I promised I'd give you a recipe for pita bread when I made the Donairs, and here it is. But that wonderfully versatile pocket bread, can be used for a multitude of fillings. Just use your imagination.
The first time I ever saw pita bread was over 40 years ago. I was attending collage and had to work for my board and tuition and found myself working in the school cafeteria and bakery. The cafeteria work was an everyday occurrence but the bakery only happened two or three times a week. I liked my work in the school kitchen and cafeteria but I really enjoyed the afternoons we spent in the bakery. The bakery was comprised of a small building located directly across from the cafeteria. Compared to the basement cafeteria, the bakery seemed so bright and airy and roomy as well. The room smelled of yeast and fresh bread, of sweet cookies and pies and I delighted in the aromas that wafted past my nose. The large butchers block table was set in the centre of the back part of the bakery and the ovens and proofer near the front. The big Hobart mixers were things of beauty and turned out dozens and dozens of baked goods in one huge batch.
Mrs. Watson was my supervisor and the director of the cafeteria as well. There used to be a head baker but the year I worked in the bakery Mrs. Watson was in charge of that as well. Mrs. Watson and her family had immigrated to Canada from Egypt some years before. Her husband was a teacher and worked out of town each week, returning on the weekends. The two older children were attending university in the United States and her youngest was in high school. Mrs. Watson worked long hours to keep her children in private christian schools and she expected no less from us, her student employees. For some, Mrs. Watson was an unyielding taskmaster who expected the impossible from those who were remiss in the duties assigned them. But for me she was a mentor. Her approval was sought after and her long hours of work spurred me on to work as much as I could to pay my own school bills.
Because Mrs. Watson worked such long days, beginning around 5 am and some days stretching past 7 pm she was seldom at home to do her own housekeeping and baking. In order to provide bread for her family she would sometimes make the bread at the bakery during the couple of hours she had off in the afternoon. Of course she didn't do this every day but every once in a while she mix up a big batch of pita bread and bake it in the school's bakery ovens. Of course, at that time I'd never heard of any kind of flat bread other than the 5 barley loaves mentioned in the Bible, so it came as quite a surprise when I watched her make and bake the flat disks of dough that magically billowed into hollow bubbles of bread. She would laugh and tell us it was Egyptian bread and it was very good, better than the bread we ate. And to prove her point she always gave us a hot pita to eat with butter and honey. Oh, they were so good. Even now, my mouth waters as I remember those rare afternoons when Mrs. Watson made Egyptian bread for her family. She would stuff hers with leftover potatoes, raw onions and a squeeze of lemon juice. That was delicious as well.
It's been years since those pleasant days in the bakery but I think Mrs. Watson had a point when said her bread was better than ours. A fresh-from-the-oven pita can't be beat. But aside from the obvious pleasures of fresh bread, a pita can double as a plate, holding a full meal in its open cavity. And unlike a sandwich made with sliced bread, the pocket keeps everything in place and nothing falls out the other end. What's not to like?
Now, another fascinating aspect of the humble pita bread is the baking which produces the hollow pocket bread. The extremely high heat produces steam which pops the bread into a hollow pocket. Is that ever fun to watch through the oven window. Once the dough hits the hot baking surface it comes alive. Within a minute or so it starts to rise, almost moving off the pan as it grows in front of your eyes. In five minutes you're good to go. Dinner or supper can begin.
I find you can make pita bread from any plain bread recipe. I use half my Whole Wheat Bread recipe which makes sufficient pitas to use for the upcoming meal and plenty to freeze for later on. Pitas can also be made from white bread dough but Mrs. Watson always made whole wheat and that's what I usually make as well.
Whole Wheat Pita Bread
2 cups lukewarm water
2½ tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoons salt
1½ teaspoons instant yeast
2 cups white flour, or use all whole wheat
3-4 cups whole wheat flour
Mix lukewarm water, oil, honey and salt and any optional ingredients together in mixer bowl.
Mix yeast with the whole wheat flour. (I just dump it all together in the mixer bowl.) Add to the liquid ingredients. Using the dough hook mix thoroughly on low adding the white flour as you mix until you have a smooth ball of dough that leaves the side of the bowl. You may not use all the flour or you may use a little more. It all depends on the humidity the day you make bread. Knead about 10 minutes.
Place in a greased bowl and cover with a clean tea towel or plastic wrap. Let rise 1 hour or until doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 450-500 degrees. If your oven is hot use the lower temperature.
Divide dough into 12-14 pieces. Shape into balls and let rest 20 minutes. Roll each ball to about ⅛-¼ inch thick with a rolling pin on a flour sprinkled surface. Cover and let rise about 20-30 minutes. A few minutes before baking, place a baking stone or upside-down cast iron frying pan in oven. If you don't have a stone or cast iron pan use a cookie sheet. Pull oven rack out and gently slide a pita round on hot surface of stone or pan. Fit as many pitas on the baking surface as it will hold without breads touching. Bake for 3-5 minutes, until puffed and golden brown.
Remove from oven and continue baking the remaining dough.
Makes 12-14 pitas. I made 13.
Mix the warm water, honey, salt and oil together. Add the yeast and part of the flour and mix.
I throw everything in the mixer bowl, except the flour which I add gradually until I have a dough that leaves the side of the bowl.
Using instant yeast the dough takes about 45 minutes to an hour to double in size.
When the dough has risen, divide it into 12-14 pieces. Round into balls, flatten a little and let rest for 20 minutes. This will make the dough easier to roll out. Roll each ball to about ⅛-¼ inch thick. Make sure you have the surface lightly floured so your pitas won't stick.
Preheat the oven to 450-500 degrees. I don't have a pizza stone so I use an upside-down cast iron frying pan. It works just as well. If you don't have either, use an old cookie sheet. See how the bread has puffed up in just a couple of minutes. Bake 3-5 minutes.
Oops, sometimes a pita doesn't rise and puff all the way or not at all, but don't worry, these are still good to eat. These can be used to make individual pizzas. Or just spread and layer the fillings on top and fold the bread around the fillings.
Here's perfectly puffed pita bread.
I find the best way to cut a pita is with a pair of kitchen scissors.
This makes a good clean cut across the bread.
Leftover patties from dinner make a good filling for the pita bread.
No wondering what's for supper when you have a few leftovers and pita bread.
Ready to eat.