Although the precise and detailed science of bread making has never been adopted in this household, there was a time that I baked bread every day. We had everything from brioche to focaccia. Honestly, any yeasted dough that I could mix in the morning so that it could prove during the day, and be cooked in the evening as the rest of the meal was prepared was fare game in our Kitchen in the mid to late ’90s. We would have never won prizes for our bread making but we loved it, and it was much cheaper than buying bread in those days (these days it is better than the horrid cheap breads that are available – I can hardly recognise them as bread).
I loved cooking Pita Bread and watching it puff up in the oven as it met the heat. It was a magic that I never tired of. The recipe we used was from the much loved cookbook of those times, Moosewood Cookbook.
It is easy to make bread if you have a machine with a dough hook, or if you are used to making bread by hand.
Other alternatives are -Use a food processor. Mine comes with a dough blade, but many people say that using a metal blade is just as effective (if not more so). Mix your dry ingredients with the food processor first, then add the wet ingredients and pulse about 12 pulses to combine the wet with the dry. Then process for 15 seconds 3-4 times. In between, stop the processor, lift out the dough and turn over. After 3 or 4 times, the dough will have come together nicely. It will also be warm from the heat of the processor. Hand knead the dough for 3 – 5 mins until smooth and elastic.
You can also use your Vitamix blender to make the dough. It comes with a “Dry” container with a special blade, with which the dough is pulsed and scraped. It mixes the dough nicely and reduces kneading time. Use a similar process to the one mentioned above for the food processor. If the blender seems to be labouring, turn it off immediately, turn the dough and try again.
This recipe is part of the Retro Recipes series of recipes that contains some of our vegetarian recipes from our first blog in the 1990’s.
We use Australian measurements: 1 tspn = 5ml; 1 Tblspn = 20ml; 1 cup = 250ml.
1.5 tspn dry yeast
1 cup tepid water
1 Tblspn honey or sugar
1.5 tspn salt
3 cups bread flour (use half whole wheat flour if desired)
0.5 Tblspn Olive Oil
Dissolve the yeast in the water with 1 tspn of the honey or sugar and let stand for fifteen minutes until frothy. Add the remaining honey or sugar, flour and salt and mix until well combined. Add the oil then knead with dough hooks for 8 minutes, longer by hand or for about 1 minute if using a food processor or blender (see instructions above) – the dough needs to be sticky at the start, and well kneaded.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and rise in a warm, humid spot for 1 – 1.5 hours. For example, run some centimetres of hot water into the sink, place the bowl on an upturned plate in the sink, and cover bowl and sink with a towel. This is one way that works for me, especially in the middle of winter.
Heat the oven to 250C. Place an ungreased tray in the oven to heat.
Punch the dough down and knead lightly. Divide into six equal parts. Form each into a smooth round ball and let stand 15 minutes.
Roll each ball to about 0.5cm in thickness, making sure they are evenly thick all over. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave for 20 minutes. Place on the heated tray and bake in the hottest position in the oven (usually the top rack) for 3 – 4 minutes or until they are puffed up and turning brown. You may need to cook in two batches.
Wrap the freshly baked breads in a towel or place in a brown paper bag for 15 minutes. This maintains their pockets as they deflate and prevents them crisping into crackers.
recipe notes and alternatives
If you like to add oil for extra flavour, add about 1.5 Tblspn during mixing.
How to get the best pita:
The oven needs to be very hot – make sure that you allow enough time for the oven to heat evenly. You can even cook the pita on a pizza stone.
Pitta dough must be sufficiently hydrated to generate steam when it meets the heat of the oven, and strong enough to trap this steam, and thus puff up, so the mixture must be both fairly wet and well-kneaded.
You can rest the dough overnight if you have the time, as it helps the flavour develop and makes the pitta fluffier, it seems.
Make sure that the pita are thin enough to puff up in the short time they take to cook, and evenly so, too, or they will blister in places, rather than blowing up like a balloon.
Sometimes the pita puffs and sometimes it doesn’t, but the bread is great either way. Some people prefer the slightly thicker, pocketless version.