Well, the sun is beaming down and I am in the mood for Pitta bread (Paul spells it Pitta rather than the more commonplace Pita, so I will for the sake of continuity). I already have quite a few recipes that I use so I thought I would kill two birds with one stone today – make pittas and try the recipe in his book.
A few things to think about before I started; number one amongst them being the heat. This is going to be a very fast prove and Paul says to use 30g of fresh yeast (normally I would make this 25g dried yeast but because of the heat I went for 20g instead). Another thing is that my wife and M.D. are home and have no interest in wasting the lovely weather waiting for the bread. I decided to give us more time out in the sun by leaving the dough to prove in the fridge.
Mixing and Kneading
I’m getting bored of writing it, you must be bored of reading it, but once again: white flour=easy knead. The dough was soft and pliable, due to the use of oil rather than butter, making this a one-hand job. The kneading does not take long and it is quickly ready to pop in the fridge. The only variations to a normal white bread are the high amounts of yeast, the use of sugar and the olive oil.
There is of course one drawback to putting dough in the fridge, it gets cold – as stupid as that sounds. This made the knocking back and shaping very laborious, more so than need be. If I wasn’t on such a time scale I may have taken the dough out of the fridge for a while before shaping.
To shape, the dough was split into 9 balls. Each was then flattened and rolled out into a pitta shape at 1cm thick. Once ready the oven was pre-heated to maximum (240 on our oven).
There are two important factors to getting your pitta to ‘puff’ as it is supposed to. The first is in the shaping; make sure you get the dough very thin! The second is to make sure the baking trays were in the pre-heating oven so that when the dough is put on them it immediately starts to cook. If you get these two elements right, you will be able to watch the magic that occurs in the oven.
Paul says to bake for 5-10 mins but this is entirely dependent on your oven. My breads took 2-3 mins before they began to take on colour. Once they have browned slightly, they are done.
What I really like about pitta bread is the simplicity of the whole process. It is a very basic dough recipe (the sugar if not even necessary is you prefer a more savoury flavour) and your just need a hot oven. Start to finish can time in as little as an hour and a half. They are brilliant and useful, they were already a staple in our house so this has just reaffirmed their role.
History of Bread
As you may or may not know, whilst Europe was in the midst of the so-called ‘Dark Age’, Islamic culture was not only flourishing but pushing the Classical knowledge inherited from Ancient Greece and Rome. So, as they are often ignored as part of European culture I have decided to share a 10th Century Islamic Cookbook which discusses bread (and flatbreads at that.) [Actually according to good old Wiki these are Pita breads but that is not verifiable unless you try and make them . . . hmmm now there is a thought.]
“Wheat bread agrees with almost everybody, particularly varieties made with a generous amount of yeast and salt and allowed to fully ferment and bake well. Such breads are lighter and digest faster.” Ibn Sayyār al-Warrāq, Annals of the Caliphs’ Kitchens, p.118
The chapter in which this quote sits breaks down the different ingredients, medical/scientific theory behind the digesting of bread, and then gives a variety of bread recipes. It is worth a look if you are interested in traditional or cultural breads.