|Hot stone and thin skin are crucial to bread’s puffing up|
This is my first time baking pita bread. “First time is the charm” has not been my experience, as far as baking goes. I believe there is a proverbial learning curve. Julia Child’s video on PBS (link kindly provided by TWD) gave me just the right amount of information I needed to get started. The recipe comes from Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan.
So far, I baked half of the recipe; the other half is still resting in the refrigerator. I shaped eight pita rounds initially. About half puffed up entirely, and some puffed and collapsed; some puffed partially. I’m curious to know why.
I thought I did not roll them out as thinly as can be since the recipe calls for rolling out 8- to 9-inch in diameter. Interestingly, the smaller rounds (more like 6-inch) I rolled out suited the size of my hand so that I could comfortably stretch and slap the dough on the pizza stone in the oven. The resulting pita was quite thin, especially the top part, and tender. The bottom part of the pita could be thinner. No doubt, roll out as thin as possible, to about 1/4- to 1/6 inch thick. I have since found out: a thin skin, which traps the steam, inflating the bread once it hits the searing stone, is a crucial factor in the bread buffing up.
What I did differently from that of the recipe?
• I did not knead by hand for 8 to 10 minutes. I took the short cut. After mixing together the fairly lively sponge (which took 30 minutes after mixing 1 tsp active dry yeast, 2 1/2 cups water and 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour), 1 tbsp salt, 1 tbsp olive oil, and part of 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour, I dumped the final dough in the Kitchen Aid mixer. Set the mixer at medium speed, with the dough attachment, and let the dough do its kneading for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile adding the remaining all-purpose flour, kneading was complete when the dough became smooth and elastic.
• To ensure sufficient gluten development, I did a series of stretch-and-fold, during first two hours of the bulk rise. It took about 3 hours until the dough doubled in size.
• Shaping the pita breads into rounds gave me the most trouble. Using a rolling pin, I rolled out some strange-looking free-form shapes and not the typical rounds. Finally I resorted to squeezing the dough back to a tight ball and started all over again. I wanted something closer to the round shape. I put enough flour on the work surface to prevent the dough from sticking. Rolling and resting in between, things started to go smoothly. More trials and errors, I got the hang of rolling out the pita rounds. The dough was forgiving and gave me, the newbie, a much-needed break.
• Baking the breads in the oven was all fun. It’s magical watching the bread puff up like a balloon, almost instantly, when the dough hit the oven. I preheated the oven and the pizza stone to 450°F — on one of the hottest days this summer. Baked the pita bread one at a time so that I can adjust the baking time accordingly. I was concerned the bread did not brown. I extended the baking time to about 5 minutes, toward the upper end of the recommended 3- to 5-minute baking time.
I like that this dough can be made ahead. Packed the dough in a plastic bag and kept in the refrigerator for up to a week. Or wrapped the baked pita airtight and frozen for up to one month. Best of all, I like that this bread can be made healthfully with 100% whole wheat! These pita breads go well with a trio of tahini dips made with beets, carrots and parsley.