One of the things I love most about baking bread is the warmth, both symbolic and actual, that it brings to the kitchen on a chilly autumn or winter day. Fresh homemade bread is just as delicious with our summer pastas and garden salads as it is with our winter soups, but when the kitchen is already 80 or 90 degrees, I have a harder time finding the motivation to bake. Lately I’ve been compromising with homemade pitas. They are a lovely yeasted bread with a decidedly home-baked flavor, but it takes only 50 minutes for the dough to rise, then ten minutes over a griddle to make a nice big stack–enough for dinner tonight and lunch tomorrow. OK, the griddle IS hot, but it’s just ten minutes! Totally worth it.
My recipe is adapted from one of my favorite go-to cookbooks, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison. It’s a fun one for kids, with lots of hands-on time.
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast (quick rise is fine–whatever you have)
1 teaspoon honey
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the griddle
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour (coarsely-ground, if you have some)
2 cups bread flour (or all purpose unbleached white, or white whole-wheat)
In a mixing bowl, stir together the warm water with the yeast and honey, and let it sit until bubbly, about 10 minutes.
Stir in the salt and olive oil, then add the whole-wheat flour and beat until smooth. Add the rest of the flour incrementally, until the dough is too thick to stir, then turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and supple. You may need to add a bit more flour. Turn it into an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel, and set it aside to double in bulk, which will take about 50 minutes to an hour.
Punch down the risen dough, and divide it into ten pieces, rolling each into a ball. Cover these and let them rest for about 15 minutes.
Roll a few of the balls out into 1/4 inch circles while you heat a seasoned cast iron fry pan or griddle on high. When your pan is good and hot, reduce the heat to medium, brush the surface of the pan with olive oil, and put one of the pitas in the middle. Let it sit for 30 seconds, then turn it over. The cooked surface should be mottled, a little bubbly, and turning golden. So pretty. If it’s still all flour-colored, turn up the heat a little, and leave it on a bit longer before turning over. Let the other side cook for 30 seconds as well. Put the finished pita in a cloth-lined basket, re-brush the pan with olive oil, and repeat with the next pita. I usually roll the rest of the balls out while the first pitas are cooking–roll, cook, roll, cook. There’s plenty of time in between.
You may notice at this point that what we have is actually a flatbread sort of thing, rather than a real pocket pita. It’s true that the griddle method does not reliably result in puffed pocket pitas. For that, you need to bake them in the oven. I just think pita recipes come out moister, tastier and so much prettier on the stovetop. You can stack, scoop, and wrap food in these breads. But if ultra-puffiness is what you’re after, try this: put a baking stone on the center rack and heat the oven up as high as it will go. You can bake three or four pitas at once, depending on the size of your stone. When they start to puff, count to thirty and remove them. You need only a few minutes of oven-time, apart from pre-heating–still a good summer solution. Enjoy!