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~ In Praise of Perfectly Baked Pita (Pocket) Bread ~

PICT2721Last Tuesday night I fell asleep with the television on in our bedroom.  I woke up a 12:30AM (Wednesday).  I know it was exactly 12:30AM because the exact second I rolled over to retrieve the channel changer (in order to turn the TV off) the movie Lawrence of Arabia started on TCM. With 2 1/2 hours of sleep "under my belt", I propped up three pillows, snuggled my poodles around me and stayed up to watch this epic film in its entirety, until 4:30AM.  After all, what self-respecting woman could possibly resist spending the night with Peter O'Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Omar Sharif and a few camels?  Certainly not me!

Images-1This movie is about the life of a British soldier, Lieutenant Colonel T.E. Lawrence and the years he spent in the Negev Desert involved in Middle East politics during World War I. Every time I watch it, I find something in the movie that I've never noticed before.  This time around, for some reason, I found myself intrigued by life at night in the desert... and I don't mean "night life" as in a party.  I can't imagine how Western-culture military men and woman ever manage to adjust to life in the harsh, relentless, horrible environment of the desert...  

150px-Sharif_in_Lawrence_of_ArabiaMuch like this movie depicts, history books have taught us about the Bedouins, who, in ancient times, nomadically roamed the desert in the sweltering heat of the sun.  At sunset, when the temperature dropped, they would make camp, pitch their tents and prepare the evening meal. After putting some meat on a spit to roast, they would mix some powdered grains with water to form a dough, which they formed into small flat loaves of bread.  They cooked these "flat breads" over an open flame in the same vessel they had mixed the dough in.  In addition, by nightfall, the camels-, goats- or sheeps-milk they had been carrying all day in their goatskin or sheepskin bags would have curdled, or churned itself, into a tangy, custard-like substance, hence:  the humble precursors to pita bread and yogurt!

Wadi-Rum-Camel-sunset-1-XLFast forward to Melanie's Kitchen, 2012, & homemade pita bread!  (Quickly mixed in the food processor too!)

I haven't made homemade pita bread in years.  Don't ask me why, because it isn't hard to do. That being said, it's just easier to buy it.  But, ever since last week's movie, baking a batch has been rattling around in my head.  Because our warm, Summer-like temperatures have dropped significantly today, this is the perfect excuse to preheat my oven to 450 degrees and bake some!

PICT2716A bit about pita bread:  Pita is a round leavened flatbread that is consumed all over the world and has a different name in almost every culture.  The word "pita" is a Greek term meaning "flat", but in ancient Aramaic texts the word pita was used to describe bread in general.  Pita is different from other flatbreads in that it has an internal air pocket.  Commercially it is baked in special ovens that reach 700 degrees.  The intense heat causes the dough to expand or puff up very quickly, creating a large bubble of air inside.  As the bread cools, it flattens out, but the pocket remains.  Pita bread is commonly cut into wedges and used for dipping, but, when cut in half, to form two half circles, the pocket is used to hold all sorts of meats, cheeses, vegetables and even salads!


















2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour + 1/4 cup additional bench flour

1  cup unbleached, white whole-wheat flour

2  teaspoons sea salt

1  tablespoon sugar

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder (optional)

2  packets granulated dry yeast, NOT rapid-rise

1  1/4  cups hot tap water

2  tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

olive oil no-stick cooking spray

PICT2715~ Step 1.  In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, place both flours, the yeast, sugar and sea salt and optional garlic powder.

~ Step 2.  Place the top/lid on the food processor and, using a series of 10-15 rapid on-off pulses, combine the dry ingredients thoroughly, about 10-15 seconds.


~ Step 3.  Measure and have ready 1 1/4 cups of very hot tap water to which 2 tablespoons of olive oil has been added.  With the motor of the food processor running, add the water/olive oil mixture, in a thin stream, through the feed tube, until a ball of somewhat sticky dough forms.  Continue to knead, in the processor, with the motor running, about 30-45 seconds.  This means the dough will spin around in the processor for 30-45 seconds.

~ Step 4.  CAREFULLY remove the dough from the food processor.  The steel blade is as sharp as a knife.  Trust me, you do not want to cut your fingertips on this blade.

Note:  What happens next might seem a bit odd to you, and it is indeed a unique way to rise dough, but once you try it, you'll be using this method to rise all sorts of dough.  Wait until you see how easy/mess free this is...


PICT2724Step 5. Place dough inside a food storage bag that's been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray.  Zip or twist bag closed and set aside to allow the dough to rise, until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.  You will have about 24 ounces of dough.

PICT2712~ Step 6.  Using a sharp knife and a kitchen scale as a measure, divide the dough into 8 equal parts, 3 ounces each.  Roll into balls and place on a parchment lined baking pan.  Cover with a kitchen towel. Set aside to rest, 20-30 minutes. This will allow the dough to relax, which will make it easy to roll.  In the meantime:

PICT2721~ Step 7.  Place an oven rack on the lowest third of your oven.  Insert a pizza stone, round or square, large or small, it does not matter.  Preheat the oven with the pizza stone in it to 450 degrees. Fill a spray bottle with water.  Experience has taught me: do not omit either the pizza stone or the spray bottle of water!

Hot oven + pizza stone + mister of water = success!

PICT2713~ Step 8.  Do not knead the dough after this point.  Working one at a time, on a lightly floured wooden pastry board, pat and press each ball of dough into a disk.  Using a rolling pin (I prefer a small one), roll the dough into a circle, about 5 1/2" - 6" round and 1/4" thick.

Note:  I bake my pita bread one-at-a-time, for 3-31/2 minutes each, which, all combined is no longer than it takes the average pan of cookies to bake.  Experience has taught me:  if not baked one-at-a-time, all eight will not puff up.  Trust me, or, proceed at your own risk!

PICT2724~ Step 9.  Open the hot oven.  Quickly squirt the pizza stone once or twice with water.  Using a large spatula, place the disc of dough on the pizza stone.  Quickly  spritz the top of the dough once or twice with water.  Bake for 3-3 1/2 minutes or until perfectly puffed up.

Repeat this process, 7 more times, immediately wrapping/covering the pita together in a kitchen towel as each one emerges from the oven:

PICT2757In Praise of Perfectly Baked Pita (Pocket) Bread:  Recipe yields 8, 5 1/2"-6" loaves.

Special Equipment List:  food processor; 2-cup measuring container; 1-gallon food storage bag; kitchen scale; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; large, white, lint-free flour-sack-type kitchen towel; pizza stone; wooden pastry board; rolling pin; spray bottle w/water

6a0120a8551282970b014e87fd6f36970d-800wiCook's Note:  To read my recipe for ~ Roasted Lamb Sandwiches w/Lemon-Mint Mayo ~, using store-bought or homemade pita bread, your choice,  just click into Categories 2 or 20!  

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos (except for Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif and a couple of camels, which I found on the internet) courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)


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