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.