How to produce a plentiful pile o’ sourdough pitas

Sourdough Pitas

When I was a kid, my favorite foods were pizza and spaghetti. I loved to eat these foods so much that my Mom would joke that I should have been born into an Italian family. As I got older, I started to become exposed to new foods and soon discovered that the Mediterranean has many other wonderful cuisines to explore and love. My boyfriend’s Mom is of Greek descent. She is an amazing cook and she was the person who taught me how to make a perfect Greek salad. She makes leg of lamb that is to die for. She also showed me that hummus does not have to come out of a plastic container. After being able to share my boyfriend’s wonderful family, I really became interested in Mediterranean food.

One thing you need to accompany anything from grilled meat to hummus is a good pita. A lot of the pita breads available at the store, especially the ones with whole grains in them, have a dry, brittle consistency. When dining in Greek restaurants, I have come across pitas without the pocket that are tender and soft but they are usually made of pure white flour. Back in my bread machine days, I learned how to produce a really good mostly whole-wheat pita. Between my bread machine and my pizza stone, I was set. We could have pitas within a couple of hours. I would make them whenever a good pita was needed and completely stopped buying pitas at the store.

When I started sourdough baking, I wondered if I could make my pitas with the starter instead of commercial yeast. By the time I had begun to think about it, I had already begun to make bread without commercial yeast. I had purchased the “Bread Bakers Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart and Ron Manville and had been fiddling with the recipes so that I could use just my starter for baking. On the page with the recipe for Lavash Crackers was a sidebar note on how to adapt the recipe for pitas. One day, I decided to try to adapt his notes to sourdough. Sadly, doing this produced very few pitas, I think I got two or three. The day I tried this experiment and noticed the small dough ball I was creating, I whipped up a batch of the bread machine pitas too as a supplement. In comparing the two side by side, I can say both are wonderful, but the sourdough pitas were better. They had a far better texture and because of the addition of honey instead of sugar, a much better flavor. I have changed the recipe so that I now get eight pitas and they are over half whole-wheat. We made souvlaki sandwiches this week and the pitas went so fast that I actually had to make a second batch! (Which means frighteningly enough, two people went through nearly sixteen pitas in one week, yikes!)

Sourdough Pitas

2 cups unbleached white flour

2 ½ cups stone ground whole-wheat flour

1 ½ tsp salt

3 tbsp honey

3 tbsp olive oil

1 ½ cups sourdough starter

¾ to 1 cup water

Stir together both kinds of flour, salt, honey, olive oil, and sourdough starter. Begin mixing in water a little bit at a time until the mixture just forms a ball of dough. This dough will be fairly stiff. Move the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for 10-12 minutes until it is elastic and doesn’t break easily when you stretch a small amount of dough. Form a ball of dough. Lightly oil a clean bowl and roll the dough ball around in the oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean, damp dishtowel. Allow the dough to rise and ferment in a warm place between ninety minutes and two hours. Forty-five minutes to an hour before you bake the pitas, preheat the oven with a pizza stone* inside to 500 degrees F. After the dough has risen, transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Using a knife or a bench scraper cut the dough in two. Roll each half into a thick, even oblong shape and divide each piece into four pieces. Depending on how large your pizza stone is, you may be able to work on two pitas at a time. Take a piece of dough, form a round ball and then use a rolling pin to flatten the ball into about a quarter of an inch thick round. Assuming a large pizza stone, repeat this process. Place two pitas onto the pizza stone quickly, so as not to lose the oven heat. Bake pitas three minutes. Your pitas may or may not expand fully to form a pocket. If they only blister up in places, don’t worry. They’ll still be good. Use a pizza peel, or tongs to remove pitas. Pile the pitas on a plate where they will eventually deflate and cool. Repeat the instructions for forming pitas and baking pitas until all eight pitas are baked. Pitas can be stored in a Ziploc bag on the counter for a couple of days or stored in the fridge for up to a week. If you store them in the fridge, reheat them in a 300 degree F. oven for two to three minutes. (You want them warm not toasted).

*If you don’t have a pizza stone, you should be able to use a heavy-duty cookie sheet – one that can withstand high heat. It has been a long time since I have made pitas without the baking stone so you may have to experiment but I think you may have to add a couple of minutes to the baking time.