Saturday, December 13, 2008

Whole Wheat Pita Pockets

During my time in Israel I got hooked on the fresh, soft pita we had every day (with PBJ, or tuna salad, or lunchmeats, or pickles...), and the experience really made it difficult to go back to packaged pitas here in the States. So, upon my return I asked one of my bread expert friends for a pita recipe, and you see the result here! This was the third time I made them, and they finally came out with satisfactory pockets:

They may be a little funny looking on the outside, but they are soft and very stuffable. Next time you make lemon garlic hummus (or buy it, fine), try whipping up a batch of this dough. It's not hard, really! You mix it up, let it sit overnight or even more, and then shape it and bake it. The shaping takes a little longer than you expect, so take that into account. But do not be intimidated by the length of this post!

The one part I find difficult (which impeded the development of my pockets a bit) is getting the pitas onto the hot pan; I kind of end up throwing each pat of dough into the oven, praying that it does not fold over on itself when it lands. Until I get a cool tool like the Super Peel or even a simpler wooden version of a peel, or until I decide to use a piece of parchment for every pita to transfer it into the oven, I'll probably just continue throwing the pitas in the oven one at a time.

For me, the funnest part of this is that the pockets just form of their own accord - well, really, they form because the oven or pan is so hot that steam forms quickly on the inside of the bread and puffs it up all together - but it looks like magic when you don't know what's causing it. Bread is so fascinating!

So flour your hands and throw this dough together from the ingredients you know you already have; why not have fresh pitas ready for your holiday leftovers? (hm, pita with shredded turkey thigh, a little stuffing and gravy, lined with cranberry sauce, maybe some pesto...remember that idea...)

Whole Wheat Pita Pockets
From The Bread Bible

Minimum rising time: 1 hour
Oven temperature: 475 degrees or higher
Baking time: 3 minutes per pita
Makes: 12 four-inch pitas or 8 six-inch pitas

3 C and a scant 1/4 C White Whole Wheat Flour (King Arthur brand)
2 tsp salt
2 tsp instant yeast
2 T olive oil
1 1/2 C water at room temperature

Mix dough at least 1.5 hours before shaping, or up to 3 days ahead (dough will keep in the refrigerator).

If you have a stand mixer/Kitchen Aid: Place all ingredients in mixer bowl and mix on low speed with paddle attachment (speed #2 for Kitchen Aid) for about 20 seconds until flour is moistened. Change to the dough hook attachment and knead for 10 minutes at a medium speed (#4). The dough should clean the bowl and be soft and a little bit sticky to the touch. Scrape down the sides and bottom at least once during the process (turn the mixer off first!) in order to ensure that the flour on the bottom of the bowl gets incorporated. Add a little flour or water to adjust the stickiness.

If you are mixing the dough by hand: Combine all the ingredients except for the scant 1/4 cup of flour. With a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until the flour is moistened. Knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together. Sprinkle a little of the reserved flour on the counter and pour the dough out onto it. Knead for 5 minutes, adding as little of the remaining flour as possible to prevent sticking. Use a dough scraper to scrape and gather the dough together as you knead it. It will be very sticky. Cover the dough with the inverted bowl and let it rest for 5 to 20 minutes so that it will become less sticky. Knead the dough for another 5-10 minutes until it is soft and smooth and just a little sticky to the touch. Add a little flour or water if necessary.

After either mixing and kneading the dough by mixer or by hand, let the dough rise in a large greased bowl. Press the dough into the bowl and spray or oil the top of it. Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap. With a piece of tape, mark the side of the bowl at the height to which the dough should rise, about double the original height of the dough. Refrigerate the dough overnight or up to three days, checking every hour for the first 4 hours and pressing down if it starts to rise (I often forget to check and it turns out fine).

When you're ready to shape the dough, preheat the oven to 475 or 500 degrees one hour before baking. Have an oven shelf at the lowest level with a baking sheet, baking stone, or cast iron skillet on it to heat with the oven.

On a lightly floured surface, cut the dough into 8 (for bigger) or 12 (for smaller) pieces. Work with one piece at a time, keeping the rest covered with a damp cloth. On a lightly floured counter, with lightly floured hands, shape each piece into a ball and then flatten it into a disk. Cover the dough with oiled plastic and allow it to rest for 20 minutes at room temperature. Roll each disk into a circle a little under 1/4 inch thick. Allow them to rest, uncovered, for 10 minutes before baking.

To bake the pita, quickly place 1 piece of dough directly on the baking surface and bake for 3 minutes. The pita should be completely puffed but not beginning to brown. The dough will not puff well if it is not moist enough. See how the pita puffs, then, if necessary, spray and knead each remaining piece with water until the dough is soft and moist; allow to rest again and reroll as before (but even if they don't puff they taste great). Proceed with the remaining dough, baking 3 or 4 pieces at a time if using a baking stone or sheet. Using a pancake turner, transfer the pita breads to a clean towel, to stay soft and warm. Allow the oven to reheat for 5 minutes between batches. The pitas can be reheated for about 30 seconds in a hot oven before serving.

To cook the pitas on the stovetop, preheat a griddle or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly grease the surface and cook the pitas one at a time. Cook for about 20 seconds, then turn the dough and continue cooking for 1 minute or until big bubbles appear. Turn the dough again and cook until the dough balloons. If the dough begins to brown, lower the heat. The entire cooking process for each pita should be about 3 minutes.

Both oven-baking and stovetop cooking are easy, so take your pick!

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