Soft and fluffy. These flatbreads are perfect to eat with just about everything. I used to dread making pita bread. My kitchen would inevitably be powdered in flour. Worse, success was unpredictable. At times, I would bake pita so soft and fluffy that it could be easily torn up like a damp sheet of paper. Other times, I had pita so dry and thin, they tasted like crisp biscuits. It was even more annoying to get the pita wrong when waiting at the table was a spread of meze that was lacking nothing but that edible, pliable scoop to start the eating.

I had to have a pita recipe that would be fool proof. Better still if the recipe could leave my kitchen and myself less ‘floury’.  After a few batches of pita that did not meet the mark, I now have a recipe that I am happy with. Here’s what I learnt:

(1) Use a milk based dough. Keeps it soft.
(2) Do not roll out the pitas too thin otherwise they won’t puff or become as fluffy as they can be.
(3) Set the baking sheet in a cold oven to heat up with the oven. You want the sheet to be hot.
(4) Bake pita in batches (eg. 3 at a time) to avoid opening and closing oven door more than necessary. It disrupts the pita puffing.
(5) Stay by the oven to wait for pitas to rise and be ready to flip them over. You can’t salvage a pita that has been over baked to a crisp.
(6) Pita must be kept wrapped in a tea towel and then in a covered container box to keep them soft and moist.
(7) To minimise ‘floury’ kitchen counters and floors.  I recall my previous neighbour making the North Indian staple flatbread, chapati. Before rolling her chapatis, she did not dust her round wooden board or rolling pin. In fact, she dusted nothing. About an inch in front of her board, she would have a little bowl filled with just a small amount of flour. This bowl would be slightly larger than the dough balls. She simply dip both sides of a dough ball into flour, set it on the board and away she went rolling it into perfect circles. How clever. It does keep the flour off my kitchen counter and floor. The extra bonus? I stay flour-free! No flour dusted hair or apron. I might actually look quite elegant now with my rolling pin.

This is the recipe for the pita that was served at my recent meze party. I prepared 10 meze that were inspired by my holiday in Greece. Click Greek Meze, Another Selection Of Wonderful Little Bites. Scroll down to the end of the post and you will find a table spread of all the 10 meze, the names of the meze and links to recipes that I have already posted.

Oh So  Soft Pita Bread

Prep: 15 minutes 
Cook: 10 minutes per tray
Inactive: ~45 minutes 
Level: Moderate
Makes: 6 pieces of 5″ (13cm) OR
3 pieces of 9″(23cm) ideal for gyros
Oven Temperature: 400F (200C) or to the highest setting
Can recipe be doubled? Yes
Make ahead? Dough can be made the day before. Baked pita keeps up to 2 days. To reheat, scroll down to ‘Tips’.

Ingredients

2 cups(4.58oz)(130g) plain/all-purpose flour
OR
1 cup(4.58oz)(130g) plain+1 cup(4.58oz)(130g) whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon instant yeast
3/8 cup water + 3/8 cup milk
OR
3/4 cup water + 3 Tablespoons nonfat powdered milk

Method

Using a mixer
1. Combine all ingredients (except the liquid) into mixer bowl. Make a well and add the liquid.
2. Attach dough hook to the beater shaft. Start mixer at low speed to prevent the flour from flying out of bowl.
3. Work up to medium speed gradually. If the mixture does not seem to be coming together to form a dough, with the machine running, add 1 Tablespoon of water and let the machine go at it for 3 minutes. Repeat if necessary. Err on the side of a more moist dough.
4. If there is dough stuck to the sides of the bowl. Scrape down.
5. If the dough is too wet, add 1 Tablespoon of flour and let the machine work it in for 3 minutes. Add more flour the same way if required. Again, err on the side of a more moist dough.
6. The dough should leave your fingers just a little sticky but not enough to cause you duress.
7. Most of the time it takes 5 – 10 minutes of machine kneading before I am happy to shape the dough into a ball. At this point, the sides of my bowl would be relatively cleaned of dough and the dough would have gathered up on the dough hook. It would look pliable and smooth. Do the ‘window pane’ test (details below) to determine if the gluten has developed sufficiently.

By hand
1. Place dry ingredients on a flat working surface or a very large bowl and mix well. Create a well in the centre of dry ingredients.
2. Pour in the liquid and work it in slowly into the dry ingredients.
3. To start kneading, you have to work with pushing the dough out with the palm of your hand and pulling it back with your fingers.
4. At any point, if the dough is too dry or wet to work with, add 1 Tablespoon of water or flour and work it in completely before adding more water or flour. Err on the side of a moist and not a dry dough. Your kneading surface should be clean with no dough stuck on it. You will know you are doing well when you find yourself working with a smooth elastic ball. The dough should leave your fingers just a little sticky but not enough to cause you duress. Do the ‘window pane’ test (details below) to determine if the gluten has developed sufficiently.

The ‘window pane’ test, shaping and proofing the dough

1. Stretch a portion of the dough. If you can stretch it easily without it tearing too soon and it has the thinness and suppleness of a beautiful membrane, the gluten has developed enough; you have done a great job with kneading and you have a ‘window pane’.
2. Divide dough into 6.
3. Form each into a round ball. Pull and tuck loose ends downwards. Twist loose ends under to secure and get the look of a nice golf ball. Cover the balls with a tea towel to avoid drying out whilst the dough balls rises. Approximately ~45minutes.

Rolling the dough out

1. Before you begin, you need to turn on the oven to the highest temperature setting. Adjust your oven rack to the highest slot. Place your baking sheet on the top rack in the cold oven.
2. Place 1 Tablespoon flour in a little bowl slightly bigger than the size of the dough ball. Place that in front of your rolling board.
3. Remove a dough ball. Keep the rest covered to avoid drying out. Dip both sides of the dough in flour. Place on your board and flatten slightly with your hands.
4. Use the rolling pin to roll the dough in a circle. Do not roll back and fourth. Instead, roll the dough from the centre outwards, turn the dough 2″ (5cm) anti clockwise.
5. Again, roll from the centre outwards, turn the dough another 2″ (5cm) anti clockwise and continue likewise. Do it this way, and the dough will not stick to the board and you won’t be overworking the dough. If you overwork the dough, it will be difficult to roll it out. If this happens, let the dough rest, covered for 10 minutes and continue again.
6. You should have a 5″ (12.7cm) circle of dough and it should be ~ 0.19″ (0.5cm). Do not roll it out too thin as it needs a slight thickness in order for the pita to puff up to form its pocket. In the picture below, I placed a fork next to the dough so you get an idea of the thickness I am referring to.

7. Set the rolled dough aside under a tea towel and work on the rest of the dough balls.

Baking
1. Work in batches and minimise opening and closing the oven door to keep the oven hot. When you oven is well heated, slap the rolled dough onto the preheated baking tray. The preheated sheet must sit on the highest rack of the oven and be 4″ (10cm) below the heating element.
2. With the dough so close to the heating element, always use oven gloves and heatproof tongs/frying slice/spatulas. I prefer not to use tongs as they tend to puncture the dough before it has a chance to puff up.
3. I would stay by the oven to watch them puff as I do not want them over baked. It might take ~ 5 minutes, depending on how hot your oven is.  Once they puff, I turn them over.

4. It might take ~ 5 minutes on this side as well. Do not over bake. You would know they are baked through when you no longer see any moist bits of dough. They might not even brown.
5. As you bake, keep pitas cocooned loosely in a tea towel and place that inside a covered container. You must use the tea towel to keep the pita moist and to absorb the condensation/water droplets that will form in the covered container.

What if they don’t puff?
This could be an issue if your oven does not heat up high enough. This is what you could try, but do watch that it does not burn or get too dry:

(1) First and foremost, do ensure that the oven is at the correct temperature. This is especially important when you decide to put in your second batch of pita dough to bake. More often than not, the oven temperature would have dropped by as much as 68F-104F (20C-40C) with all the opening and shutting of the oven door as you removed the first batch of pita.
(2) Use an oven thermometer to check its internal temperature. If you do not have one, let the oven reheat for at least 10 minutes.
(3) Try to elevate the uncooperative dough closer to the heating element. To do this, I slot a 1″(2.5cm) high baking tray (almost similar in size to the baking sheet), under the baking sheet I had used to cook the dough. Make sure it’s stable.  The dough should puff up within 1-3 minutes.
(4) Alternatively, heat up a frying pan to medium-high heat. Slap the dough on the hot pan and with a spatula or a folded square of damp kitchen towel (I prefer the towel), gently press down the dough, moving the spatula/damp kitchen towel in a clockwise direction as you press down. It should puff within a minute. If it does not, flip to the other side and do the same. You are trying to plug up any holes that might be preventing the pita from puffing up.

Now, by this time, if the pita still does not puff, it will never puff. Instead, it is time to prevent the pita from becoming too dry. Continue reading below.

What to do if the pitas are too dry?
To prevent pitas from drying out or to resurrect pitas that you have over baked, cover them quickly in a tea towel and put them in a covered container. I would put these and any other ‘drier’ looking pitas at the bottom of my pile of pita. The internal heat from all the pitas should soften them back up.

Tips

Baking soft pitas
I mentioned this in my opening and here it is again for your ease of reference.

(1) Use a milk based dough. Keeps it soft.
(2) Do not roll out the pitas too thin otherwise they won’t puff or become as fluffy as they can be.
(3) Set the baking sheet in a cold oven to heat up with the oven. You want the sheet to be hot.
(4) Bake pita in batches (eg. 3 at a time) to avoid opening and closing oven door more than necessary. It disrupts the pita puffing.
(5) Stay by the oven to wait for pitas to rise and be ready to flip them over. You can’t salvage a pita that has been over baked to a crisp.
(6) Pita must be kept wrapped in a tea towel and then in a tight container box to keep them soft and moist.

Reheating pitas
Oven: Spritz the pita(s) with water and cover with aluminium foil. Reheat in hot oven for ~10 minutes.
Microwave:  Spritz the pita(s) with water, overlap them on a microwave safe plate and heat up 10 seconds.
Stovetop: Heat up a frying pan. Spritz pita(s) with water. Wrap in aluminium foil. Place directly on hot pan. Turn over after ~ 4 minutes (depends on how many pitas you have in the aluminium foil) and another ~ 3 minutes should be sufficient to warm pita(s) through.

What to do with pitas that have been over baked to a crisp biscuit?
-They are still good to use for dipping. After all, they are now the same texture as a tortilla chip.
-Make a salad and throw the broken pita over it. The dressing from the salad will moisten bits of the pita chips and leave some parts still crispy.

WHAT’S COMING UP NEXT?

Silverbait with sweet onions! It’s crispy and delicious!


My Greek inspired meze!

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