While most Israelis assume that the word pita is Arab in origin, it is actually Greek: Arabic has no “p” sound, hence the Arabic speaker’s “bita” for “pita.” The Jews of Salonika spoke Ladino, a mixture of medieval Spanish, Hebrew, and Aramaic, and they adopted the Greek word pita
– Maggie Glezer, ‘Pita and other Flatbreads’, A Blessing of Bread, p.238
“thick, flat bread,” 1951, from Modern Hebrew pita or Modern Greek petta “bread,” which is perhaps from Greek peptos “cooked,” or from Gothic *bita- “bite, morsel,” from Proto-Germanic *biton-
– etymonline (online etymology dictionary)
The private FB group, Sourdough Bread Baking, holds a monthly “GroupBake”. (Anyone can find this FB group, but only members can see who is in the group and what is posted.) This August, the GroupBake just happened to be bread that we have been making all summer long: pita.
Top Row L-R: Shaping (preheat bbq at same time); Shaped Rounds; Rounds directly onto hot grill – lid down; puffing occurs almost immediately
Middle Row L-R: Puff!!! Basket of finished bread
Bottom Row L-R: Basket of finished pita; look at that pocket
Tom Ford, one of the admins for the FB group, said that he loves air pockets and was happy to say he has “finally gotten to the point where almost every pita [he] bake[s] has the pocket“.
Here is the ingredients list for the recipe he posted
- Flour 514 grams (100%)
- Water 321 grams (62%)
- Starter 299 grams (58%)
- Vegetable Oil 33 grams (6%)
- Sugar 19 grams (4%)
- Salt 13 grams (3%)
For the GroupBake, did I follow his recipe? Surprise, surprise: not exactly…. But, of course, I did follow the rule for the group that the recipe used “must use ONLY use sourdough starter, no commercial yeast”
Did I already mention that we cannot STOP making pita?
Some people might argue that our pitas aren’t pitas because they are breadier than storebought pitas. But because they split open, we maintain they are pitas. And look what we just read in Joan Nathan’s book “The Foods of Israel Today”:
Scarcity of fuel was […] part of the reason that locals ate the flatbread khubz (eventually to be popularized throughout the world as “pita”) was that it baked quickly and required little timber.
– Joan Nathan, ‘Palestine in the Nineteenth Century’, The Foods of Israel Today, p.11
Here is what we do to make our pitas:
makes 6 pitas
- dessert spoonful culture (whole wheat 100% hydration starter) from the fridge (about 40 grams)
- 50 grams room temperature water
- 50 grams ‘no-additives’ 100% whole wheat flour
Leavener, continued (optional for hot weather baking)
- all of the above
- 15 grams room temperature water
- 15 grams ‘no-additives’ 100% whole wheat flour
- 300 grams unbleached ‘no-additives’ all-purpose flour
- 5 grams wheat germ, optional
- 180 grams room temperature water
- 15 grams (splash) olive oil
- All of the leavener, when it floats – showing that it’s as strong as it can be
- 7 grams salt + 5 grams water
- Leavener Late in the evening on the day before you will be making pita bread, put a spoonful of culture from the fridge into a small bowl. Stir in 50 grams water and 50 grams whole wheat flour. Cover with a plate and put into the cold oven (if the night temperatures are cool, turn the oven light on) to leave overnight.
- Leavener, continued In the morning of the day you will be making pita, take a small spoonful of the leavener and see if it floats in a bowl of cool water. Particularly if the weather is warm, the leavener may be quite bubbly but that little amount of tested sludge still sinks like a stone. If that happens, stir 15 grams water and 15 grams whole wheat flour into the bowl from the previous night. Cover with a plate and leave until about noon. If the kitchen is cool, omit this extra step and proceed to the next one.
- Actual Dough On the day you will be making pita, check to see if the leavener floats in a small bowl of cool water. If the leavener is domed but it doesn’t float, wait for 30 minutes or so and try again. If the leavener is bubbly but flat or concave on the surface, stir in about 5 grams each of whole wheat flour and water. Cover with a plate and leave it on the counter out of draughts. Check again again for floating about 20-30 minutes later. It will probably float. Proceed with making the actual dough.
- Using a bowl that is large enough for the dough to triple, sift flour in. Whisk in wheat germ if using. Add all but 5 grams of water, the olive oil, and all of the leavener. Using a dough whisk or wooden spoon, stir just enough to mix it together. Cover with a plate and leave on counter for about 20 minutes.
- Kneading and adding the salt: Whisk salt and 5 grams water into a small bowl and pour on top of the dough. Wash your hands and leave one hand wet. With the back of your hand against the side of the bowl, reach down into the bowl to the bottom of the dough and pull it up to the fold it over the top. Turn the bowl with your other hand and repeat 4 or 5 times. Cover the bowl with a plate and set aside on the counter for about 20 minutes.
- Repeat the previous step 2 or 3 times more. You’ll notice that the dough becomes smooth and silky to the touch. It may also be quite slack. Don’t be overly concerned. Slack is good.
- Proofing: Cover with a plate and leave on the counter. (Check the dough every so often as the afternoon progresses into evening. Wet your hands and gently fold it whenever it has doubled.
- Preheat: Around dinnertime on the day you will be baking pita in
- the barbecue Light the barbecue, close the lid, and turn it to high.
- the oven place a pizza stone on the middle shelf of the oven set at 450F.
- Pre-Shaping: While the bbq/oven is preheating, pour the risen dough onto a liberally floured board. Divide the dough evenly into 6 pieces. Using floured hands, shape each piece into a round.
- Shaping: Starting with the first round made, using floured fingertips to dimple each round down flat. You can also flour the palm of your hand and press down. As you flatten the rounds, keep lifting them up and plopping them down (to make sure they are easily moved from the board).
- Baking: When the bbq/oven is hot hot hot, carry the board of rounds and, using a dough scraper, if using the
- barbecue: place each round directly on the grill and close the lid of the barbecue. After a minute or so, use blunt-nosed tongs to move the rounds from place to place, to account for uneven heat. Be thrilled the the bread puffs up. Don’t get too worried if a balloon bursts as you move the pita and enjoy the show of steam escaping. Even if it is flat, the pita will still taste good!
- oven: place each round on the hot stone on the middle shelf of the oven still turned to high heat (450F).
It takes 5-10 minutes to bake pita. When they balloon up, gently turn them over. Also, move them around from time to time to account for uneven heat in the barbecue and oven. USE OVEN MITTS AND TONGS!!
To check to see if the pitas are done, use blunt-nosed tongs to gently lift them up. They should be light weight and puffy. As they are done, put them into a basket.
:: Measuring units: It’s significantly easier to measure ingredients by weight – less clean up and less frantic rummaging through drawers and cupboards in search of cups and spoons. A digital scale is ideal, but a spring scale also works. If you do not have a scale, please look at this excellent online resource from Gourmet Sleuth: Cooking Conversions Calculator
There are so many variables present every time you begin a recipe: the heat of the kitchen, the ingredients, the calibration of your oven, to name just a few. Weighing rather than measuring by volume is a simple way of eliminating one big variable. […] When you measure by volume, the weight of an ingredient can differ each time. Once you get a scale, you can see for yourself how wide a range of weights a cup of flour can be, depending on how it is spooned or scooped or packed; it can vary in volume by as much as 50 percent depending on who’s doing the measuring, how the flour was stored and measured, and the humidity. […] Another example is salt — different salts are not equal in weight when measured by volume. A tablespoon of Diamond Crystal kosher salt (used in these recipes), for example, weighs only 60 percent of what a tablespoon of Morton kosher salt weighs.
– Susie Heller and Amy Vogler, ‘Throw Out Your Measuring Cups’, Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel
:: Salt: As seen from above, there’s a very good reason to weigh the salt, rather than use volume measures. According to Jennifer L Duque (RevelKitchen), one teaspoon of table salt weighs 6 grams, but depending on the brand, one teaspoon of Kosher salt weighs 3, 3.5, or 4 grams. One teaspoon of salt flakes (depending on the size of the flakes) weight 2.5 grams.
Salt has such a profound impact on heightening the flavor of food and does so in droves before ever tasting too salty. It is the most basic and most humbling seasoning — it enhances rather than adds additional flavors to foods, but its misapplication can easily bite any of us, from the most novice cook to world-renowned Top Chef Masters competitors. Salt can take the form of tiny grains, hefty crumbs, thin crystalline flakes, and many other shapes and densities. […] After using the same salt for a while, we acquire a sense for how salty these rudimentary measures will make food taste and can go along our merry way without fussing with measuring spoons. Switch up the salt, however, and you can get vastly different results.
– Jennifer L Duque, Revel Kitchen | How “salt” can be the kiss of life (or death) in cooking
For more raving about this, please see Salt is salt, right?
:: starter (aka culture): Our starter is a 100% hydration, liquid levain. It takes about 5 days to create. (Please see our take on Jane Mason’s Natural Starter made with Wheat Flour.) Of course, if you don’t have a wild starter going, you can always alter the recipe to use commercial yeast. Please see the following for how: converting recipe for wild yeast to one with domestic yeast (and vice versa)
:: leavener and the float test: In the summer, our leavener can be quite active. We find that with the extra warmth in the kitchen, dough made with it tends to rise very quickly. Therefore, we feed it late at night and again in the morning.
Many people state categorically that the float test is unreliable, useless, and/or “bogus”. I have been tricked when merely looking at our starter – it appears to have doubled and be quite aerated. But it does NOT float. I feed it with a small amount of flour and check it about an hour or so later. The starter then has a slightly domed shape and DOES pass the float test, indicating that it is at its peak.
Here are three reasons that I am a diehard float tester:
[It] might be the case that your starter is rising, but you’re not there to see it. If you feed at night, it might be rising up while you’re asleep, and by morning it has fallen again, so it looks the same.
– Donna Currie, Serious Eats
| Sourdough Starter Frequently Asked Questions
The best time to mix your starter into your dough is when it’s achieved its maximum rise and is just starting to fall, because that’s when the yeast activity is going to be at its maximum.
– the Regular Chef, YouTube: 5 Ways To Get A Better Oven Spring | Sourdough Bread Tips
The most reliable indication that your leaven is ready is if it floats in water, a result of the carbon dioxide gas produced by wild yeast activity. To test the readiness of your leaven, drop a spoonful of it into a bowl of moderate room-temperature water. If it sinks, it is not ready to use and needs more time to ferment and ripen. You can expedite the fermentation by putting the leaven in a warm place and checking again after half an hour. Or you can [feed] the leaven […] [to give] it fresh resources to ferment and ripen. Let the new mixture ferment until it passes the float test.
– Chad Robertson, Tartine Bread, p45-47
I bow down to all those intuitive sourdough bakers out there who are producing brilliant bread after brilliant bread without doing the float test. But for me, it is an important step to ensure that our bread rises rather than becoming a doorstop.
:: storage: Store any uneaten pitas in a plastic bag on the counter in the winter, and in the fridge in the summer – especially if it is humid. (Make sure the pitas are completely cooled before storing.)
I know. This statement to use the fridge is a reversal for me.
Normally, we would NEVER store our bread in the fridge. But this summer it has been exceedingly hot and humid. We have changed our NEVER to SOMETIMES, if it’s insanely hot outside as well as in the kitchen.
If our bread is still too warm to transfer to a plastic bag (it’s still baking inside when it’s still warm from the oven), we keep it on a footed rack with one of those picnic netted umbrella-like hats overtop to keep the furry black fiend from snacking on the bread while we’re sleeping. (We put a metal pot lid on top of the net-cover to act as an alarm.)
If the bread is cool enough, we do put it into a plastic bag, but then just before serving it for the first time, we reheat it to mimic that “just out of the oven” aspect.
To reheat any uncut bread, turn the oven to 400F for 5 minutes or so. Turn the oven OFF. Put the bread into the hot oven for about ten minutes. This will rejuvenate the crust and warm the crumb perfectly.
A toaster works really well for reheating pita bread.
8.8 Storing Bread From experience, any bread-eater knows that storing bread in a paper bag maintains crustiness but lets the bread dry out. Some breads become too tough to eat within a day or two. Storing bread in a plastic bag, on the other hand, prevents it from drying out, but woe to the crust!
The surrounding temperature also plays a role in staling: starch retrogradation, one aspect of staling, happens faster at lower temperatures, such as those you might find in a refrigerator. Below freezing, however, retrogradation (and staling) practically stop. Another useful fact is that some aspects of staling can be reversed by heating. The starch crystals melt around 60°C (140°F), and the bread continues to soften up to about 100°C (~200°F)
– Emily Jane Buehler, Bread Science: The Chemistry and Craft of Making Bread
I do store bread in the fridge, and that is simply because otherwise, in my very warm and humid climate, it becomes mouldy and spoilt in a couple of days. I never refrigerate it warm though. I let it cool completely, slice whatever we’re eating right away and refrigerate the remaining wrapped in cling film or in a plastic bread box.
– Aparna, My Diverse Kitchen (Aparna lives in Kochi, India.)
We have been eating pita for dinner with chili con carne, curry, grilled meat, chicken salad, or dahl. We have been eating pita for breakfast with goat cheese and honey, cherry tomatoes from the garden, baba ghanoush, or just a little butter.
See why we cannot stop making pita?
More about Pita
Aren’t books wonderful?
Traders plying the Silk Road spread bread baking and oven technology from Persia to India, and many local breads baked along that route are closely related. The flat, bubbly Iraqi pita is baked in a clay jar called a taboon, just as the flat bubbly Indian naan is baked in a clay jar called a tandoor. [breads from the Near Eastern Tradition, p.222]
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to observe pita making at a bakery in Jaffa, Israel. […] At the back of the shop were three large ceramic jars, called taboons, each with a small fire smoldering in its base. With swift, sure movements, the baker would pat the fremented rounds into a flat disk between his hands, then lower them into the taboon‘s mouth, slapping the pita onto the hot interior walls. the dough immediately began to bubble and freckle brown in the intense heat. The baker plastered the taboons with baking pitas, peeling them off after just a few moments and flipping them into a waiting basket.
I despaired of making good pita at home until I had an epiphany. Why not heat the baking stone on the bottom rack, then, just before baking the bread, use the broiler to help with the intense top heat required […] With the stone retaining the heat beautifully, my plan worked. The pitas can be baked as quickly as they require with enough heat to actually brown them. The only down side to this method is that the stray flour on the baking stone burns, and so needs to be swabbed off between batches (use grilling tongs and damp rag). You could avoid this mess if you baked the dough on parchment [Pita and other Flatbreads, p.238, 239]
Of course, all flatbreads were originally made with sourdough starters […] This dough bakes into soft and lightly soured pitas that stay soft longer than the yeasted versions. [Sourdough Pita Dough, p242]
According to Oded Borowski, in his Agriculture in Iron Age Israel, even in Bronze Age Israel, the flour was sifted. However, in industrialized countries, where people have a huge variety of foods to eat and bread is of relatively minor importance in our diet, whole wheat flour is not only safe to eat, its extra fiber and more slowly burned carbohydrates make it preferable. [Whole Wheat Pita Dough, p.244]
Pocket pita is surprisingly easy to make and, if the dough is rolled out correctly, the breads should all puff into adorable balloons in the oven. The trick to perfect puffs is to roll out the dough very evenly, neither too thin nor too thick, or it will not form a pocket (it’s better to err on the thick side, if in doubt). [Pocket Pita, p.245]
– Maggie Glezer, A Blessing of Bread
My first experience with pita bread was that of confusion, as I was under the impression I was about to eat a tortilla. Then, my friend took a knife and sliced through the bread to expose a perfectly hollow interior […]
You’ll need a very hot cast iron skillet, pizza stone, or sheet pan to bake these guys so they puff up nicely. If using cast iron, there is no need to apply the lid. [Whole-Grain Pita Bread, p.91]
– Bryan Ford, New World Sourdough: Artisan Techniques for Creative Homemade Fermented Breads
I see hundreds of tiny stalls filled with fresh spices and vegetables, some dating back to the biblical period […] In some shops, expert hands mold and bake ornate artisan pita bread, called aish tanoor. [Introduction, p.8]
Shalom Falafel […] is a Jerusalem landmark, founded more than fifty years ago. Watch closely or you walk right by it. Eat the falafel in the aish tanur, the large pocketless pita. [A Few Falafel Finds, p.74]
– Joan Nathan, The Foods of Israel Today
It turns out that pita are excellent as burger buns too.
And. Who says that bacon isn’t part of the vegetarian diet?
This burger is made with a falafel patty, fried mushrooms and peppers, onions, cheese, grainy mustard, pickled peppers, mayonnaise, and bacon. And of course, there is bacon! Sides of oven roasted potatoes and salad complete the dinner.
» BBBabes are Baking on Hot Stones (BBB August 2021)
» Wild Naan When the Weather is Hot and the Nights are Getting Longer
» Wild Naan for Sourdough September
» Aish Baladi (bookmarked)
» no rise focaccia: turn it into flatbread (BBBwB)
» pita dough made into hamburger buns (BBBwB)
» pita on the stovetop
» pita bread fix
» pita, pita, who wants pita!