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The Leaning Tower of Pita

The Leaning Tower of Pita

The challenge this month at Sourdough Surprises was flatbreads (defined for the purpose of this challenge as “soft, pliable bread that is cooked on a griddle or stovetop”).

I went with pitas and decided that instead of finding a recipe on the internet I would try converting a non-sourdough recipe to sourdough.  I chose the pita recipe from Bernard Clayton’s The New Complete Book of Breads.

I had tried pitas a year or two ago, not sourdough, just regular ones, and only a few of them puffed up.  I used a recipe off the internet, who knows which one.

Take 1: For my first shot at pitas, I let the starter and the water and some of the flour sit for only three hours, and the sourdough taste was barely discernible.  Since the only reason to use sourdough in this recipe is for flavor, that was disappointing.

My puff rate was good, though, with only 1 of 8 that wouldn’t puff up.  The rate of deflation was not so good, though, as I cooked them too long (not on the stovetop or griddle, but in the oven).  The outsides got hard, and one absolutely refused to deflate, as you can see in the picture at the top.

It happened because the recipe says “Bake for about 8 minutes, or until they are puffed”.  They puff after a little over 1 minute.  There is a big difference between 1 minute and 8 minutes, though, so I erred on the side of 8 minutes, cooking each batch about 6 minutes.

Take 2: For my second shot at pitas, I used the same recipe, but I used the baking instructions from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.  My puff rate was even better (100%!), and the pitas were actually pliable.  I also let the starter/flour/water mixture sit for 4 1/2 hours, and the flavor was much better.

The secret to getting the pitas to puff up seems to be a combination of high temperature (475 degrees F) and rolling them out to the right thickness, which Bernard Clayton says is about the same as the rulers that businesses sometimes give away.  It worked for me.

Interestingly, my daughter kept calling them “pizza pockets”, which I remember was the same mistake I made when I first heard of them as a kid.

So with no further ado, here’s the recipe:

Sourdough Pitas

  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 1/2 cup sourdough starter (100% hydration)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

Mix 1 cup of the flour and the lukewarm water together with the starter.  Let sit at least 4 1/2 hours at room temperature.

After 4 1/2 hours, mix in the sugar, salt, and oil.  Add enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough.  Turn out onto a floured surface and knead 6 minutes.  Divide into 8 dough balls.  Let the dough rest 20 minutes.  While dough is resting, preheat oven and baking stone (or a large cast iron frying pan turned upside down) to 500 degrees F.

Flatten each ball into a disc and roll out to 3/16″ (about the thickness of a gimme ruler), in a circle about 6″ across.

Slide one or two pitas quickly onto the baking stone and shut the oven door.  After 1 minute, check to see if the pitas have puffed up.  Once they puff up, wait 10 to 20 seconds and remove them with a spatula.  They will be pliable but very pale.  If you want, you can brown them a little in a skillet.

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