Friday, March 18, 2011

Pita, Plain, with Zaatar & Tomatoes

Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami
Before we proceed I just want to mention, how we are all united in support of the Japanese people and nation in heart and spirit. If you wish to help with the rebuilding efforts, please feel free to consider a donation at http://www.redcross.org/ or click the photo above. Let us all embrace and cherish every moment with those who are precious to us.

Pitas, considering how simple the dough is, it's helpful if you know some tips and suggestions for baking a perfect pita. Shape and thickness are key so you won't get pita rolls accidentally. Seal dough with a touch of oil before first rise and cover with a moist towel during second 10 minute plus minus rest, will result in a phenomenal pita. Nothing beats a house that smells of baked breads especially when guests or your family members step in from the outside. Please read the entire post for tidbits of do and don'ts, entirely based on my experience. It does tempt me to one day build a clay oven in the backyard or a taboon.
I made two 1lb2oz batches to allow for trial and error. I wanted to play with it and get it right. Heat and length in the oven is essential. Of course I will give you a very tight range of minutes here between 5-10 minutes tops in a 500F oven, but you would be amazed at the difference of two minutes of say between 6 to 8 minutes in the oven make. I must say even when I left them at 8minutes and they crisp, and get deeply golden outside the pitas were still soft inside. Ovens vary so you have to gauge and watch first batch closely.
I divided the dough after the rise to 12 balls. Now I found out the recipe called for forming the dough balls and letting them rise, then bake. Well the few I baked that way, good thinking I was cautious, came out as pita rolls to my disappointment. I can suggest rolling them with a rolling pin which should be quick and easy but I wanted a free form. If you have kids at home this hands on method would be so much fun.
Well you take one of the dozen dough balls sprinkle some flour of the surface and now on to the fun part, look at your palm. Do you see the part of your palm just below the thumb? In Hebrew we call it a pillow כרית or a cushion. You can put the cushion of your palm to a good use here and the kids will like this trick as well. I rolled out and shaped a flatter pita dough by pressing the dough with the cushion at the palm of my hand. See picture to the left below. It's free style and pitas come out looking mighty authentic. Now it will be the same if you are short on time and want to quickly roll it out with a rolling pin
Now, most recipes I've seen say to mix zaatar and olive oil. I find that method, while cooking or baking, sometimes makes the zaartar darkens and quickly burn. What I find if you brush olive oil first, then sprinkle with zaatar and salt, the zaatar keeps its character and is less likely to darken and burn. I didn't have one single such incident with this method. Now on to the tomatoes....
I know the pitas with the tomatoes are very attractive looking but look a bit closer. Do you see the white ring just around the tomato? The pita baked beautifully, except the dough just underneath the tomato got too moist from tomato liquids and stayed raw. So raw dough is a 'no no'! What I suggest is roasting tomatoes separately and adding them after the pitas are completely baked.
Above left you can see an example of the (no no) pita rolls I mentioned before in this post.
Bottom left pic dough after being kneaded and sealed with oil. Bottom right pic dough covered with plastic wrap after 20-30 minute rise.
Pita with Zaatar and Tomatoes
(approx. dozen)
Adapted from Al HaShulchan Magazine

Ingredients:
1 lb 2 oz Bread flour (3 1/2 cups)
2 Packets yeast (1/2 oz or 14 grams)
12 1/2 oz Water (1 1/2 cups)
1 Tablespoon sugar or honey
1/2 Tablespoon salt
1 fl oz Olive oil (2 tablespoons)
-------------------------------------------------
Extra olive oil
Extra flour for rolling
Zaatar
Sliced Tomatoes
Coarse salt to sprinkle

Directions:
1. In a food processor attached with a kneading hook mix the yeast and flour. Add the water, sugar, salt and oil and knead for 10 minutes. Dough will be moist and shiny.
2. Transfer the dough to a greased bowl with olive oil. Sprinkle the dough with olive oil, cover with saran wrap and let sit next to a warm spot till it doubles in size.
Note: I turned the oven to 350F and set the dough in a bowl on top of unheated stove above. Doubling of volume took about 20-30 minutes.
3. Portion dough to 12 equal size balls. Sprinkle a rolling surface with a bit of flour and roll out or 'palm' (see post above) the dough to approximately 4-5 inches in diameter circle, 1/4 inch thick. You can also shape into an oval or just free style shape. Place on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet and cover with a moist kitchen towel. Let rest for 10-15 minutes.
4. Bring oven to 500F. It's ok if dough is resting for couple minutes longer while oven is reaching 500F. Bake for 5-10 minutes depending on oven. Mine took 6 minutes. Do not let it over golden (see photos for illustration) and cover with a dry kitchen towel immediately after the pitas are out of the oven. 

Variations:
Before baking brush pitas with olive oil and sprinkle with zaatar and just a bit of coarse salt. Can also top with roasted tomatoes on top on zaatar once the pitas are out of the oven. Sprinkle tomatoes with salt and zaatar.

Serve with: falafel, kebabs (ground lamb and beef koftas), gyros or shawarma, addition of Israeli salad, cabbage salad, pickles, hommus, tahini and harissa.

34 comments :

  1. This is like dangling a picture of water in front of someone stuck in a desert! Fresh baked pita is a basic necessity in Israeli/Middle Eastern cuisine but getting a piping hot fresh pita around here... well this just isn't fair Shulie! You've inspired me, I may just have to have a crack at it. Looks amazing.

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  2. I recently made bread that's loved all over the Balkans and looks very much like pita. And, yes, I dream of having a clay oven in my backyard to make the experience even better.
    Great tips and great ideas with tomato and zataar!

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  3. Was longing to bake my own Pita..this post reminds me I too can :) Lovely pictures and very helpful tips too!

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  4. I'm so excited! I've always wanted to make pita bread myself and now I've got all your great tips to help me.

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  5. Having spent time in Israel, I know what good pita is... and boy do I miss it. I also fell in love with zaatar and brought a bag back (does that go bad?)

    Great post Shulie! I definitely want to try my hand at making this

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  6. That looks amazing. I can see why the tomatoes would be a problem but they sure all look delicious!

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  7. I haven't made pitas in years, and given our love of things like hummus, I think it's time to do it again. Thanks for all your helpful tips & tricks, too, Shulie!

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  8. i have never made pitas Shulie, but you make it look so easy that now i want too!! i love the addition of the tomatoes and think your suggestion to roast them first is spot on - beautiful photos, beautiful post!

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  9. The smell of pita baking with a covering of zaatar must be fantastic. Thanks for the great recipe.

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  10. This looks so good, I have been wanting to make my own pitas and still haven't, hopefully soon.

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  11. They're SO beautiful! I love the smell of any bread baking so I can only imagine how great this was.

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  12. Oh yum! There is a deli near here that serves something like this & you've reminded me how much I like it!

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  13. Shulie, thank you for the thorough tutorial. I've never made pitas before but now I've got an edge from you sharing your trials. The pictures are beautiful and most importantly, the pitas look amazing! :-)

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  14. Beautiful photos.
    I love making my own pitas. One trick I like to do is throw in 2-3 ice cubes into the hot oven before I put in the pita. It helps the pita from developing a hard crust.

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  15. Thank you everyone for your lovely comments.Those of you who haven't tried your hand at pita baking please do and let me know how it turned out.
    Leah, that is a fantastic tip. How have I forgotten to do it?! :) Next batch for sure!
    The sealing of the dough w/oil before letting it rise, makes sure the dough doesn't get crusty and toughens up, it surely somehow affects the baking process too. Also throwing a towel on the batch once out of the oven encapsulates the steam and vapor to create a soft pita. Thanks for the excellent tip. Shulie

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  16. Making your own pita...wow! These look beautiful. I can just taste them, warm from the oven. Good job on the tutorial...thanks for the details!

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  17. Thank you Bonnie. Bri, I know zaatar keeps well for along time in the pantry. Low humidity cool dark place helps. Length am not sure but I know it lasts for at lasts!

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  18. Shulie,
    My son always tells me to buy Pita bread but I keep forgetting as it is not a bread staple for me. I buy it sporadically though but eat it with gusto when it's premade for me. Now with your tips and your thorough procedure, i will surprise my son today... (plus my daughterjust came and another one coming today) imagine the look into their faces when they smell and see the pitas out from my oven yum!.. thank you for the inspiration.

    xo,
    Malou

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  19. Mmmmm.. I haven't made Pita for the longest time now. Last one was a pocket Pita and we loved it. all 10 of them had disappeared in few minutes. These look amazing!!! esp. the ones with the zaatar. Love it. I had used some cold water in the oven, just before I had place the pita in the oven to bake. I suppose that keeps the bread soft? creating a "steamy environment"?

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  20. Thanks Malou. C comments to deflate pita some will stick a fork, but I just cover with towel immediately out of the oven. I hope your kids will like it.
    Thank you Soma. Love the steamy environment and your post about it:). The pitas at the top pics were pocket-y:). Great suggestions!! Wish for a professional oven!

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  21. Those are so tempting. I appreciate your suggestions and look forward to reading the post when you put a clay oven in the backyard.

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  22. Shulie, here it is - Homemade pocket pita
    http://www.ecurry.com/blog/breads/homemade-pitas-with-grilled-chicken-patties-a-salad/

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  23. Thank you Lael. A pizza stone in the oven works as well:). Thanks Soma love your pitas and happy my readers can see your beautiful pockets as well as your sugeestions in addition.:)

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  24. I've never made pitas but you make them look so good. I can almost smell them.

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  25. I have always wanted to make my own pita, so thanks so much for this post! You always make everything looks so, so beautiful, and your directions are always so easy-to-follow. Another fantastic post.

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  26. I have always bake my own pita bread, but I do not have a good recipe so well explained Thanks for share. Is my first visit but I 'm happy to come by

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  27. Wow...love that pita bread...looks yum....

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  28. Thanks Megan, Angela, welcome Sylvia, nice meeting you. @KitchenFlavors thank you!!

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  29. Hi Shulie-This pita looks FANTASTIC!I'm lucky there is an amazing Middle Eastern market by my house (think I told you about it). That's where I get my pita...would prefer to eat yours;)

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  30. Wow your homemade pita looks AMAZING! I love it but have never made my own. Thank you so much for the recipe and instructions, I can't wait to give it a try. :)

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  31. Thanks Lora and Linds!! I got two bakeries I go to an Israeli/Jewish one in MD & a Middle Eatern one in VA for fresh pitas when I don't bale them myeslf:). So worth making it at home as well. I absolutely loved baking and most importantly eating:).

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  32. I love how your pita turned out. I tried once but they didn't have the "pocket" after baking although they tasted great. Have to give your recipe a try soon. Thanks for sharing this wonderful recipes and directions.
    Hope you'll have a wonderful Monday

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  33. I love the fact that you're experimenting within the same batch. I also try that sometime, but I usually run out of patience :-). Great tips, especially the palm cushion for rolling and brushing the oil and then sprinkling zaatar. Thanks for the post! And you have beautiful photos! I'm going to follow this blog :-)

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