White Pita Bread
These little flatbreads have ancient and mysterious origins, probably pre-dating nearly every other leavened bread. Now associated with Greek and Middle-Eastern cuisine, they may be a surprising first recipe. Feel free to skip straight to that traditional taster of bread baking, the simple white loaf, but I feel history is instructing us to start at the very beginning. These are not only delicious and rewarding, but adaptable – I make pitas as a healthy alternative to toast (they don’t soak up nearly as much butter) and as a packed lunch, stuffed with all my favourite sandwich fillings. If you’re just starting out, try and use your hands and play around with the dough as much as you can; try to get an idea of what it feels like. When you first mix the ingredients together, it will feel dense and stodgy. After it has risen for the first time, it should be much more stretchy and pliable – this is what a kneaded dough feels like.
- 200g strong white flour
- 200g plain white flour
- 7g (1 heaped teaspoon) salt
- 1 x 7g sachet fast-action yeast
- 270g tepid water
- Oil for greasing
1. In a large bowl, weigh the flour. With your fingers, rub in the salt at one edge of the bowl, and the sachet of dried yeast on the opposite side. Try to keep the yeast and salt apart, as the salt can stop the yeast working.
2. Add the tepid water to the dry ingredients, and mix together until it forms a coherent dough (use your dough to mop up any flour sticking to the side of the bowl). Cover your bowl with a damp tea towel and rest in a warm place for about 30–40 minutes, or until noticeably increased in size.
3. Oil the fingertips of one hand, and forcefully fold the dough in half inside the bowl. Turn the bowl a quarter turn, and repeat until you have removed most of the air. Cover your bowl again, preheat your oven to 240°C/gas 9 and rest the dough for another 40 minutes.
4. Turn your dough out on to a lightly oiled surface and roll into a long sausage. Chop the dough into eight equal pieces. Take each piece and, using a rolling pin, roll them out until they are about half a centimetre thick. You should be able to fit all eight pitas on two large baking trays – no need to grease or line them!
5. Turn your oven down to 220°C/gas 7 and bake the pitas for 5–10 minutes depending on how soft or crisp you like them, or until they have puffed up into balls and are just blushing with a golden colour. Enjoy! Just don’t tuck in too quickly – the pita pouches are full of very hot steam straight out the oven, and if scoffed they can be quite dangerous.
Follow the recipe as above, but add an extra 20g of water and replace 100g of the strong white flour with strong wholemeal flour.
Time spent in the kitchen: about 5 minutes • Time taken altogether: 1 hour 20 minutes–1½hours
Extracted from Brilliant Bread by James Morton. (Ebury, £20) Photography by Andy Sewell