I was fascinated the first time I made pita and actually saw it puff into a balloon in the oven during its short baking time. Pita is fun to make for a small, casual party. If your kitchen is large enough, let the guests help bake the bread while you attend to other things.
Makes twelve 7-inch pita breads
4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water, about 110˚F
2 tablespoons olive oil
Cornmeal for transferring breads
Baking stone or an oven rack covered with 2 inverted jelly-roll pans or cookie sheets side by side
- Stir together the flour and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the yeast into the water, then whisk in the oil. Use a large rubber spatula to stir the liquid into the flour, continuing to stir until the dough is evenly moistened.
- Place the bowl on the mixer with the dough hook and mix on lowest speed for 2 minutes. Stop the mixer and let the dough rest for 10 minutes.
- Mix the dough on medium speed for 2 minutes, or until it is smooth and elastic. Scrape the dough into an oiled bowl and turn the dough over so that the top is oiled. Press plastic wrap against the surface of the dough and let the dough rise until it has doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
- Scrape the dough out onto a floured work surface and press it into a disk. Cut the disk onto 12 wedges. Round each wedge into a ball, rolling it under your cupped hand to stretch a smooth even skin around the ball of dough.
- Line up the balls of dough next to each other and cover them with a towel or a piece of oiled plastic wrap. Let the pieces of dough rest for 15 minutes.
- In the meantime, set a rack in the middle level of the oven and place the baking stone or inverted cookie sheets or jelly-roll pans on it. Preheat the oven to 500˚F.
- While the oven is heating, roll each piece of dough out to a 7-inch disk using a rolling pin and pressing very hard because the dough resists. If the dough is very uncooperative, roll each disk as much as you can, then set aside, overlapping the disks in order as you go. After you reach the last disk, go back to the first one and roll it again, then repeat with the others in order—this may be the only way to get the pieces of dough thin enough.
- Cover the pieces of dough with a cloth or plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes.
- Cover a peel or stiff piece of cardboard with cornmeal. Transfer as many pieces of dough as you can fit into the oven at the same time to the peel. Use the peel to transfer the breads to the heated pan or baking stone, pulling it away with a quick sharp movement.
- Bake for 2 to 4 minutes, or until the breads are well puffed and golden. Bake as many of the disks of dough at a time as will fit in the oven without overlapping—it is better to bake fewer at a time and have them puff successfully than to stuff them in the oven.
- Transfer the pita to racks as they are baked—they will deflate, but will remain open on the inside. Continue until you have baked all the pieces of dough.