As a society we are getting better at buying, eating and appreciating proper bread. In the UK, the seemingly unquenchable lust for sourdough and various campaigns such as the Real Bread Campaign have highlighted what proper bread should be made of; simply flour, water, yeast and salt. It should not contain e-numbers, vegetable fat or dextrose to make it last for weeks. Many of those who love their food, love proper bread.
What I think is strange is that while many people have embraced traditional and well-made bread, many other bread products are not given the same treatment. Of course, it’s fairly easy to find beautiful artisan focaccia, muffins and baguettes in delis, farmers markets and bakeries, but one item that it is almost impossible to find freshly made is pitta bread. Pitta is probably one of the most bastardised bread products you can buy in the supermarket and even smart delis nearly always only stock pre-made packets. Some are much better than others, such as Dina. The reason for this is probably because the only addition ingredient to these pittas to the list above is a preservative called calcium propionate.
If you think about it too much, as I tend to do about these kind of things, it seems a hard thing to make (how do you get that pocket?) and it’s so easy to sling a packet in your trolley. However, if you have never tasted pitta bread straight from the oven you will never believe how pillowy light, fluffy and utterly delicious it is. It is so completely different from the tough breads in a packet. The other things are that they are so quick to make and freeze brilliantly, so you can make a big batch and then have them whenever you need them. Which will be often.
I was a pitta-making virgin a couple of years ago, but after thinking about how much pitta we eat in my house-with everything from houmous to kofte to pretty much every recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi, I thought I would give it a go. I know this is a very bold statement, but I promise that if you start making these regularly, you will never buy a packet of supermarket pitta bread again.
This recipe is adapted from the quite miraculous book by husband-and-wife team Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer who run several London restaurants, including the fabulous Honey & Co. In their recipe they state that all you need is ‘faith in heat and air’. It sounds annoyingly simple, but it really is as basic as that. I omit the sugar and the olive oil from their original recipe; at first on the basis it was healthier and then later as it didn’t seem to make any different to the end product. The only thing I would recommend is making the effort to seek out fresh yeast (many supermarkets stock it at their bakery counters if you just ask). I have made this recipe with fresh and dried yeast and fresh wins every time. If you are using dried yeast, you do need the sugar to activate it, but otherwise I would leave it out.
Making this recipe is so exciting-even after all the times I have made these, I still get a thrill looking through the oven door to see them inflate as they cook. It’s like some tiny being is magically blowing into them like a balloon.
The other wonderful thing about this recipe is that it is really adaptable; you can add so many things to it to customise the bread. At the moment, I like adding a heaped tablespoon of nigella seeds in with the flour, but you can add black onion, cumin or mustard seeds to the mix, dried chilli flakes and dried thyme also works well, or leave them plain. Any way you choose to make them, they are a little piece of fluffy heaven.
makes about 10
500g strong bread flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
20g fresh yeast or 2tsp of dried yeast
1tsp sugar (if using dried yeast)
300ml of water at room temperature.
1 heaped tbs of nigella, cumin, onion or mustard seeds, or whatever else you fancy (optional)
1. Place the flour in a large bowl along with the salt and seeds if you are using.
2. Dissolve the yeast into the water and add the sugar if you are using dried yeast.
3. Add the yeasty water to the flour mixture. Mix on a medium speed with a bread hook for about 8 minutes if you have a machine. Otherwise, bring the mixture together and knead it until it is smooth. You may need to add a little more water dependent on the flour you are using.
4. Cover the bowl with cling film or shower cap and leave to rest in a warm place for about an hour. The dough will double in size and look puffy on the surface.
5. Scoop the dough out of the bowl and place on a floured surface. Separate the dough into even pieces weighing about 80g each.
6. Roll each piece of dough into a ball shape against the worktop until it feels tight. Now cover the balls with a clean tea towel and leave to rest for another 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to the highest setting it will go to. Put a heavy baking sheet on the top shelf.
7. Roll out two balls so they are about 1 cm thick. I like to roll them into a slipper shape, but you can make them round if you prefer.
8. Place on a well floured pizza peel or a chopping board and slide onto the preheated baking tray. The pittas will quickly inflate-it only takes a moment. Once they are fully inflated, take them out of the oven and place inside a clean tea towel to keep warm.
9. Continue until all the pittas are cooked. Enjoy immediately, or wait until cooled before freezing.