There’s something wonderful about using bread as a spoon. In Ethiopian food, for example, spongy rounds of teff flour “crepe” are used as a lining to the plate (in order to absorb any stray sauce) and as the utensil of choice. Pitta bread seems equally versatile, as it is stuffable, scoopable, and (if you’re a pitta heathen like me) a quick “plate” for pizza toppings. If you’re intimidated by large yeast-leavened breads, let me introduce you to a quick yeast-leavened bread that you cook on the stove-top. That’s right, you don’t even need to turn on the oven.
This recipe is extremely flexible. I have used white flour, whole wheat flour, white whole wheat flour, and am currently using half white and whole wheat. The dough will act a little differently in each case. Often with whole wheat dough you want to let the dough sit for 5-10 minutes before kneading or adding more water/flour in order to let the flour absorb the water. You also may need to add a bit more or less water depending on the water content of the flour and the air humidity. White flour is probably the easiest to work with the first time through.
As a final note, don’t be depressed if only some or even none of your pitta puff up. They are still delicious without the gaping whole in the center. I have made batches of these when they all puffed up and batches where only one or two puffed up. The scientist in me would like to be able to say that I have tested the parameter space of pan temperature, flour composition, and dough hydration to be able to puff my pitta consistently. Fortunately, there is absolutely no motivation to do this as the pitta disappear quickly in either case.
Pitta Bread (Adapted from The Complete Book of Greek Cooking)
(Makes 8 medium pitta bread)
2 cups flour (white, whole wheat, or a combination)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon olive oil + a drizzle
1 cup slightly warm water
To make the dough:
- Mix all the ingredients except for the extra drizzle of olive oil in a medium mixing bowl. The dough should be slightly sticky, as in you touch it and dough sticks to your finger when you pull your finger away.
- Let the dough rest for 30 minutes or so (sometimes I only wait 10 minutes when I’m feeling particularly impatient).
- Then knead it for somewhere between 2 and 10 minutes (my kneading often falls closer to the 2 minute side). By the end of the kneading, the dough should only be the slightest bit sticky and shouldn’t stick to your finger when you touch it, but it should be soft and easily stretched.
- Form the dough into a ball and place in a clean bowl (or just make sure all the dough is removed from the bottom of the bowl you mixed everything up in). Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the ball of dough and rub the olive oil around to keep the dough from drying out. Put the oil-covered dough back in the bowl and cover the top with a damp kitchen towel.
- Place the bowl of dough in a warm place in the house (ie. the kitchen counter by the stove) for about 1 hour, or until the dough has doubled in size. Whole wheat flour dough may not quite double or it may take longer.
To cook the bread:
- Use a clean kitchen counter or a sheet of parchment paper as a surface on which to roll out the dough. Make a little pile of flour on the surface (~2 tablespoons).
- Start by separating the dough into 8 pieces.
- To roll out a piece of dough, roll it into a ball, squish the ball into a little bit of flour on either side, and then flatten the bread into a thin (1/4 inch thick) disk using your hands. You could use a rolling pin if you wanted, but that’s just one more thing to wash.
- As soon as you’ve rolled out 1 or 2 pitta breads, turn on a stove-top burner to medium under a heavy cast-iron skillet or frying pan. I’m never quite sure when the skillet is hot enough so the first pitta bread is rarely perfect.
- When the skillet might be hot enough, place a pitta bread on the skillet and let it cook for 30 seconds.
- Then turn the pitta bread over and cook for 1 minute on the other side. At some point around here air bubbles should start to form in the pitta. You can help them spread throughout the cooking dough by putting a slight pressure on them using a spatula. Be careful not to rip the surface of the dough though, because once that happens, the puffing is over.
- When the air bubbles get big (or if the air bubbles never happen and the other side looks nice and browned in places), turn the pitta over again. The total cooking time should be about 3 minutes, although it will be longer if the pan isn’t hot enough.
- Keep the cooked pitta bread warm in a kitchen towel on a plate. This also keeps hungry people from walking into the kitchen and eating them without you noticing (although in that case you may want to sew bells to the kitchen towel just to make sure). I encourage the cook to eat the sacrificial first pitta bread slathered in butter and sprinkled with cardamom-sugar.