Never underestimate the usefulness of knowing how to make pita breads. It doesn’t matter if you’re a high-flying executive, a busy parent, or a penniless student, these little pockets are inexpensive to make, take very little time and effort (especially once you’ve got into a rhythm) and depending on what treatment you give them (how you stuff and present them etc) they are versatile enough to go from lunchbox filler, to dinner party, as well as catering (no pun intended) for anything in between.
Please note: If you choose to make the alternative with yeast, there is about 3hrs rising time involved. This is a pain in the neck the first time, but if you’re savvy enough to make two quantities of dough, then after the proving (rising) you can put one into the fridge (if you’re going to make them daily) or the freezer in a bag or container and it will be fine. – The next time, you just make one batch to replace your freezer one, while thawing the other – much quicker!
* For the variety containing yeast you will need:
1 sachet of yeast,
3 cups (384g/13.5oz) all purpose flour (though I have had perfectly adequate results with plain flour
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 cup lukewarm water
Stir the yeast and sugar into the water until dissolved. Set it aside for between 10-15 minutes until the surface is covered in bubbles.
Mix the flour and salt in large mixing bowl.
Make a ‘well’ or a hole in the middle of the flour and salt and add in some of the water.
Gently incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet, stirring all the time, adding the water little by little until the dough is elastic.
Flour your hands and surface. Turn out the dough and knead for 10-15 minutes. When the dough is no longer sticky and is smooth and elastic, it has been successfully kneaded.
Flour or oil the mixing bowl and put the dough back in. Roll the dough about in the oil to make sure it’s all coated, then cover the bowl in a tea-towel and leave it to stand until the dough has doubled in size (this may take up to 3hrs)
Flour hands and surface again and tip dough out. Divide the dough into about a dozen piece and roll each piece into a ball. Set them aside just for ten minutes or so, just while you preheat your oven as hot as it will go. (Most domestic ovens won’t go as high as 260C/500F but if you’re American, or you have a fan-assisted oven, you’ll be fine!)
Note: Slip a greased baking sheet in to pre-heat with your oven.
Flatten each ball of dough out to about palm size and 1/4 inch (between half a cm and 1cm) thick. You can do this by hand, or with a rolling pin, but make sure that whichever method you use, be sure to flour your hands or the rolling pin well – it makes life so much easier!
Pop the pita breads onto your pre-heated, greased baking tray and bake for 3-4mins on the first side and about 2 on the second side.
Remove the pitas onto a damp tea-towel and wrap them up to cool them. This is what gives them that lovely leathery texture.
* For the variety containing no yeast:
In a mixing bowl, combine 2 parts plain flour to 1 part water and a pinch of salt.
Add more flour/water to achieve a dough consistency.
Note: you need REALLY floury hands for this one!
Break into handful sized pieces and form into rounds, approximately palm sized and between 1 & 2cm (1/4 – 3/4inch) thick.
Bake on a greased tray at 240C (or your highest temperature) for up to 10 mins, but keep a very close watch on them.
Take the pita breads straight out of the oven and place on a wet teatowel and wrap the ends round until cool. The pockets will get that nice, leathery outside that pita breads have.
Variations on the Yeast-free version:
Herbs – takes all herbs well. Rosemary sprigs, one in each works well with sea-salt grated over the top.
Sun-dried tomatoes – mmmmmm! works so good with these. – Try olives/red onion/anchovies too!
Pizza style – Passata and grated cheese on top (or stretch it a little wider, top and then roll to make a pizza roll)
Instant garlic bread – butter the top and add some garlic and chopped parsley, then fold the piece in two and reshape. – This results in lovely garlic bread that’s especially good in soup. (Be careful giving this one to children as the centres can stay hot a long time!)
Sweet – dot the top with chocolate chips or tiny marshmallows, fold the piece and reshape – gives a soft, gooey, sweet centre.
Other good fillings:
Sea salt and black pepper – make these about half as thick and serve for parties with dip
Salmon and cream-cheese
Spinach, cherry tomato and cheese (white, Mediterranean cheese works well with this, or Monterey jack) – tip – make sure the spinach is totally inside to prevent it overcooking.
cheese and chive
pastrami, tomato and basil
Sticky chicken – top the piece with peanut butter (smooth pref) and tomato sauce (we use passata but ketchup works) and top with shredded/chunks chicken. – This one sounds icky but is gorgeous!
Samhain – fill with mashed pumpkin/squash flesh (mashed with butter) and add black pepper.
filled with butter and honey they’re good dipped in chilli too.
With salt water – immersed briefly into simmering salt water before baking gives a kind of bretzel effect.
with milk – gives a golden top
with plain water – gives a slightly crunchy top
with eggwash – gives a golden colour
with sweet-glaze – paint all over with water, then sprinkle with a mix of 1 part cinnamon : 2 parts sugar (preferably brown) – makes for a sweet, treat breakfast.