Tracy Lee Karner

Particularly Pleasing Pita Pockets

Tracy Lee Karner
Can’t live on bread alone, but I also wouldn’t want to have to live without it.

Okay, so calling them Particularly Pleasing Pita Pockets, gives away that I’ve been watching too much Rick Steve’s Europe on Hulu. His overuse of alliteration–too  many strings of words with the same first sound–tickles me. But these pockets are exceptionally yummy, even if all those P‘s make a slightly sophomoric sentence structure
help! I’m alliterating and I can’t stop!
Getting back on topic, This is my favorite pita--fresh from the oven. It takes about 1-1/2 hours from start to finish; about 25 minutes of active time and a little over an hour of waiting around for bread to raise and bake.
And I’m going to show you a slick way to gradually switch to a diet higher in fiber, which is what nutritionists recommend.
You’ll need:

  • 16 ounces (one pound, or about 3 cups) of flour (a mix of all-purpose and white whole wheat)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (or honey–something to feed the yeast)
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast (and no, I don’t get a commission for sending you to King Arthur’s site)
  • 12 ounces (1-1/2 cups) water

Tracy Lee Karner
Ingredients assembled.

For the flour mix–if you’re not accustomed to a lot of fiber, start with 1 part — (4 ounces–about 3/4 cup) white whole wheat + 3 parts (12 ounces–about 2-1/4 cup) all purpose. Most people (including finicky kids) won’t even taste the whole grain in this proportion.
As you start to like chewier texture in bread, increase the ratio to 1:1 (8 ounces, or 1-1/2 cups of each flour). Later increase to 3 parts white whole wheat and 1 part all-purpose. You could, if you wanted to, go with 100% whole wheat.
But don’t accuse yourself of failure if you (or spouse or kids) never develop a taste for 100%. Instead, congratulate yourself for taking big steps toward a healthier lifestylein which you’re eating 75% more whole grains than you used to.
75%, or even 50% of whole grains in your bread is a huge improvement over zero%. 
I use the European Method of measuring by weight because it’s easier:
Tracy Lee Karner
All I need is a scale, bowl, spoon, and whisk or fork (the thermometer optional).

Tracy Lee Karner
Place the bowl on the scale and zero it out (the scale now reads 0, so you can weigh the ingredients).

Tracy Lee Karner
Add as much white whole wheat as you want: for 25% ratio, that’s 4 ounces.

Tracy Lee Karner
Add the all-purpose flour to make 1 pound. Then add 1 tsp. salt; 1 tsp. sugar & 2 tsps. yeast.

Tracy Lee Karner
Whisk the dry ingredients. (use a fork if you don’t have a wire whisk).

You HAVE to use instant dry yeast if your mixing it directly into the flour. If you’re using another kind of yeast, follow the instructions on the package about how to activate it before mixing it into the dry ingredients. But, professionals use SAF Instant Dry because it’s convenient and it works. Store it in the freezer.
Tracy Lee Karner
I use filtered water, and measure it right into the pot.

Tracy Lee Karner
Heat the water to the correct temperature for your yeast–the package says what the right temperature is.

You don’t HAVE to heat the water–skip this step if you want to. But, it will take twice as long for your bread to raise–probably 1-1/2 hours instead of 45 minutes.
Because I’m impatient, I’m shooting for  between 95-110 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don’t have a food thermometer, that’s the temperature of a hot tub–too hot for a small child. (But food thermometers are inexpensive and very useful, and they last a long time. Maybe you’ll want to pick one up).
Tracy Lee Karner
Pour the water into the dry ingredients, stir…

Tracy Lee Karner
Weighing the ingredients makes it foolproof.

If you’re measuring by volume, you might need to add more flour, or water, as necessary, to make it come together without being too sticky to handle. When it comes together, the dough should not stick to your hands, and it will be lumpy.
Tracy Lee Karner
Now knead. Enjoy the process.

Tracy Lee Karner
Always put love into your bread dough. People can feel when food has love in it.

After the dough feels smooth, cover and let rise until double.
Tracy Lee Karner
I put a drop of olive oil in the bowl (1/2 tsp), and roll the dough in it before covering.

Tracy Lee Karner
A damp cloth or paper towel, or plastic wrap keeps dough from drying.

In my kitchen, using instant dry yeast, it usually takes about 45 minutes for the bread dough to raise (double its original mass), but it varies by temperature of the kitchen and type of yeast, and how often you make bread. We make all of our bread, there is more yeast is living in our kitchen, and our bread raises better/faster than it used to.
Tracy Lee Karner
Gather the dough (it will deflate), and divide it into 8 parts.

A scale is really handy for this–I measured the whole mass, in grams, (720, divided by 8, 90 grams each).
Tracy Lee Karner
Form each into a smooth ball.

And, now, preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. It needs to be fully hot before you put the pita in.
Tracy Lee Karner
Cover the dough balls and let stand for fifteen minutes.

I use a baking stone on the lowest rack to bake pita and hearth bread (and pizza/flatbread). If you don’t have a stone, a cookie sheet will do.
Tracy Lee Karner
Roll out the first 4 pitas into 6-inch diameter circles.

Place the pitas on the cookie sheet, or parchment paper. I decided to try out Ken’s professional baking gear–the bread peals.
Tracy Lee Karner
If you don’t have baker’s peals, you can cut the parchment into 4 squares and transfer the pitas to the oven/stone with a large spatula.

Tracy Lee Karner
I’m thinking I’m slick because I can transfer 4 pitas at once–the parchment slides right off the peal, but the dough would stick to it.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until puffed and brownish. I baked 4 at-a-time; and while the first batch was baking I rolled out the remaining 4.
Ken said using bread peals was easy–but forgot to mention that like driving a car, it becomes easy after you’ve had some instruction and practice. Taking them out was trickier. The back one fell of the peel, slipped behind the oven rack, hit the heating element and poof, burst into flames. I screamed.
Ken, the pita is on fire!
Mr. Non-plussed, who worked many years in a professional kitchen, where, evidently, things regularly burst into flames, calmly walked into the kitchen, thoughtfully grabbed a potholder and a long tong, calmly pulled out the oven rack, carefully picked up the flaming pita, put it in the sink and turned on the faucet.
Tracy Lee Karner
75% of the first batch was perfect!

So, I learned what to do if that ever happens again.  But it shouldn’t happen again.  From now on, I’m going to use a long tong to take pitas out of the oven.
Wrap the warm pitas in a towel…
Tracy Lee Karner
…and place the wrapped pitas in a paper bag (or under a large bowl) for 15 minutes.

If you don’t wrap and steam the pitas, they’ll get crispy. Then, instead of pocket bread, you’ll end up with thick, crunchy (and not very good) crackers.
Fill your pitas with gyro patties and tzaziki sauce (recipes coming soon on this blog), or make an attractive and low-calorie but immensely satisfying (and nutritionally balanced) lunch plate like this one:
Tracy Lee Karner
A satisfying lunch for nibblers: pita, hummus, almonds, black grapes, red pepper and carrots sticks, romaine, and milk (or soy milk).

There is no bread as good as freshly-baked bread! Of course it takes time; but I LOVE to bake bread.