THIS IS HANDS DOWN THE BEST PITA RECIPE. PERIOD.*
*(and its 100% traditional - Bonus!)
1. Follow recipe, “Bread Dough, Basic Yeast for European-Style Baguettes, Pita, Pizza, etc.” below. When dough has risen and been punched down once, preheat oven and an ungreased baking sheet to your oven’s maximum heating capacity on “Bake” setting. Divide dough into 12-14 equal pieces (or 24-28 for miniature pitas). Shape each one into a tangerine-sized-and-shaped roll that is smooth on top and sides. You can do this by repeatedly pulling the protruding edges and corners of the piece of dough down and tucking them under, into the very bottom of the roll, while rotating dough ball in your two cupped hands. Alternatively, roll dough ball on work surface or between palms until totally smooth on top and sides. Dust entire roll with flour, cover with a clean, dry cloth, and leave to rest for no fewer than 10 minutes and no more than 15 minutes. Resting is crucial to the pocket forming properly. (Repeat…)
2. Working with one rested dough ball at a time, place on a floured surface, pat the dough ball down hard, repeatedly, to force out the air. Then roll out, with a rolling pin, to about 6 inches in diameter and a little less than 1/4-inch thick; turn over several times and rotate as needed to make a round shape. Slap disc between your palms to shake off excess flour and place on a very lightly floured baking sheet or board to rest, covered with a clean, dry towel, for another 10-15 minutes. (Again, crucial.)
3. After the 15 minutes, carefully transfer by hand as many pita rounds as will fit onto the preheated, ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 2-3 minutes, or until ballooned, then remove to rack to cool. If your oven door is glass, watch the process for the fun of it and to monitor doneness. If not, check after 2 minutes then each 30 seconds thereafter for doneness. Don’t be concerned with apparent whiteness: “grill marks” on commercial pita are an affectation used to mimic Middle Eastern baking techniques (and distract the consumer from the mediocrity of packaged pita). Remove from oven and cool, spaced, in a towel-lined bowl or basket; add a layer of toweling whenever adding a layer of pita to the top of a cooling layer to keep condensation from sogging bread discs. Cover all with a towel to keep warm and avoid drying out.
4. Serve immediately; or, when just cool, stack and wrap in a clean, dry kitchen towel (to absorb excess condensed moisture as pita cools further) and place inside a heavy, sealed plastic bag to use later. Reheat 1 pita, or a few at a time, by microwaving for a few seconds towel-wrapped in a sealed plastic bag. Or oven-warm by encasing in aluminum foil and placing in a pre-heated 300-degree oven; if there are several pita, rearrange contents of foil every few minutes to guarantee even warming and prevent drying out.
BasicYeast Dough (Note: if inexperienced, first see “Bread, Yeast, Basic Instructions for”)
(for Baguettes, Pita, Fatayir, Pizza*, rolls, breadsticks, bread pretzels, etc.)
2-2 1/2 cups warm water
1/4 teaspoon sugar
2 packets (4 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast, e.g., Fleischmann’s (but not Rapid Rise or other "instant")
6 1/4-6 1/2 cups white bread flour or all-purpose flour**, preferably, unbleached, organic
1/2 cup rye flour (optional—see* and **, below)
1 tablespoon salt
75 grinds of extremely coarse black pepper if making pizza (optional)*
1. Combine 2 cups of the water, the sugar, and yeast; stir well. Leave for 5-10 minutes, until bubbly. If it doesn’t bubble, it’s dead; replace it before proceeding. Note: Name-brand yeast is more reliable than bulk.
2. Combine 6 cups of the flour and the salt (and pepper, if wanted in pizza dough) in a large mixing bowl or the work bowl of a standing mixer (e.g., KitchenAid). Mix well with a wooden spoon if working by hand, or on low speed by machine. Add yeast mixture when bubbly, and mix until too sticky to stir; by machine, use low speed.
3. Clean spoon and sides/bottom of bowl with some of the loose flour from bottom of bowl. Continue mixing with a twisting motion of your closed fist, turning dough over often to pick up dry flour, until you have one shaggy mass of dough. By machine, increase speed to medium once flour is incorporated. Either way, gradually add a little of the extra flour if dough is too sticky to pull cleanly away from the sides of the bowl; or dribble in some/all of the extra 1/2 cup of water if surface looks dry and dough feels “tight”, not bouncy, when prodded.
4. By hand: Turn out onto a lightly floured surface; knead 10-15 minutes; add only enough flour at one time to keep dough from sticking to kneading surface. By machine: Mix on medium speed about 10 minutes, scraping down bowl/hook as needed; only add flour if dough sticks to bowl. Either way, dough is ready when it feels smooth, elastic, bouncy, not sticky. A finger poked into dough 1/3-inch should indent but “bounce back”.
5. Place dough in an ungreased bowl and cover with a clean, fuzz-free kitchen towel that has been dipped in hot water and wrung out well. Put in a warm place to rise. An unheated oven with the light on is always good, especially in cold weather. After about 1-1 1/2 hours, when dough is near 2 1/2 times its original bulk, punch down, knead briefly to release gasses, and turn out onto a clean, floured surface to shape. Or, at this point, you can: a) Allow dough to rise a second time in the bowl; it will take a shorter time than the first rise, and produce a finer-grained loaf. b) Store refrigerated or frozen for later use. If storing, not baking, punch down dough every 20 minutes until thoroughly chilled and no longer trying to rise. Will keep refrigerated with only a little loss in rising power for up to a week. For long-term storage—a week to a month—freezing is preferable; but frozen dough, once thawed and shaped, rises increasingly unevenly after the first couple of days frozen.
Makes 3 1/2 lbs. dough, enough for: 4 regular baguettes (or 8 skinny ones); 14 large pita (or 28 small ones); four 12-inch fatayir za’tar; 28 filled fatayir, two 14-inch x 17-inch pizzas—see recipes.
*For great chew, substitute 1/2 cup of rye flour for 1/2 cup of white flour in pizza dough (see below). Also: For uniquely tasty pizza crust, add about 75 grinds of extremely coarse black pepper in step #2. (above).
**Bread flour may require a little extra water, but makes superior bread of any type that is supposed to be dense, chewy and/or have a crusty exterior. All-purpose flour also works; it is more commonly stocked in home kitchens; it produces ideal sandwich bread, rich and/or sweet breads, and “quick” breads. If using all-purpose flour in this recipe, or anytime you are making pizza—even with bread flour: Substitute 1/2 cup of rye flour for 1/2 cup of the white flour in this recipe to produce better chew without changing flavor. (A little extra water may be needed.) Whatever size batch you’re making, ratio is 1 part rye to 15 parts white flour.