The mystery of pita

cloud_swiftJanuary 1, 2014

Usually when I make pita about 2/3 of them puff nicely and the other third only partially separates so they can't be used as pockets other than by trying to split them with a knife.

Yesterday I made a big batch - 18 because people were coming to lunch today for falafel - with almost perfect results 17 puffed completely and one almost did but stuck a little near one edge.

I'm not sure what I did differently. I usually make them right when I'm cooking the falafel for dinner and making them the night before with less time pressure, I may have left them sit a bit longer for the first rise. I did get more ahead of baking on rolling them out so they may have sat a minute longer after being rolled before popping into the oven.

Anyway, I felt pretty proud of myself though I wonder if I can repeat the results.

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Temperature makes a big difference. Hot enough but not too hot on your skillet.

Best to have a remote read infrared thermometer ($30 to $100 ?) to check the skillet temperature of your most successful ones and repeat the same temperature every time.


    Bookmark   January 1, 2014 at 5:53PM
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cloud, good for you. I tend to get about a 75% "puffed" and 25% "flat" pita too. I bake them all the same, on an overturned heated baking sheet. Elery bakes them in his handy dandy outdoor pizza oven on the stone. His success is about equivalent to mine.

So, I think 17 is darned good, revel in that success. I only hope you can keep the streak going!


    Bookmark   January 1, 2014 at 9:55PM
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Aha! So now I understand the mystery of "pocketless pita" bread that I have started seeing in my local grocery store. Some brilliant marketer in the food industry found a way to charge extra for the puffing-up failures! One time I sent BF to the store to get pita bread (among other things) and he brought home this pocketless pita, swearing up and down that he searched and searched the whole store and could not find "regular" pocketed pita. I thought it was hooey until I myself had the same experience.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2014 at 10:51AM
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I haven't yet made pita because the Lebanese market always has extremely fresh pita available in whole wheat as well as white. I do want to make it, however. What is the recipe you use?

Do you make falafel with fava beans or garbanzo beans? I make it both ways but use a bit of garbanzo flour when I make it with fava beans, which are my preference. I know some people who say they do not like falafel because they think it is dry, but what I make is far from dry.

Do you also make injera bread? I tried that once and it was terrible. The recipe called for yeast, and I think you are supposed to use club soda instead.


This post was edited by publickman on Thu, Jan 2, 14 at 18:48

    Bookmark   January 2, 2014 at 6:46PM
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Hi Lars, pita bread is pretty easy to make (other than the bother of forming the individual breads and taking them in and out of the oven instead of putting in one or two big loaves.

I usually use my bread machine on quick dough cycle to mix the dough. He says to put the yeast in the water to dissolve, but I just load my bread machine as usual putting in the liquids first then the flours and then the yeast and salt.

I sort of use a recipe from Secrets of a Jewish Baker by George Greenstein.

2 cups warm water
2 packages active dry yeast (I use about 2 Tbsp instant dry yeast)
4 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 cups whole wheat flour (he says preferably stone ground, I use white whole wheat)
3 to 4 cups bread flour
2 tsp salt

Pretty much standard bread making to form the dough - mix the ingredients together using 3 cups of bread flour.

Knead and add more bread flour 1/4 cup at a time if the dough is sticky - you want a soft but not sticky dough. Knead until smooth and elastic.

He says transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and turn to coat then cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel until doubled in volume (45 to 60 minutes). I just let mine rise in the bread machine and leave it for more like 20 minutes.

While the dough is rising, I set up the oven with a baking stone and turn the oven on to 500 degrees F to get it well preheated.

Punch down. Divide into 12 equal pieces and shape into balls. I'm often in a hurry doing this. Last time I was a bit more careful in shaping them with a good cloak and I think that may be why they puffed so well.

He says cover and allow to rest 15 minutes. I don't wait that long. Perhaps 5-10 minutes after forming the last ball I start rolling the first one I formed. Roll each ball into a 6-inch circle.

I find this is easiest to work on several at a time by rolling each one out until it starts getting stubborn springing back then letting it rest while working on the next one and the next - then going back to finish rolling the first one. Then I set them aside to work on forming the next 3 - when they are rolled out, put the first 3 in the oven. set the prior set of three aside and work on another 3 keeping an eye on the oven.

Don't open the oven door until they have puffed (or you have given up hope of them puffing and they are starting to brown slightly) - he says 10 minutes, but I think it takes less time than that.. Then take them out and put the next ones in.

I line a basket with a couple of big flour sack towels to keep the baked pita in - it keeps enough moisture but not too much moisture in so they are soft and nice.

Once they are cool, I store in plastic bags if they aren't going to be used right away.

I got some teff flour to try making injera but I haven't gotten around to it. The recipes I've seen for it call for natural fermentation of the batter - mixing the teff flour and water and leaving it to stand and stirring once a day for several days to ferment. I've had it at an Ethiopian restaurant and it is pretty different from regular bread - sour and a bit rubbery but in a good way.

Darch, I've never heard of making pita bread in a skillet - I always make it in the oven on a bread stone.

Annie - I'm wondering if I'll go back to 2/3 puffing next time or if there is something I've learned so my success will be repeatable. :^)

    Bookmark   January 3, 2014 at 1:28AM
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Pita bread using a skillet on the stove is another way, There are many youtube videos to show.

I like the skillet method because you can make just a few without turning on the oven. You can also have better timing as to when you want to eat.


    Bookmark   January 3, 2014 at 7:37AM
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Lars, I didn't answer your question about how I make falafel. I use garbanzo beans. I soak them 8-24 hours (or if I've forgotten at least for a few hours starting with hot water). Then I put them (uncooked) into the food processor with the other ingredients.

I use a Mark Bittman recipe that includes spices, cilantro and/or parsley and a bit of lemon juice. They are flavorful, moist and have a nice texture. I haven't tried them with fava beans though I understand that was the original falafel (from Egypt if IIRC) and it changed to garbanzo beans when it migrated to other middle-Eastern countries because some people there can't tolerate fava beans.

I know what the people mean about dry falafel - I've had some dry bland falafel elsewhere that are only saved by eating with plenty of toppings and tahini sauce - sometimes they are the ones made from mixes. They only look externally like properly made falafel. Some have told me that they thought they didn't like falafel until they tasted mine.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2014 at 10:59AM
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Pink, we recently bought some pita bread for a night when I didn't have time to make it. The flavor was good but it wouldn't open into pockets at all - annoying. It actually tasted better than another brand we have tried - that one had pockets but with a success ratio no better than mine on a bad day - several in a package didn't open cleanly for filling.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2014 at 11:04AM
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Thanks so much for your detailed instructions for pita bread! I will save those and print them out for my first attempt. I am thinking that I might try baking on a pizza stone and a griddle at the same time. I recently got a new large griddle that I like, and I could make two at a time on that. When I made crumpets, I made them on a griddle, and then I found out that I really don't like crumpets. I do like pita bread, but I will probably cut the recipe in half, as I will not need that many at one time, unless I am giving a party, and that hasn't happened recently.

When I soak garbanzos for falafel (or the fava beans), I use the quick soak method of boiling them for a couple of minutes and then soaking in that liquid for a couple of hours. I usually heat the water up again half way through because garbanzos do not soak as quickly as other beans. I have not used cilantro in my falafel, but I do use coriander, and I have tons of coriander that I've collected from my cilantro plants that I allowed to go to seed. Right now I have a lot of cilantro in my yard (and several bags in my freezer), and so I might try adding cilantro to my next falafel. I was unaware that some people could not tolerate fava beans. Garbanzos have more flavor, but I like them both.

Again, thanks for your instructions!


    Bookmark   January 3, 2014 at 11:42AM
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It is called favism - a genetic condition of some people with Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency. Reportedly it can even be fatal. It is uncommon but the highest prevalence is in people of Mediterranean descent.

I try to avoid the quick soak method when making falafel because I think they come out best when the beans aren't cooked at all. I've had success making them even just starting the beans with hot water and leaving them 2 hours to soak. They don't seem to need to be fully rehydrated though the results are better with an 8 hour cool soak.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2014 at 11:59AM
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