Making pita bread
Help! I tried to make pita last night, followed the recipe to the T, but was very disappointed with the results. I was hoping to get a thick, soft, chewy bread, but I ended up with a stiff and crisp exterior which detracted from what little chew was on the inside. The ingredients were very basic (yeast, flour, salt, olive oil), and the cooking method had the dough directly on a 500 degree pizza stone. I did get the pockets to form, but that was the only success. What did I do wrong? Please advise. Middle Eastern grandmothers especially welcome. :-)
I use a dough recipe with a small amount of yogurt, which seems to make all the difference if you want a soft, pliable end product. I think it's from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I also cook them on medium high with dry cast iron on the stovetop. These don't have a pocket, but they do form bubbles, which you can enlarge by pressing judiciously as they cook. I don't think you can bake them without them coming out at least somewhat crisp.
I have had phenomenal success with Peter Reinhart's recipe in Crust & Crumb. He preheats the oven to 475, spritzes the baking stone with water before adding the pitas, turns the heat down to 450 and bakes for about 3 minutes. He says do not wait for them to brown or darken lest they get too crisp.
I have made pits many time over the past few months with results ranging from "I've never had a crispy pits before, how novel" ... to "Honey, how bad can bread be"... to (no exaggeration!!) a Middle Eastern family argueing over whether mine was better than their grandmothers. It made my month. Here's what I have learned. The following things resulted in a pita which was too dry and crispy on top or bottom or both.
(1) I have best results with my rack in the middle of the oven (those most instructions specify bottom rack). This might have something to do with how dirty my oven genreally is (a dirty oven obsorbs the rays, so the bottom gets all it should while the top does not -- fine for pizza, but not for pita). My oven can be set any where between 450 and 500.
(2) The bread should be removed promptly. It can be overdone in seconds (it has something to do with moisture loss -- and it happens fast). To learn where is under/over done and where is good, experiment with one batch. Remove one at the earliest point you imagine might be right, one as late as possible, and one or more (preferrable) at various intervals in between. Invite several good humored souls to help with the judging.
(3) As the bread is removed from the oven, it must be placed IMMEDIATELY in a folded thick dish towel (two is better). Just keep adding to the pile. This also has something to do with trapping the moisture which continues to be lost, without creating condensation.
FYI: I bake mine on a heavy rimmed baking sheet place upside down on the oven rack to preheat with the oven. I have placed the dough rounds directly on the baking sheet with fine results. I now use the aluminum foil to move the bread on/off the baking sheet only because it is much, much more convenient; especially as I cycle many pitas through the oven. I did not notice a difference in the bread (just in the number of burnt nuckles). The foil will come to the temperature of the sheet pan almost immediately. I do not own a pizza stone.
I saw a Baking with Julia episode recently with Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid in which they made pita bread. Can't remember the details, but maybe keep an eye out for the program on your local PBS station. They did line the oven with quarry tiles, but I *think* they baked them on a pan. They also had a method for cooking them on the stove top. Here's a link to the video on the PBS site - there's also a transcript:
Okay, I've done a tiny bit of research and what I think I've found out is: pita is meant to be a bit on the crisp/dry side because it's used make pocket sandwiches. For a softer texture, baking directly on a pizza stone is out as is the high temp (500). I do flour tortillas in a cast iron skillet on top of the stove and they turn out nicely chewy. Maybe that technique will work with flatbread. Lilbug, that blog site is dangerous; makes me want to drop everything and move to the country!
James Beard, in Beard on Bread, had better
luck making pita bread by doing the bread on
7" x 7" squares of aluminum foil, placed on the
center rack of the oven at a temperature of 500 deg.
The dough should be on the soft side so that the
steam will form and make the pitas puff. The heat
supplied to the pitas when placed on a aluminum foil
sheet is " softer " than the heat on a stone or cookie
sheet. Making pitas this way is supposed to give them
more time to puff up before the dough cooks and becomes
stiff. I got this info from a blog a couple of weeks ago.
The author of the blog claimed that this method and
recipe was worth the price of the book. I am unable to
find the site right now. If I find it I will post it.
I have the book so I will be trying this method when I
get some time.
Tyler Florence made pita on a show this afternoon on foodnetwork...sounds just like the way you did it...a basic yeast dough, set aside to rise; torn into 6 pieces and then rolled out quite flat and baked in 500 degree oven on preheated stone...his came out all fluffy and with bubbles/pockets. It was his show about homemade
falafel if that helps; I didn't see the ingredients of his dough, though; couldn't be so very different from yours, I would think!
thats def a tough one. i have had great success making chapati with the giant air pockets using a direct onthestone method, too. but, like you mentioned, those have an entirely crispy texture, not at all slightly thick and chewy like you are looking for. iknow exactly what you want too...damn. i make tons of bread, too...so i feel likei should know.