I had high hopes for making pita bread, even though I knew that it was probably a bit tricky. Sadly, my first attempt didn’t really work out, but I know exactly what went wrong. I’ve had the same problem a few times, in fact – I didn’t add enough flour to the dough.
This probably sounds like a really stupid mistake to make, but it all stems from my bread making history. I haven’t always been good at bread – not that I consider myself fully ‘good at bread’ now, but I do turn out bread that is at least passable most times, even if I have to follow recipes and have the odd less than successful loaf. Anyway, back in the past, I had made a few loaves or rolls, and they’d been OK but never great. Always a bit too doughy, or a bit too dense, or a bit too yeasty even after baking. I was quite put off the whole thing, until the Daring Bakers challenge in December where we made sourdough bread. I followed the recipe to create Louis, my sourdough starter, and to make him into a lovely rye loaf. There wasn’t much skill involved, I just methodically followed the recipe to the letter, even when I wasn’t too sure that it would go right. The end result was a wonderful, full flavoured, gloriously scented rye loaf. I was amazed.
After this success, I tried a French Country sourdough loaf. Again, I followed that recipe, but with a little more confidence and understanding. The finished loaf was impressively chewy with a gnarly crust, and it made possibly the best cheese on toast ever. Admittedly, it was also twice as wide and half as tall as I’d expected, but I wasn’t the only person to get this result from the recipe so I let it slide.
I had successfully made bread twice in a row! It was like the scales had been lifted from my eyes, or like a weight had been lifted from my scales, possibly. I felt confident. The reason that all this background is so important is that sourdough bread has a much wetter, softer dough than other kinds of bread. This give you the characteristic chewy crumb and big air holes. When you try to make other bread, especially any kind of shaped bread, you need a firm dough that won’t collapse into a heap when you leave it to rise.
This is a fact I’d do well to remember.
For my first attempt at pita bread, I followed a recipe from Sweet Pea’s Kitchen, though I split the recipe in half to make a batch of six instead of twelve. I mixed, rose, divided, rose again and shaped without many misgivings. The dough behaved nicely the whole time. See?
I’d been rising and shaping them on two baking trays, and the final instruction was to put them directly on to the oven rack to bake. Oh. I hadn’t really clocked this instruction on my initial read-through, which just goes to show (again) that you really should pay proper attention to ALL the instructions in a recipe before you start it. I knew that my pita breads wouldn’t stand up to being baked directly on the oven rack, unless I wanted them to look like they’d been made by Dali. So I left them on the sheet, but I was pretty sure I knew what would come of them.
The looked and smelled the part when they came out of the oven, which was a consolation and even made a faint spark of hope glitter in my chest. They had risen, perhaps there was just a very *thin* pocket of air in the middle?
What I did have, though, were some lovely, soft flatbreads – kind of like ciabatta flatbreads. I got in amongst them with a knife to make a space for sandwich fillings, and they made a good packed lunch all week.
They weren’t perfect, and I look forward to making some that puff right up and I make into a grilled chicken kebab or a lamb gyro. Confession time: the whole time the G man and I were in Canada and the US last summer, I saw gyro stands everywhere and I didn’t get one, even though I wanted one, because I didn’t know how to pronounce gyro and I was too embarrassed to get it wrong. Gee-roh? Jee-roh? Gai-roh? What an idiot. Imagine letting that stand in my way! It won’t happen the next time. Probably.