My kids love pitta (or pita) bread, those flat round breads that open into pockets that can be stuffed with anything and eaten in your hands, the ultimate takeaway food package. I first encountered it as a container for falafel, spiced chickpea patties and salad, a trendy urban street food in London way back then.
Now I use pitta bread as a freezer standby for lunch times when I discover we've run out of bread. Just pop a round into the toaster to defrost, then spread inside with cream cheese or ripe avocado and fill with cucumber slices or diced tomato, or cooked chicken and salad, to provide an instant popular meal. Recently though the pack of six breads, that I so casually toss into the shopping trolley and then into the freezer, seem to have got ridiculously expensive for such a simple food, more than twice the price of a loaf of bread and they vanish in an instant.
I turned to my Madhur Jaffrey Cookbook, the authority on all foods Indian and Middle Eastern, to see how complicated it would be to make my own pitas. It seemed no different to making ordinary white bread, just with the extra step of rolling the rounds and cooking them individually. Her recipe also makes twelve breads, so I had visions of having six for one meal and being able to stock the freezer again for another emergency.
I should have known my family better. The resulting breads were so delicious - warm, soft and fluffy inside, without the hard leatheriness of the bought ones - that they all disappeared in a twinkling, with just one half-piece left at the end of the meal and no photographs taken to show for it. The softer consistency made them a little less resilient as pockets than the bought pita, but we did eat them straight from the oven. I think cooling and then reheating them, or baking for an extra minute, would toughen the outside just enough to hold the fillings well without losing the inner softness.
Pitta Bread Recipe
450g / 1lb white bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 10g sachet (or 3 teaspoons) instant yeast or ¼ oz / 8g active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sift together the flour and salt. Combine yeast, sugar and 60ml / ¼ cup lukewarm water in a cup and leave for five minutes until it starts to froth. Mix the yeast mixture and 250 ml / 1 cup more lukewarm water into the flour and add the olive oil. Mix together to form a dough, adding another few tablespoons warm water as needed. Knead the dough on a floured surface for approx 10 minutes until it is smooth, springy and elastic. Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with a damp cloth or put the whole bowl into a plastic bag and leave to rise in a warm place for 1 ½ - 2 hours until it has doubled in size.
Punch the air out of the dough and knead briefly, then divide the dough into twelve pieces. Roll each one out to a ¾ cm / ¼ inch thick round and put on a floured baking tray. When they're all done cover the tray and leave to rise again for another 45 minutes. I use a black plastic bin liner for my bread to rise in - you can tuck it loosely around the tray leaving an air space above the bread dough so that it doesn't stick.
Preheat your oven to its highest temperature - about 220C / 450F if it will get that hot. Put a large cast iron griddle or frying pan in the middle of your oven to heat. (If you have a gas oven put it at the bottom where it is hottest). You can also use a heavy baking sheet or cookie tray. Once the dough has risen, put one or two pitta breads onto the griddle and return to oven to cook for 2 ½ to 3 minutes until they have puffed up. Bring the bread out onto a plate covered by a damp cloth to cool off. Once cool they can be frozen in bags. Reheat under the grill or in a toaster.
One of these days I'll be organised enough to make a batch especially for the freezer, so that I have my emergency bread back-up. I think I'll have to do it in secret when the kids are at school though, or the pitta bread just won't make it to the freezer!
Copyright 2007 Kit Heathcock