Is it still pita bread if there are no pockets?

I don’t eat much bread-bread.  I rarely eat bagels (though I did make them to share with my coworkers a few weeks ago.)  I do enjoy muffins, but I try not to eat them too often.  Before I began this vegan experiment, I ate a lot of flour and corn tortillas with any combination of black beans/salsa/cheese/rice, but with the removal of cheese from my diet, I haven’t really eaten tortillas, either.

I do, though, love a hearty, wheaty, whole-wheat pita bread.  I usually buy my pitas from Whole Foods.  I don’t know what the brand is – I think it might be something local, I’m not sure.  This pita bread is delicious, though.  It is chock-full of protein and fiber in each piece, and just so overall yummy-tasting.  I eat it with: hummus, peanut butter, tahini, black beans, quinoa, lentils, chick peas, vegetables… basically anything.

While nutritious and delicious, the pita breads sold at Whole Foods are not exactly inexpensive.  I usually say that it’s worth it, though, because they are so good, filling, and healthy.  (There are no preservatives, it’s just the ingredients.)  But, then I started wondering… could I make my own pita breads?  Would they taste good?  Would they work?  What is pita bread, anyway?

So, with the help of the ever-trusty Google, I began to investigate.  I found a recipe for pita bread on The Fresh Loaf.  I read through the recipe and all the comments, and thought about it some more.  I looked at a few other recipes and the associated comments as well.  I made sure I had all the ingredients (which isn’t hard to do.  The ingredients are: water, flour, oil, yeast, salt, and sugar. That’s all.)  I continued reading recipes, and saw that a lot of people had problems with the pita bread not puffing.  They generally said that it ended up tasting like pita bread, but was flat.  There was no pocket.  Also, confusing to me, different recipes called for different rise-times.

I got overwhelmed with all the possibilities, and decided to give up and just go buy some pita bread.  But, as luck would have it, Whole Foods was out of my pita bread when I went to the store.  I took that as a sign, and immediately started working on the dough when I got home from the failed shopping trip.

I used 2/3 whole wheat flour and 1/3 white flour (with a little bit of spelt flour thrown in, because I had a small amount left and wanted to get rid of the bag).  I mixed everything together as specified in the recipe, but it was really wet and sticky.  Super-super sticky.  I probably ended up adding another half-cup of whole wheat flour to the recipe (which had called for 3-cups total, and warned that it might be dry and need extra water.)

Looking at the instructions and comments on various recipes, I saw that some people had suggested using a tortilla press to assure uniform thickness, and to help make the dough the 1/8-1/4 inch thick that the recipes call for.  I am bad at using rolling pins (I don’t know why, I just can’t seem to get them to work), so took that advice and used a heavy tortilla press to flatten the pita dough.  It made it a lot easier than a rolling pin would have – that’s for sure!  Since it was a small tortilla press, my balls of pita dough also had to be fairly small, but that was just as well anyway.  I’d rather eat two little pitas than one large one.  (And in fact, I usually end up eating only 1/2 of the large pitas that I get from Whole Foods.)

Some recipes said to bake the pita dough at very high heat in the oven, on a pizza stone or an upside-down cookie sheet.  Others said to cook at medium-high heat in cast iron on the stove.  I opted for the stove-top version.  I had a little assembly line going, with two cast iron pans.

Pita Assembly Line

Pita Assembly Line

Try as I might, though, I just could not get my pitas to puff.  Some commenters said to make sure the dough rested.  (It rested, more than I ever do, at least.)  Some commenters said to make sure the dough was damp.  (I sprinkled water on one side, both sides, and neither side.  Nothing helped.)  Some commenters said to make sure the dough was thin enough.  (I tortilla-pressed those dough-balls to smithereens.  Then let them rest.  Then re-tortilla-pressed them just for good measure.  Then let them rest again.  And sprinkled them with water.  No puffs.)

A few times, I saw the inklings of a bubble, a small, tiny, little poof.  I kept holding my breath in anticipation.  Would it turn into a full-fledged pita pocket?  Would the small air-pockets expand to open up the pita bread?

The answer was, always, disappointingly every time, no.  What you see here is probably the biggest air pocket I encountered throughout the whole process:

Pita with tiny little air pockets.

Pita with tiny little air pockets.

On the many pita discussions I read, the recipe-writers and commenters said that even when the dough doesn’t make a pita pocket, it still results in a great-tasting flatbread.  I have to agree.  Even without a pocket, my pita flatbreads still taste good, and even mostly taste like pita bread!

Next time I will try the oven-baking method.  I will also try the suggestion that I saw somewhere of adding a little bit of vital wheat gluten to help the pitas puff.  (I don’t know why that would help the pitas puff, but I read somewhere that it would.)

The Leaning Tower of Pita Bread

The Leaning Tower of Pita Bread

The pita-process is sort of a long, complex series of baking steps.  But, it is also a whole lot cheaper than buying the expensive pita bread from Whole Foods.  And, it is fun, too.  As I’ve said before – I get super-excited every time I see a pile of random ingredients turn into an edible piece of food.  Yum!

I made a few more delicious food-products to eat on my homemade pita bread.  Stay tuned for those details, coming soon!