Pita bread – Science of flat bread

Sometimes I’m amazed by the shear amounts of recipes for breads. Unbelievable what you can make with flour, water and yeast and now and again some other minor ingredients! After making Indian style flatbreads (e.g. chapati & paratha), I decided to give pita breads a try.

One of my favorite shows on tv (if not my favorite) is Masterchef Australia. I don’t watch any other version of Masterchef except for this one (although I tried the American, Canadian, UK and Dutch version, none of them are of the same level). One of the main reasons for this are the presenters of this show. It’s a great team Matt, George and Gary. So, when George Calombaris brought out a new cookbook (Greek), I wanted it. Luckily though, before having to buy it, we got it as a present!

There’s loads of recipes in the book which look great (only disadvantage about the Dutch version is that it’s been translated ok, but some ingredients are pretty hard to get hold off here). One of them of course is pita bread. Know what’s coming? Indeed, let’s discuss pita bread science!

What is pita bread?

My association with pita bread is that of a Greek flatbread. However, when researchinpita bread I soon discovered a more appropriate description would probably be Mediterranean/Arabic flatbread. The word pita probably origins from 2000 year old Greek and Latin terms. The similarity to ‘pizza’ most likely isn’t an accident, instead, it most likely origins from the same words.

Pita bread is a flatbread often eaten in the Middle East and Mediterranean. It can be filled with meat and a variety of other fillings and sauces.

baking pita breads
Making pita breads, I prefer mine slighlty browned, they will still stay soft in the middle.

What’s special about pita? The ingredients

When looking at a recipe for pita bread (see below), you will notice it looks like a lot of other basic bread recipes. Most of the recipe is flour and water. Then there’s yeast and salt, also nothing special for a (flat)bread.

The addition of (Greek) yoghurt, olive oil and honey is what distinguishes the bread from a lot of other flatbreads.

Honey has two functions in the flatbread: first of all it provides a source of food for the yeast (that is, sugar). This will help the yeast grow well. Second, honey will likely contribute in the flavour of pita bread. Even though part of the sugar will be eaten by the yeast, it’s likely that some is still left.

The Greek yoghurt will also contribute to flavour, though again, only slightly. Since only a small quantity is used it won’t make the pita taste sour. However, the proteins do contribute to the structure of the pita. The fat of the yoghurt will make the pita more tender, as does the olive oil. Fats in bread make the bread somewhat softer and more tender.

Do you really need honey & yoghurt in pita bread?

Of course, I tried it, making pita bread without honey & yoghurt. If it would have been a blind tasting, it would have been hard to taste the difference. But, knowing the difference (so I might have been influenced by that), it the addition of honey & yoghurt did make it taste less like a plain flat bread. Instead, the overall flavour was somewhat ‘richer’.

Also, other did like the honey & yoghurt variety better, without necessarily being able to explain why. Conclusion: you can leave honey and yoghurt out, but it will lose that special touch.

Pita can puff up

Chapati is an Indian style flatbread made from just water and flour. As discussed in the post on chapati, chapatis puff up when baked. The same can happen for pita when made correctly. In my case I couldn’t yet get a proper puff, as usual, these types of techniques require practice and a certain amount of skill.

Greek meal with pita breads
Pita bread with ‘Greek’ filling, sausages and lemon couscous.

Pita bread recipe

Pita bread
Author: 
Recipe type: Bread
Cuisine: Greek
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: enough for 3 people
 
Ingredients
  • 400g flour
  • ¼ tsp salt (if you're a salt lover, feel free to add more, I prefer little salt in bread)
  • 1 tsp dried instant yeast (initially I used 2 tsp, but I found this was quite a lot, if you know your yeast is less active, use 2 tsp)
  • 200ml water
  • 1,5tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp Greek yoghurt
  • 2 tsp honey
Instructions
  1. Mix the dry ingredients (flour, salt, yeast) in a bowl.
  2. Add the wet ingredients and use a stand mixer to make a smooth dough. It should not be sticky, if it is, add 1 tbsp of flour at a time. Different flours give diferent results so feel free to adjust slightly.
  3. Leave in a bowl and cover with platic foil or a lid. Leave to rise for at least one hour, but I've left it for 4 hours and that still worked well (if you're planning on a long rise, add a little more than 1 tbsp yeast).
  4. Knead the dough by hand to press out the air and create a soft ball. Split the dough in approx. 6 smaller balls.
  5. Cover the with a towel and leave on the side for another 15-30 minutes (while you're making the rest of the meal).
  6. Heat a frying pan or flat tawa on a medium heat.
  7. Roll out the dough balls one at a time. You won't be able to make these super thin, aim for about half a centimeter.
  8. Place in the pan and flip once the top starts swelling.
  9. Sprinkle with some oil and continu cooking, flipping one or two more times, until cooked.
  10. The pita will stay quite soft thanks to their thicker consistency and become super fluffy.

Can I raise the dough for a shorter period of time? 4 hours is long

Yes and no. Again, I tried this recipe while only leaving it to rise for 1 hour. It worked, but, the dough was by far not as soft and fluffy as the longer risen variety. It tended to be tougher and hard to chew. Wasn’t bad, but certainly not as good either.

If you don’t have four hours a good option would be to either make it in the morning and leave it to rise in the fridge during the day. When you come home it should be ready to use. Another option is to use a poolish as we did when bkaing these baguettes. It also helps softening.

Last but not least, if you’re really pressed for time. Add a little (about 10%, so 20ml in this recipe) extra water. It will help create a more flexible dough, just make sure it doesn’t get too sticky.

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