I can’t believe how long it’s been since I posted an actual recipe! The twelve days I spent away from home last month (in addition to the four I spent this past weekend) have cramped my cooking style a bit, but I’m ready to get back into my routine.
It was my turn to host the Gourmet Club meeting in September, and I chose a Greek theme. Dr. O and I absolutely adore Greek food, but we haven’t really eaten it on a regular basis since our time in Lincoln. (Parthenon, we miss you!) After a half-failed moussaka attempt (the flavor was fantastic, but the bechamel layer couldn’t have possibly looked less appetizing; I just can’t bring myself to serve ugly, especially when it takes three hours to produce it), I decided on a menu of Grilled Greek Chicken Kebabs with Mint-Feta Sauce, Greek Garden Salad, Greek Potatoes with Lemon Vinaigrette (coming soon!), and Pita Bread (today’s recipe). I was particularly excited about the pita bread because (1) I’ve never made it before, and (2) I’ve had such a great time making bread and pastry dough from scratch during these past couple of weeks.
I got the recipe from The Olive and the Caper by Susanna Hoffman, which is a book I picked up at the Highlands Ranch library. I couldn’t find a link to the recipe online, so here it is:
2 cups warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
2 packages active dry yeast
6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup olive oil, plus extra for coating the dough
Stir together 1 cup of the water and the sugar in a small bowl. Sprinkle the yeast over the top and set aside until bubbly, 15 minutes.
Place the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the 1/3 cup oil, the yeast mixture, and the remaining 1 cup water. Stir with a wooden spoon until crumbly, then knead in the bowl until the dough can be scooped into a ball.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic and no longer sticky, about 5 minutes. Lightly coat the dough with oil, return it to the bowl, cover with a cloth, and set it aside in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.
Punch down the dough and let it rest for 20 minutes.
Divide the dough into 12 portions. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each portion to make an 8- to 9-inch round about 1/8 inch thick. Set the dough rounds aside (without stacking them), and cover them with a damp cloth so they don’t dry out. Let them rest for 30 minutes to 1 1/2 hours.
While the dough is resting, preheat the oven to 500F.
When you are ready to bake them, place as many dough rounds as will fit on an ungreased baking sheet without overlapping. Place the sheet in the oven and bake until the pitas are puffed up, 3 minutes. Check the oven, and rotate the baking sheets if the pitas are baking unevenly. Continue baking until the pitas are beginning to turn golden on the bottom but are not at all crisp, 2 minutes. Carefully remove the pitas, being watchful to avoid the escaping steam. Stack the pitas and wrap them in a towel. Repeat until all the pitas are cooked.
Serve right away, or let the pitas cool completely, wrap them in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for up to 3 days (or freeze for up to 2 months). Reheat before serving.
Everything went as planned for me until I got to the point where I was supposed to transfer the individual rounds to the baking sheet. Despite the fact that I floured my surface well before I let them rest, they stuck. And when I say they stuck, I mean they STUCK. Each one completely lost its shape as I pulled it from the counter, which was especially awesome since Gourmet Club was set to begin in a matter of hours. I decided to just wad up the dough and re-roll each round as it was time to put them in the oven. I didn’t think the pitas would turn out because I was agitating the dough, but I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.
Lo and behold, they turned out anyway! I was able to get two dough rounds on each baking sheet, and after 5 minutes in the oven, they were puffed up, browned, and perfect. I used a thin spatula to remove them from the baking sheets and then stacked them and wrapped them in a clean kitchen towel as the recipe instructed. Before serving, I divided them into two batches, wrapped them in foil, and reheated them in the oven at 300F for 10 minutes.
The pita bread was seriously delicious and definitely worth the trouble. This recipe doesn’t produce the dry, pocket-style pita bread you might be used to buying in the grocery store. This was moist, chewy flatbread, which was perfect for dipping in the mint-feta sauce that accompanied the chicken and for sopping up the potato vinaigrette. Mmmm. I think store-bought pita is forever ruined for me.
TIPS: I tried the recipe using baking sheets and a pizza stone; both worked equally well. Also, you can make the dough several hours (and up to three days) in advance if you want. Just bring it to room temperature before using it and resume the recipe by dividing the dough into individual rounds.