Pitta1 bread is a flat, oval or round slightly leavened wheat bread. Pittas are believed to have originated in the Middle East, and may be one of the oldest types of bread in the world. In essence they are made with yeast, but can in reality be made without, especially when using fresher wheat, which would contain natural enzymes and probably also wild yeast, capable of performing what is now done using commercial yeasts. They are probably also the predecessor of the pizza, which uses essentially a very similar dough.
One of the main identifying features of pitta is the internal 'pocket'. During cooking, the high temperature causes steam to build up inside the pitta bread, creating a 'pocket' which is retained as the bread cools and deflates. This makes pittas suitable for filling with ingredients such as hummus and various meats in order to make kebabs. However, the pitta bread is often also used to scoop up the ingredients, rather than being filled. When fresh, it can also, depending on size, make a very good 'wrap' for containing other food.
The flavour of freshly made pitta has no resemblance whatsoever to that of shop-bought pittas, and the two are so dissimilar as to appear to be entirely different food types.
For a real bread junkie who wants to eat fresh and only fresh pittas, one great feature of pitta dough is that, once made, it can be kept in a sealed container in the fridge for several days. Each time you wish to make some pittas, remove enough dough, let it sit on the counter-top for about an hour (to reach ambient temperature), then make into balls, and roll out into pittas, as described in the recipe below. It is also possible to freeze the cooked pittas; from frozen they can be warmed under the grill or in a toaster, to defrost them before use.
The recipe is quite adaptable, and can be turned into breads quite dissimilar to pitta. For example, to make spicy flatbreads, add in spices as desired: cumin, mustard seed, coriander, sliced/chopped chillis, finely diced onion etc. These should be added quite near to the end of the recipe. They will make the bread a lot thicker than for ordinary pittas, which will of course require a longer cooking time.
- 600 grams strong white bread flour
- 300 to 350ml water, milk, or a mixture of the two
- 2 tablespoons or more of olive oil
- 2 teaspoons dried active yeast
- 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar for activating the yeast
- 1 to 1.5 teaspoons salt
Makes 12 large pittas.
- caraway seeds
- poppy seeds
- sesame seeds
- dried mixed herbs
- dried oregano
- fresh herbs
- black pepper
- 2 tablespoons yoghurt
- 1 tablespoon honey
The night before making the pittas, make an over-night ferment (a poolish):
Place 200ml of the water in a large bowl, then add ¼ tsp yeast and 1 tsp sugar. Mix the ingredients.
After five minutes for the yeast to activate, add in 200 grams of the flour, and stir well to incorporate all the flour.
Leave covered on the worktop overnight.
Place water in a jug, using a mixture of hot water from the kettle and cold water, to give a temperature approximately of your own body temperature (35°C, 100°F), then add the sugar (or honey) and yeast. Leave to activate for 10 minutes.
Add the yeast/water mix to the overnight pre-ferment (if using one).
Add in the flour and mix well to incorporate.
Knead the dough on the worktop for 5 to 10 minutes until the consistency changes, and the dough starts getting an elastic feel to it.
Leave in the bowl for 30 minutes to autolyse2.
Tip the dough out onto the worktop, and sprinkle the salt (and any seeds/herbs, if using) onto the dough. Fold and knead to incorporate evenly.
Return to the bowl to rise for one and a half hours.
Divide the dough out into 12 to 14 portions, depending on size of the final pittas. Roll into 'balls' and leave on the worktop to rest and rise for 20 minutes.
Roll each ball of dough out to the correct size, ensuring it is thin and of an even thickness, approximately 3mm thick.
Pre-heat the oven as hot as it will go, and once the first pittas have had five minutes to rest, put these onto a pre-heated oven tray and cook for approximately three minutes. Turn if required and cook for one minute or so on the other side.
Continue cooking the pittas until they are all done. As each pitta is done, remove it from the oven and place on a rack to cool.
Alternatives and Notes
Cooking the pittas works best if they each receive an even heat. Because of this, it is best not to overcrowd the baking tray with too many pittas at a time.
Using this recipe, you can make a pitta which is more than a simple container for other foods. The combination of caraway, sesame, and poppy seeds, with some fresh herbs, can produce a flatbread which will go with strongly flavoured food, yet still retain its own flavour. For example, you can use it instead of naan with a curry. Add between 1 and 2 teaspoons of each seed to the recipe, immediately after the autolysing process.
Making the pitta thicker may result in the pockets not forming, but can make very decent wraps. Thicker still, the dough can be used to make the base for a pizza (use slightly more olive oil for this). Rolled thinner, it can make pitta chips, or shaped into extremely thin rods, it can make breadsticks.
Pittas can also be made with part of the white bread flour replaced with other flours, such as wholemeal, or rye. Try replacing 20 to 30% of the white flour with an alternative; any higher percentage than this and they often end up too 'heavy', and won't balloon out, or puff up well during cooking.