I thought it would be impossible to make pitas from scratch. I don’t know why I thought this, but it seemed like the magical pocket in the middle was achievable only by bakeries and members of the marsupial family. I LOVE pitas. I love them brushed in garlic butter and grilled, I love them stuffed with chicken Caesar salad, I love them as hand puppets. The ones at the grocery store are relatively flavorless, dry, and crack when you open them. Ugh. So I decided to attempt my own, regardless of the intimidation factor. Man, am I glad I did. Turns out it’s so easy, a CAVEMAN could do it. Well, a caveman with the ingredients, dough management skillz, and a cast iron skillet. And an oven. Maybe a caveman couldn’t do it…
I stole Tyler Florence’s recipe off of Foodnetwork.com and went to work. It’s basically just a white bread recipe that is cooked slightly differently. I don’t know how the pocket is supposed to show up. My guess is steam? But then why doesn’t that happen in regular bread? This is just going to have to remain a mystery, like unicorns or Eskimos.
I made the dough with just yeast, water, a touch of sugar, salt, and bread flour-a high-protein flour that makes for more gluten=more structure. I let it rise in the refrigerator so I could go pick up my wedding dress (WOOT!) and a tiara, which I then wore for the rest of the day, including while I played video games. I see no reason not to wear it for the rest of the time running up to the wedding. I LOVE my tiara. Anyway, the refrigerator slows the rise of the dough so it doesn’t puff up too much and then deflate on itself when I’m not there to punch it in the face. I took it out of the fridge and rolled it into little balls.
The balls rested (HAHAHAHA) so that the gluten could relax enough for me to roll it into a circle without springing back like a stubborn little bitch. This relaxation process is really important when rolling out a yeast dough. My little brother keeps skipping it when he makes pizza crusts, and that’s why his pizza always looks like a pepperoni phallus. I took the balls (HA) and rolled them into rough circles. It’s important not to have any creases in the dough when you’ve rolled it, I guess. That’s what T. Florence says, and I trust him.
Then I heated my oven to “center of the Earth” with a cast iron skillet in the bottom. When it had heated sufficiently to melt gold, I slapped on a discus of dough and shut the oven. I turned on the light so I could spy on it. Within about a minute it had puffed into a bread balloon.
I let it stay in another 30 seconds to brown, which in retrospect is why the first pita was ever-so-slightly crisper than one would want it to be. Just a touch though. I pulled it out and it stayed in balloon shape for about 1 minute, at which point it deflated.
There was a pocket! I took a picture with my phone and emailed it to Chris immediately. The exact wording was “Look, honey! A pita! Ha! Man make fire!!”
I served it with a facsimile of a sham of a Panang chicken curry. I call it this for two reasons:
1) I was one jar of coconut milk short, so I had to use chicken stock and cream to make up the difference. A difference I created by overenthusiastically dosing the pan with Mae Ploy Panang paste. Chris calls it May Plow. I don’t know why.
2) I forgot to start our rice robot, so I threw in rice noodles at the last minute to absorb the curry sauce and serve as a delivery system.
It was tasty, and Panang-y, but I missed the traditional version. I LOOOOOOVE chicken Panang. I cut my pitas and put them on the plate with the curry. Chris stuffed them and enjoyed it heartily. I dipped forlornly into my dish, knowing damned well that my pita was 230 calories because I calculated it. Suck, right?
The bottom line is that homemade pita bread is soft, supple, tender, chewy, and fresh tasting. I will never go grocery store again, and I will never deal with cracked pitas again. Screw you, pita barons!