Monday, 3 August 2015

Homemade Herbed Pita Bread

I have been wanting to make pita bread for a while, and finally got the chance! I had no idea it was so easy, or that it would be so much fun! Watching the flat round of dough puff up in the oven, forming a pocket in the bread that can be filled with anything...magical.

I filled mine with a Mediterranean inspired burger, using up some yellow and green zucchini, eggplant and red pepper by grilling them and adding them to the pita pocket along with the burger, some feta cheese and homemade hummus (courtesy of my husband).

The recipe I used was my adaptation of one from and I managed to make 11 pita breads from it. I added chopped fresh herbs from my garden as well as fresh ground black pepper. We had leftover pita bread, which was used up for lunches and snacking on the remaining hummus.

Combine the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer:

2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup wholewheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Add the liquid:

1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/4 cups warm water

Using the dough hook, mix the dough on a low speed until it comes together to form a slightly sticky ball. If you need more water, add a little at a time.

When you have achieved the sticky dough ball, allow the mixer to knead it for a few minutes, adding minimal amounts of flour as needed if it is sticking to the sides of the bowl.

Remove the dough from the mixer, onto a lightly floured counter.

Knead the dough until it is no longer sticky, adding flour if necessary. When the dough is soft and smooth, it is ready to be formed into a ball for proofing.

Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.

Leave to rise until doubled in size.

Divide the dough into 11 pieces, each weighing 2.5 ounces.

Cover with a clean towel and leave to rest for 20 minutes.

During the resting time the dough balls will rise a bit, and they will also form a slight crust on the top.
Heat the oven to 500F and place a baking sheet on the middle rack, upside down. This will be your baking surface. Have a spray bottle of water ready next to the oven.

You will also need a cooling rack with a clean tea towel for the hot pita bread as it comes out of the oven.

Lightly flour a couple of baking sheets.

Roll the baking dough balls out into rounds that are about 1/4" in thickness. If you are having trouble rolling the dough, leave it to rest for a few more minutes.

Place the rolled dough rounds onto the lightly floured baking sheets.

Working as quickly as possible, open the oven, lightly spray the baking sheet with water and place 2 or 3 dough rounds onto the hot baking sheet.

Close the oven door and turn the temperature down to 450F.

After 1 1/2 minutes the dough will have started to rise up.

Open the oven door and give another quick spray of water.

After 3 minutes, the pita bread will be done, nicely puffed up, as the one on the left in this picture is.

If the dough is not completely puffed up, leave it for another 30 seconds. The puffing up is what forms the pocket.

At this point, remove the bread from the oven.

Place the pita breads onto the clean towel, and wrap them. This allows them to cool down slowly, and also steams them a bit, keeping them soft.

The pita bread on the left is showing the bottom, the one on the right is showing the top.

The pita bread is now ready to serve. As I mentioned, I was making Mediterranean inspired burgers, and chose to make the pita bread to serve them in. This was a different, but delicious burger.

  • The herbs I used were basil, oregano, rosemary and chives. I used the same herbs in the burgers. Feel free to use any fresh, or dried herbs you like. If you are using dried herbs remember that the flavour is concentrated, so you need to use less.
  • Spices can be used as well...try crushed fennel seeds, chili flakes, cumin or coriander.
  • The herbs and spices can be omitted, giving you a plain pita bread. The wholewheat flour can be changed to all purpose if you wish.
  • Other oil can be used...vegetable oil, melted butter, nut oils such as peanut that can withstand a high temperature, flavour infused olive oil.
  • I like to do the first part of the kneading in the mixer, and then finish it off by hand. You can do all the kneading in the mixer if you prefer. The dough can also be made and kneaded completely by hand, the choice is up to you.
  • The thickness of the dough rounds play a role in the creation of the pocket. If the dough is rolled out thicker than 1/4" it is less likely to puff up and form a pocket. Pocketless pita breads are excellent for using as pizza crusts.
  • It is important that the oven is HOT when the bread dough is put onto the hot baking sheet. This is the reason that I heated the oven to 500F and then turned it down. The initial opening of the oven door will let some heat out, and this will ensure that the oven is still hot enough. The heat helps to form the steam that makes the dough puff up to form the pocket. If necessary, wait in between batches to ensure that the oven temperature is back up to 450F.
  • If you want a crispier bread, leave it in the oven for another minute or two. I prefer them to be on the softer side, and immediately enclosing the pita breads in a clean towel helps with this by allowing the residual heat in the pita breads to steam them as they cool down.
  • The pita bread can be filled with any filling of your choice...chicken salad; curried tuna salad with chopped apples; pulled pork; thinly sliced vegetables, fresh or grilled; scrambled egg...
  • Leftover pita bread can be cut into wedges, lightly tossed with olive oil, salt and ground cumin and spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 325F until the pita wedges are crispy, and you have pita chips. These are a great lunch or snack, accompanied by hummus, tzatziki or egg salad.
  • Other cooking options for the dough are on the grill, the same as Grilled Pizza Crusts . The dough can also be cooked in a hot, dry frying pan.
  • Pita bread can be frozen, well wrapped, but when you taste it fresh from the oven, more than likely you won't have any left for freezing.

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