The country we are currently visiting in our virtual European Community tour is Greece (Grecia). And this time I can say: I've been there! I shared images and impressions from my recent visit to the island of Samos in these posts:
To celebrate our stop, I made pita, the popular flatbread. I had made pita before, when it was featured as a Daring Cooks challenge some time ago. Last November, we made pita during the workshop I attended at the San Francisco Baking Institute and the experience made me put pita back on my to-do list.
To come up with the recipe below, I scaled down and adapted the one from the SFBI workshop to make a small batch of dough that includes some flours I like, is mixed by hand and is baked in the kitchen oven. The recipe uses a sponge (a type of preferment), so you need to start the evening before you plan to bake pita.
Ingredients for the sponge:
- 110 g King Arthur Flour all-purpose flour (this is the flour I always use to make bread)
- 70 g water at room temperature
- 0.1 g instant yeast [see Note below]
Ingredients for the dough:
- 275 g water at 90 F / 32 C
- All the sponge
- 290 g King Arthur Flour all-purpose flour
- 35 g sprouted whole-wheat flour (the one I use is also from KAF)
- 35 g stone-ground whole-wheat flour (milled by my friend Rhonda from locally grown wheat)
- 1.3 g instant yeast
- 9 g fine sea salt
- 20 g olive oil
How to prepare the sponge
Mix the sponge ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and let rest at room temperature for 12 hours.
Note: the amount of yeast, 0.1 g, is not a typo. This is a very small amount of yeast (about 1/4 of 1/8 teaspoon).
How to prepare the dough (impasto)
Measure water in a large bowl. Divide the sponge into a few pieces, add them to the water and stir to loosen.
Add the rest of the ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until a shaggy dough forms.
Cover and let rest 5 minutes. In the meantime, oil well a plastic tub with lid where you will transfer the dough when fully mixed.
Wet the spoon and mix dough until it is homogeneous.
Transfer the dough to the oiled tub. With wet hands, letter-fold the dough and then flip it to oil the surface (see photo below). Cover the tub and let rest for 45 minutes.
This very nice video on The SF Baking Institute website, while pertaining quite a different bread, describes and shows a couple of important techniques I apply to the dough also for pita.
- Stretching and folding: as Mac says in the video, the stretching part is of fundamental importance in gluten development
- Pre-shaping and shaping rounds
The video is not long, but if you don't have time to watch it all, you can start at 4':30" and watch about 8 minutes until Mac shows how to shape a boule.
Stretch and fold pita dough in the tub along both sides. Cover and let rest for 45 minutes.
Repeat the step above once more.
Stretch and fold pita dough in the tub along both sides. Cover and let rest for about half an hour. At this point, check gluten development by stretching a corner of the dough to make a window pane.
How to prepare the oven
Right before I cut and shape the dough, I prepare the oven (forno).
I use terracotta tiles in my oven, rather than a pizza stone. I place two on the bottom and one on the top (see photo below). Given the thickness of my rack and of the tiles, I place the rack on the level of the oven below the one where it usually is.
Preheat oven to 550 F / 288 C.
Important: check the oven's manual beforehand to make sure it can reach that temperature. If not, set it at the maximum temperature allowed and lengthen the baking time as needed.
How to pre-shape and shape dough
Flour your working surface. Flip the tub and let the dough drop on the floured surface. Lightly flour dough and spread it gently. Divide the dough into 8 pieces, each weighing 100 g / 3.5 oz.
To pre-shape, I gently flatten a piece with the palm of my hand, fold the four corners towards the center, flip and make a round shape with my hands, using the resistance offered by the surface to lightly tighten it.
Transfer each pre-shaped round onto a floured board, seam side down. When all the pieces are done, cover them and let them rest about 20 minutes.
To shape, take one piece of pre-shaped dough, flip it seam side up, then lightly flatten it with the palm of you hand. Again, fold the four corners towards the center, then flip again and roll the round while tucking the dough under it, until the surface acquires a good tension without tearing. The working surface should be clear of flour, otherwise the roll slides on it, while you need some friction to create the tension on the dough's surface. Don't overdo (if you do, the surface will tear).
The selfie-video below shows you how I do it (it's not great, but is the best I could with one hand).
Transfer each shaped round onto a floured board, seam side down. When all the pieces are done, cover them and let them rest about 45 minutes.
How to bake pita
Flour lightly your working surface and roll first piece of dough into a disk about 5.5-6 inches / 14-15 cm diameter. Flour lightly the dough surface to prevent the rolling pin from sticking.
Transfer rolled dough onto a pizza peel dusted with semolina flour. Slide onto the hot stone. Bake for 3 minutes, or until it is cooked through yet still pliable.
While the first pita bakes, roll the second piece of dough.
Slide the second pita onto the hot stone, then start rolling the third one. Wait until the first pita is ready, take it out of the oven and transfer it to a cooling rack. Put the third pita in the oven. Make sure the peel is well dusted, as you want the pita to slide easily on the baking surface.
Continue until you have baked all 8 pitas, but don't miss watching at least one as it puffs up in the oven, which occurs towards the end of the baking and is part of the fun of making pitas.
Eat warm or warm up later or toast (and serve with soup).
Every time I made pita, I cut the first one into half and stuffed it with some of my homemade Crescenza cheese: the resulting sandwich with a heart of softened cheese is the perfect prize for a work well done.
This recipe is a keeper and will certainly bake pitas in my small wood-fired oven soon.
I contribute my pita to the 24th installment of the Abbecedario culinario della Comunità Europea (European Community Culinary ABC), an event organized by Trattoria MuVarA that will bring us to visit 26 countries of the EU (all except Italy) using the alphabet as guide. X like Xerotigani (Greece) is hosted by Resy of Le tenere dolcezze di Resy.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the pita audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]