My home is never without a batch of pita. Here’s why: This most versatile bread can act as a stand-in dinner roll, or it can swaddle copious ingredients as a grab-and-go sandwich; it toasts well for breakfast, or toasts extra-well for pita chips to scoop up hummus or throw in a fattoush salad. That’s one little puffed-up workhorse.
Mix the water, levain (if using), and olive oil. Add both kinds of flour and the yeast and mix with your hands until a shaggy dough forms. Cover with a kitchen towel and let it rest 30- 45 minutes. Add the salt and mix until combined.
Again, let the dough rest for 30- 45 minutes. For the next hour, you’re going to do a series of folds to give the dough structure and even the dough’s hydration and temperature. Every 30 minutes, remove the kitchen towel and reach under the dough, pulling up and folding onto itself. Turn the bowl and do this about 4-6 times until every corner of the dough is folded. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes. You’ll do this a total of about 3 times with 30 minute rests between.
Cover the bowl and don’t touch it for about 12 hours. You’re letting this dough rise very slowly. I usually start making it in late afternoon so it can have its long sleep while I, myself, am slumbering away. In the morning, after you’ve meandered back to the kitchen for coffee and some nibble of yesterday’s bread, pull out the kitchen scale and get to work.
Prepare a sheet pan with parchment paper and a smattering of flour. Measure out 100 gram portions of dough by cutting them off with a bench scraper. Try not to tear or stretch the dough too much. Shape each portion into rounds by folding the edges in and rolling them until they are taut and smooth. Place them on the sheet pan, seam side down, but don’t let them touch each other. Also, it’s best to cover this with a kitchen towel while you’re working so they don’t dry out too much. When all are formed, you have a choice: You can bake them or freeze them for later. You most likely won’t eat 2 dozen pita right now, so my advice is to freeze at least part of these. They freeze beautifully, as if their origins were not actually the dry, hot desert, but such as it is.
If you do end up freezing them, take them out about 1 hour before you bake so they can thaw to room temperature. Keep them covered in a towel if you’re going to leave them at room temperature longer than that.
When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven as hot as you can get it. In my home oven, that’s about 550°F, but get to know what you’re working with, even if it means sacrificing a pita for toast. The hotter, the better for pita. Oh, and I almost forgot, you need to cook these directly on stone, so put a pizza stone in the oven. If you don’t have a stone, don’t sweat it, a sheet pan will work. In a pinch, I’ve also made these on the grill, and while they don’t puff quite as much, the grill adds a little extra flavor to serve alongside, say, grilled lamb kabobs and the like.
Okay, remove the kitchen towel and let the tops of the dough dry out a bit. Appreciate this because pita are one of the only types of bread that don’t need the ever-elusive-for-the-home-cook injection of steam. Pita love the hot, sauna like air of a home oven; maybe these are desert beauties, after all.
Find a good work station to roll out the dough. I use a swath of our kitchen counter and cover it amply with flour. These can take a bit more drying, so flour away. Instead of a rolling pin, I simply press these out with my hands, turning them over to keep them pretty well floured so they don’t stick. When they’re the size and shape you like, dust the excess flour and throw them right onto the stone. They’re done when they puff up and create a pocket inside, which takes about 5 minutes in my oven. Watch closely to see what happens in yours.
Keep them warm by covering them loosely with a towel. Serve as soon as you can rip into one. For leftovers, store in an airtight container with a corner popped open for a little airflow. If you need ideas for what to do with leftovers, see the note above.
Savor with delight and gratitude.