Pita Bread – Not As Scary As It Sounds

There was a wonderful place that a group of us teenagers used to eat at during the lunch hour at our high school, called Pic-A-Pita… a pita fast food place where you could pick your filling, kind of like Pita-Pit, but way way better. I’m sure the vegetables weren’t fresh, the cheese had modified milk ingredients, the pita bread was made from bleached enriched flour, and the ranch dressing was hydrogenated…. but  at the time, the pitas were just delicious. We used to order extra olives, cheese, mushrooms, and ranch dressing, I feel that is really what makes this so good. Also you could pick crab meat for a filling! Which was fake, but still… Many years have passed, and the place has closed down, and I found myself craving a pic-a-pita. Actually it was S who gave me the idea to do up some Pic-A-Pita one day.

What would have been easy for a normal person to throw together, I decided to make everything from scratch, the pitas and the ranch dressing primarily. And then chopping, and chopping of all the filling ingredients. Don’t be discouraged though! :) I chop enough to kind of last a couple days, so I can have this again the next day for lunch. There are usually lots of pitas leftover. I really suck for some reason at halving recipes, they hardly ever turn out. So I just make full recipes and freeze the rest. For these pitas, if you are using them the next day, I’ve found that if you put them in a zipper-lock freezer bag once they’ve cooled down, and put them in the fridge right away, they are still pretty darn good the next day. Once they get too crusty, they become breadcrumbs in this house.

Lots of prep work, but well worth it. The cucumbers are missing from this photo because I had none, so sad! And yes those are my homemade pickles!

I have made LOTS of pitas, they are easy and fairly quick to make for a bread, and the dough doesn’t really need to do a double or even single rise like other breads. It just rests for about 30 – 40 min while your oven heats up.

You can fill your pitas with anything you’d like, fill it with a green salad (the bread is just one big crouton!), or tomato salad, falafel, gyros, sliced leftover chicken or roast beef with lettuce tomato and mustard or horseradish, the list is endless. You can even use your pitas to make mini pizzas!

Since I’ve been making pitas for a while now, I’ve had my fair share of disasters. Mainly, not all the pitas puff. I mean, whats a pita without the pocket?! I still have that happen, more often than I’d like, but I think I’ve figured out a couple things that might be the culprit.

1. Make sure your oven and stone (if using) has preheated for a while. I normally let it heat for about 40 minutes to 1 hour. Maybe I’m crazy, and 30 min is fine :)

2. You must make sure to let the dough rest for 30 – 40 minutes. I find that this might be the single reason why my pitas don’t puff. Also, letting them rest after you roll them into discs might help here too.

I still have my fair share of pitas not puffing, but my luck is much better now that I let the dough rest and make sure the oven is nice and hot.

If your pitas don’t puff, thats ok, they weren’t meant to be pitas, they wanted to be flatbreads instead. These flat pitas are just as yummy and soft, and actually these are the best to make mini pizzas with. But if I really wanted a sandwich, many times when the pita hasn’t puffed, or partially puffed, I’ll just put all the toppings on top and roll it up. Delicious either way! You could also make pita chips too, super yummy. Just brush with some oil, sprinkle with salt and bake at around 400° for 5 – 15 min, it really depends on how crispy you want them. Or you could really get creative with them.

Farmgirl Susan’s Pita Bread after Bernard Clayton

Recipe slightly modified from Farmgirl Susan’s Pita Bread after Bernard Clayton
Makes 8

2½ cups organic bread flour (I used Arva Flour Mill’s Hard unbleached flour), plus more for sprinkling while kneading & rolling out dough
2 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons instant yeast
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup warm water (105 to 110°)

8 eight inch squares of aluminum foil for baking pitas

In a large bowl (I used my wooden dough bowl), combine 1 cup flour with the salt, sugar, and yeast. Add the oil and water. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon for three minutes, then stir in the rest of the flour 1/2 cup at a time.

The dough should be a rough, shaggy mass that will clear the sides of the bowl. If the dough is too moist, add a small amount of additional flour.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for 6 minutes.

Place pizza stone in oven if using. Preheat the oven to 450°.

Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Cut quickly and evenly cut it into eighths, as if cutting up a pie.

Roll into balls, dust lightly with flour, and cover with a damp tea towel. Let rest for 30 minutes.

Use the palm of your hand to flatten each ball into a disk. Finish with a rolling pin, flattening the dough into a disk about 6″ in diameter and about 3/16″ thick.

Place one round at a time on the pizza stone. Cook for 2 – 3 minutes or until puffed. If you don’t have a stone, place each round on a square of foil, and carefully place 3 or 4 of the rounds directly on the oven rack. Bake for 5 to 8 minutes, or until they are puffed. Keep checking often through the glass to see if its puffed because the time can vary a lot depending on your oven.

Repeat with the remaining disks.

Wee! I’m puffing!

When you remove the breads from the oven, stack them up and wrap them in a large piece of foil. This will keep the dough soft while the tops fall, leaving a pocket in the center. Cut them in half (so you can fill the pocket) and serve warm or at room temperature, or let cool, wrap tightly in aluminum foil, place in a zipper bag, and freeze.

Thaw frozen pitas before using (this only takes about 5 minutes at room temperature). To reheat, stack several in a pile, wrap with foil, and place in a 375 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

An ode to Pic-A-Pita

These ingredients are just estimates, do whatever you’d like!
The original Pic-A-Pita had that processed meat slices like roast chicken, ham and roast beef. I use real roast beef if I have some from a past dinner, but I usually have roast chicken because we love whole roasted chicken, so thats normally what I use in this. Prociutto replaces the ham, because they almost always have nitrates in them… gahhh!

1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
3 pickles cut into rounds
a good deal (maybe 1 cup) of kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
a crazy amount (maybe 1 – 2 cups) of cheddar cheese and mozzarella, shredded
1/4 cup of feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup crab meat (if you can find a non-fake kind – I have a hard time finding this, so I hardly use it, its sooooo amazing though if you can, it adds such a yummy sweetness)
1/2 cup tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup sliced cucumber
1 – 2 cups sliced roasted chicken (I used the breast)
1 – 2 cups mushrooms, sliced (I used cremini)
lots of homemade ranch dressing

Cut a pita in half (I double up the pita because I find my home-made ones are a bit thin – place one half in the other half) with the fillings top with lots of sauce and get ready for a mess! Enjoy!