What’s so special about flatbread?
Present in some form in almost all cuisines, flatbreads are the perfect introduction to yeasted bread for the novice baker.
While the simplicity might fool you into believing it is nothing of note, there is great room for variation with this practical dish.
Pita has been the staple of Mediterranean, Moroccan, and Middle Eastern cuisine for 4,000 years. When baked at high temperatures, steam inflates the dough to create the traditional pocket.
While it is difficult to get an even pocket with the lower temperatures of a home oven, the bread is still delicious when used as a wrap or torn into pieces to eat with traditional dips, called mezze. In fact, this is the manner in which pita is most commonly consumed.
In this recipe, a simple pita is made significantly more interesting by fermenting barley flour prior to making the dough.
This is accomplished through a sponge method, where a portion of flour is mixed with yeast, honey, and water to develop a tangy flavor that adds great complexity and tenderness to the final product.
This pita recipe does not include any eggs, so it’s perfect for those who need to avoid eggs in their baked goods.
Although the use of a sponge is unusual for pita, the end result will have you questioning if it’s really worth making it any other way!
I love using this recipe in many different ways, beyond those traditional to pita.
It makes a great crust for a personal pizza, or you can serve it slathered with butter and jam for breakfast. Or brush it with olive oil and grill for 30 seconds on each side for a nice addition to your next barbecue.
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step One – Mix the Sponge
This recipe is made using the sponge method, a process where part of the flour is mixed with yeast, sugar, and water. This gives the yeast time to develop a deeper flavor. This is particularly helpful in this recipe because it uses barley flour, which can oftentimes lead to a dense, dry end product.
By giving it time to ferment early in the process, the yeast not only develops a sour flavor, it also breaks down the barley flour to create a more tender pita in the end.
Mix the barley flour, honey, yeast, and water in a bowl. Make sure your water is lukewarm to the touch, about 100°F. If it is any hotter, it will make the dough very sticky and difficult to knead.
Let the mixture sit undisturbed on the counter for twenty minutes.
If you are substituting active dry or fresh yeast, whisk together the honey, yeast, and water first. In the case of active dry, allow time for it to activate, then stir in the barley flour.
After twenty minutes, small bubbles will begin to form on the surface of the sponge and it will have a slightly sour flavor.
Step Two – Add the Other Ingredients
Stir in the all-purpose flour, salt, and olive oil. Once the mixture has come together to form a shaggy dough, let it rest on the counter for ten minutes.
The gluten in this recipe tends to get exhausted pretty quickly. This early rest gives the flour time to become hydrated, which will make for an easier knead.
Step Three – Knead
Turn your dough out onto your countertop and knead for ten minutes. Unless it feels very sticky, it is best to avoid adding any additional flour. Work on a clean countertop, and if it sticks, use a bowl scraper to help with the early phases of kneading.
Fold the dough in half. Using the heel of your hand, press it forward. Rotate 90° and repeat. This is your basic kneading motion.
If it begins to feel tough and resists stretching, let the dough rest for 3-5 minutes before continuing. For a more detailed explanation of how to knead, check out our in-depth article!
Knead for about ten minutes, until the it forms a smooth ball. Perform a windowpane test to check the gluten formation.
Cut off a small portion of the dough and stretch it slowly in every direction. If you have developed the gluten sufficiently, your dough should be able to stretch thinly enough in the center that light shines through without it breaking.
Step Four – Rest
Place in a well-oiled bowl, cover loosely with a dishcloth or plastic wrap, and let it rest at room temperature for an hour or until doubled in size.
During this rest, the yeast is slowly working its magic, munching on the sugars and starches in the dough. If the weather is very warm, the yeast eats more quickly, and thus a sufficient rest might be accomplished in less than an hour. If it is very cool, the process might take a bit longer.
Step Five – Shape
When the dough has doubled in size, cut it into ten even pieces. Roll each piece between cupped hands to shape it into a smooth ball.
Once you have finished shaping all of the pieces, let them rest for another hour. You can let them rest on the counter, or on a baking sheet if you don’t have enough space, covered with plastic wrap or a clean dish towel.
During this second rest, called a proof, the yeast is working through one final push to soften the gluten strands and prove that it is still alive.
While your dough is resting, preheat the oven to 400°F.
Step Six – Roll
Place an empty baking sheet in the oven.
Roll each piece of dough out into 6-inch rounds.
As you roll, you are stretching the gluten into a large, flat net. In order to avoid gluten’s resistance, you want to make sure you roll in every direction. An easy way to make sure that you are rolling without exhausting the gluten is to rotate the dough 90° each time.
Let the rolled rounds rest for five more minutes, to make sure the gluten is ready for its final step.
Step Seven – Bake
Take your hot baking sheet out of the oven. Carefully place three rounds on the sheet and return to the oven for four minutes.
By baking on a hot sheet pan, you are providing heat evenly to both sides. This causes steam to create a pocket inside, and each side cooks quickly.
Be careful when you take the pitas out of the oven – the steam inside is very hot!
Slide your baked pita off of the tray immediately to stop the cooking process.
Put three more rounds on the sheet and repeat until all of the pita are done.
Step Eight – Enjoy!
Serve this pita fresh from the oven with traditional Greek mezze, like hummus, cool and creamy tzatziki, or baba ghanoush. Alternatively, try using it as a wrap for a sandwich, or the crust of a pizza. Or spread it with butter and jam for a tasty breakfast.
Another great option is to brush each side with olive oil, and place on a hot grill for 30 seconds on each side. This will make a delicious addition to your next barbecue.
This pita is very soft and flavorful, I would dare say that it just might be the best pita you’ve ever had! It is simple to make, even for the novice baker, and is a great way to practice your kneading and shaping technique.
In just a few short hours, you can have the scent of this pita filling your home. Let us know in the comments how you plan to serve this tasty treat!
Photos by Kendall Vanderslice, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details.
*Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Kendall Vanderslice
Kendall’s love of food has taken her around the world. From baking muffins on a ship in West Africa and milking cows with Tanzanian Maasai, to hunting down the finest apfelstrudel in Austria, she continually seeks to understand the global impact of food. Kendall holds a BA in Anthropology from Wheaton College and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University, and has worked in the pastry departments of many of Boston’s top kitchens. Based in Somerville, Massachusetts, Kendall helps to run a small community supported bread bakery and writes about the intersection of food, faith, and culture on her personal blog, A Vanderslice of the Sweet Life.