Some form of flatbread practically defines most food cultures: pizza for Italy, naan for the Middle East, lefse for Norway, tortilla for Mexico, injera for East Africa, pita for the Mediterranean. Many are unleavened, made with a simple mix of flour, water, and salt. But some use yeast, and my favorites start with a sponge or sourdough.
Pita is one flatbread that only gets better—and easier to make—with the addition of sourdough starter. It works as well with a weak starter awakening from a long sleep as with a lively one. Plus, pitas are fun. As a kid, my mom bought pita halves to build “pocket sandwiches” for school lunches and roadtrips. If I’d known that baking pitas puff up like pillows, I would have insisted that Mom make them from scratch. My niece and nephew did just that—and then insisted on eating them whole, even though each pillow was as large as a plate.
Sourdough Pita Bread
225 grams water
20 grams olive oil
80 grams semolina flour
145 grams whole-wheat flour
200 grams all-purpose flour
10 grams (1/2 scant tablespoon) fine sugar
8 grams (about 1 teaspoon) salt
Set a bowl on a kitchen scale. Measure in the starter and then the water, stirring until they begin to combine. Add the oil, flours, and sugar; mix until it forms a sticky dough. Cover the bowl with a damp towel; let rest for 30 minutes. Feed your starter.
Sprinkle the salt over the dough and the turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead lightly for about 30 seconds until the dough forms a ball. Cover with a damp towel; let rest for 20 minutes. Repeat the knead-and-rest cycle until you have kneaded the dough 3 times over about an hour.
After the third kneading, split the dough into 8 pieces, roll them into balls, and place them on a floured baking tray. Cover the tray with a damp towel; set it in the refrigerator for at least an hour to chill. The dough can stay there overnight if desired.
Place a baking stone in the oven and turn the temperature to 485°F. Pull the dough from the refrigerator and use a rolling pin to lightly roll each ball out, forming an oval shape about 3/8 inch thick. Leave the rounds to rest for a few minutes while the oven finishes heating.
Slide a couple of pitas onto the baking stone in a quick motion. Bake for 5–7 minutes, until they’ve puffed up like pillows and are barely colored, and then carefully remove them from the oven to a wire rack. Continue until you have a pile of pillows. When cool, cut in half for pockets or in wedges for dippers. Freeze any you won’t eat in a few days, or turn them into pita chips (see below). Makes 8 full pitas.
Tips & Tricks
- You can use almost any flour that you have on hand for pitas, but I like the flavor and texture added by semolina and whole wheat.
- Pita rounds puff best if you chill the dough, roll it from one side only, and let it rest briefly at room temperature.
- Baking stones are ideal for pitas, but you can use a baking sheet. Let it preheat and then carefully slide the pitas on and off it for the best results.
- Let the pitas cool slightly before you cut them open; they’re still cooking inside after leaving the oven.
- Pita halves are great for stuffing with sandwich fixings or falafel, particularly if you’re growing sprouts this winter. Soft wedges are delicious dipped into Baba Ghanouj, Roasted-Garlic Hummus, tzatziki, or other dips.
- Sourdough pita bread keeps about a week on the counter, depending on the humidity and temperature of your house. If you think you’re about to lose a batch, extend the bread’s life by turning it into Sourdough Pita Chips.
- Uncertain about where to get sourdough starter, or nervous about making your first sourdough adventure solo? Sign up for a workshop; I’ll not only hook you up with starter but also show you exactly how to make and enjoy Sourdough Pita Bread.
Twice as Tasty
Pita chips have turned into an American food craze; pair them with hummus, and you have a chip-and-dip combo that seems healthier and more sophisticated than potato chips and ranch dressing. But the snack pairing doesn’t come cheap and can be surprisingly rich in salt and poor in flavor.
Homemade sourdough pita chips resolve all of those problems. A bag’s worth costs less than $1 to make; the dough itself is so flavorful it stands alone, but a few herbs or other flavorings can be welcome additions. You can easily double your batch of Sourdough Pita Bread to make both sandwiches and chips in one session, or simply throw the last couple of pitas in the toaster oven for a quick crisp snack.
Sourdough Pita Chips
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried chives
1 clove garlic, minced
Cut each pita bread round in half, and then slice each “pocket” down the middle so that you have four half-moons per round. Combine all other ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until the lemon juice and olive oil begin to blend together; let sit 20 minutes to an hour.
Whisk the herb mixture again, and then use a pastry brush to spread the mixture evenly over the pitas. Cut each seasoned half-moon into four triangles. Arrange on baking sheets in a single layer, planning to bake in batches depending on the size of your oven and sheets. Bake at 450°F for 5–7 minutes, until the chips are crisp and brown on the edges. Eat warm or let cool for a snack later that week. Makes about 125 triangles, enough to fill a gallon bag.
Tips & Tricks
- The proportions in this recipe are based on a full batch of pitas, but you can easily adjust them for as many rounds as you wish to crisp up. If you’re only doing a round or two for an immediate snack, you can even bake them in a toaster oven.
- This is one of endless savory variations for chip flavorings. Other herbs, fresh or dried, can be swapped in or added. The slight tang of lemon juice can be dropped or replaced with balsamic or another vinegar. Brush the pitas with butter and sprinkle with brewer’s yeast for popcorn lovers, or brush with sesame oil and sprinkle with sesame seeds to accompany an Asian dip. If you were smart and stashed some pesto bases in your freezer, simply defrost a couple of cubes for the spread, sprinkling with Parmesan for the full effect.
- Sweeter options are also fun on these chips. Honey chili butter is delicious with sourdough; if you keep a stash in your fridge, let it soften to room temperature so that it’s easy to spread. Or go even sweeter by shaking cinnamon and sugar over the top, like I do for excess pie pastry.
- Depending on how you flavor your chips, you still may want a dip. I’ve already shared my recipe for Baba Ghanouj; next month I’ll spill the beans on how to make an amazing hummus.