

emily - glad i could help! these are just as easy to make and basically the same minus the za'atar on top. lol, they're fun to watch puff up but that sometimes is hit or miss. they still taste good if they don't all balloon fully. key is an extremely hot oven.

great to hear that everyone liked the manakish (remember u have to make them again!! maybe restock the za'atar supply to see if it makes a difference?).

burekaboy — said...

em - forgot to say that yes, you could easily put 1/3 or 1/2 wholewheat to AP (or bread) flour. using too much wholewheat however leaves you will a very heavy end result that won't balloon. i suggest trying it both ways, once with 50 50 and 70 30 (don't know if 60 40 would give u much of a reference point from say 50 50 but 70 30 would). hope that helps.

Alla Staroseletskaya said...

Your PITA is amazing creation. My best congratulations!

Linda said...

i should have known i could count on you for the PERFECT pita recipe. thank you thank you thank you!

Anonymous said...

HUH!!!!! I am dumbstruck!!!!! Any secret to get the pocket???? Of you will eventually get it???

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Your pita bread looks wonderful!

I love that bread. It is really delicious with Greek souvlaki and tzatziki sauce or with any grilled meat...

Anonymous said...

This I absolutely have to try. Will let you know how they turn out.

Krithika said...

Gorgeous looking pitas ! will surely try this and let you know. will I get similar results if I use whole wheat flour ?

jasmine said...

A few weeks ago someone asked me about making pittas--glad you posted this and nicely photographed.


burekaboy — said...

alla - hi there :D thanks for the wonderful comment, much appreciated as usual.

linda - LOL... that's quite the compliment :) you're welcome, welcome, welcome ;P

coffee - no secret really, just roll it out and bake it. usually, you will get the pocket all by itself sort of like making roti.

rosa - merci bien, moi aussi j'aime ces choses avec le pita. tu viens de me faire penser a tout ca et maintenant j'ai faim!! :D

hey vidya - if you can make roti, you can make these! only difference is these are yeasted. looking forward to hearing about your adventures in pita making! send me a pic of the finished product!! :D

hi krithika :D - hope you try. you can use wholewheat but only thing is that if you use only wholewheat it will make the dough too heavy so i suggest a 50 50 mix. you could even try it with atta; could be an interesting end result! let me know how it goes.

hiya jas! - hope all is well. good timing, i guess, in terms of the pita posting! thanks for the compliments.

Brilynn said...

We same to be on the same page, I just made pita bread too!

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

Woohoo! I just made them, while on a conference call (nice perk to working at home!) and they came out bee-youtifully. I used 1/3 white whole wheat and 2/3 unbleached. That wheat flour sucked up the water, so I was worried they would be too dry, but they all puffed up just right. Thanks again, BB - you are my bread guru!

burekaboy — said...

brilynn - HI :D i hope you posted! i shall come and look. thanks for dropping by again :)

ms devoto - just call me swami! LOL.

YAY!!! i'm HOPING you took pix!! i'd love to see how they turned out. they will soften up after they rest/steam a bit.

yup -- that's the prob with the wholewheat; it's a water-sucker but they do turn out good like that. i usually buy the wholewheat ones when i feel like being more health conscious. have to say, i love my über processed white flour. bad, bad, bad......

Anonymous said...

Made these today, followed your recipe exactly. The first few ones did not puff up much but the last 4 looked like the ones in your photos. I'm going to be making these often I'm sure. Will play with additions of atta, bajra flour, soy flour and teff flour and keep you posted.

lindurek said...

i made them! i made them! they were AMAZINGLY fluffy! i can't thank you enough for this recipe! I'll be making these almost daily I can assure you :) Much appreciated!

burekaboy — said...

vidya - hey there :) yep, they don't ALWAYS puff up but that comes with practice, sort of like roti making. glad to hear you got the others to balloon. i hope the first ones were still highly edible ;) even mine don't always work and i've been making them for many, many years. i'll be interested in hearing about your experiments with the atta, bajra, soy & teff. i imagine the latter two in sparing amounts and more for fortification. keep me posted! :)) thanks for trying them out and reporting back.

lindurek - welcome and thanks for the comment and feedback. always happy to hear when people try something i've posted and it works out well. did you make sandwiches out of them? i usually take these for lunches. hope to see you again :)

Anonymous said...

You are amazing! I can't believe how delicious these are and they came out perfect the first AND second time. I will be living on these and hummuos for a while. Thank goodness my daughter loves this kind of food. You have a fantastic website. I am an aspiring vegan (hard to shake the dairy) and finding wonderful recipes here. Thank you so much and now I am off to try some of your other delicacies. We have already made the knishes and the granola and they were also a hit! SMOOCHES to you!

burekaboy — said...

hi lorrie - wow, what a compliment ;) i'm happy you let me know how the things you've tried have turned out and that you enjoyed them. comments like yours provide motivation for adding more similar content (i.e. vegan"ish"). btw, the pita can also be made stovetop (check the summer pita post); i like those better, actually, and find it helps not heat the house up like the oven does.

please check the recipes individually as i only recently started adding the vegan tag and, in some cases, you can make them vegan by substituting soymilk or vegan yogurt in the baked goods, for example. i only started my blog last year so i wasn't sure in which direction i was going.

i will try to post vegan items when i can but it's hard, as you say, not to use dairy (and eggs).

again, thanks and hope to "see" you in the future.

Anonymous said...

I will try the stovetop version next. I don't have a cast iron pan so I didn't know how well it would work. I bet they are great on the grill too.

I will be checking each and every one of your recipes ; } The difficult one for me to sub is usually the eggs. Not a big fan of the flax eggs and I have the egg replacer but have been told it doesn't work well with everything. No need to cater to me with the vegan stuff. It's terrific that you always provide multiple options. That's really helpful to me. My daughter has a lot of dietary issues so this has given me a whole new menu which I was severely lacking. I really get tired of rice, smart life chicken strips and zucchini! Ok, I really babble a lot...sorry.

burekaboy — said...

lorrie - you can still make them in a regular pan; the cast iron is used because it is the best conductor for even heat and it gets SUPER hot. if you can, invest in a lodge brand one from the hardware store; it's great for all sorts of things. i think they're about 12 to 15 dollars. you have to season it first though but they give instructions how. and yes, you can do this on the grill too.

i'm afraid to know what flax eggs are ... sounds gross. i also have food allergies so i have to watch it with certain things so i know all about restrictions. glad you've been able to find some new things here. hopefully, there will be more in the future :)

Anonymous said...

LOL. Flax eggs are flax seeds mixed with water and allowed to stand to get almost the consistency of egg whites. It really looks slimy like them but I am not a big fan of the flax seeds. Take care.

burekaboy — said...

hi lorrie - oh, that's what you meant :) have used it before sometimes to 'veganize' some items; best used with wholewheat flours to mask it. i have to agree, flax is acquired tasty. nutty flavour? ummm, yeah right ;)

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

I don't mean to undermine your educational efforts, BB, but I broke the rules this time - by accident - and my pitas were the best ever! I used a blend of 1/3 coarsely ground whole wheat flour and 2/3 bread flour, but during the first rise - which went like gangbusters, because I did use the quick yeast - a friend showed up and I ended up stashing the dough in the fridge for, like an hour. I'm sure it at least tripled in size! Anyway, punched it down, cut it up, rolled out the rounds, and they sat only as long as it took the oven to heat up (which was probably about 20 min anyway). But the pitas were so puffy and soft, totally wonderful and tasty! The texture was breadier than the previous efforts, too. Go figure.

burekaboy — said...

yay em - ubersuccess!! glad to hear they turned out perfectly this time. how do you mean you broke the rules? because of the longer rise? naw, that's fine ... i wrote 30 minutes because of convenience. [families, like my lebby friends, who make pita as their daily breads want it fairly quickly, right? waiting 2 hours for a full rise is ridiculous and not necessary for pita.] the only thing is that using rapid/instant yeast is really the best way to go, i find, for the success of these guys. it's also a much stronger strain of yeast than active dry (see the yeast post).

i hope you snapped a pic of your perfection before eating them all!! LOL.

Anonymous said...

I recently stumbled upon your blog, by some miracle, and I just want to thank you for your wonderfulness. I LOVE this recipe and have made it, with great success, two times. I am sure I will make it many more times. I'm quite a beginner, so I really appreciate the simple explanations and detailed photographs. It's really hard to find good pitas in the US, so I'm thrilled to be able to make my own. If you also have a hummus recipe to share, that would be fantastic!

burekaboy — said...

hi polina - thanks for the compliment and feedback about your success with making your own pita. it really is quite easy. check also the link in the sidebar for "summer pita" which is easier and faster in terms of cooking the pita. i also prefer making my own as storebought is only so-so. as for a hummus recipe, i haven't posted anything yet though i will over the next week or two so "stay tuned"! if you have any other questions, either post a comment or send me an email :) btw, there are other mezze i posted that go well with the pita such as tehina sauce, baba gannoush, salade cuite, tzadziki sauce, etc....

again, thanks for the visit and kind words. hope to "see" you again.