Homemade whole wheat pita bread, no oven needed

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Even with more than 900 (and counting) posts and almost 200 recipes posted on Just Hungry, there are still lots of things that I make all the time, but haven't got around to writing about yet. A lot of those things take more time to write up than cook, almost. This whole wheat pita bread recipe is one of them. You do have to account for the obligatory rising time for the dough, but otherwise it's dead easy, and your kitchen working time in total is maybe 20 minutes, 30 tops. For fresh baked bread!

The key is that the pitas are not baked in the oven. No need for preheating baking stones or quarry tiles or all that stuff. They are baked, so to speak, in a plain old frying pan. You can make them any size you want as long as it fits in the bottom of the frying pan. I like to make small, palm-sized ones for easy snacking or bringing along for lunch.

This recipe also only requires 3 cups of flour in total. I sometimes get a bit frustrated by bread recipes that call for like 6 cups of flour, since we are a small household watching our collective waistlines and there's no way we can eat that much bread in a reasonable amount of time. Sure you can freeze the excess, but then you can quickly accumulate massive amounts of frozen bread if you bake often. So anyway, this makes 12 smallish pitas, which are gone quite quickly, especially with a resident Bread Fiend in house.

I referred to many other pita bread recipes, especially this excellent one on About.com, before arriving at this version. The cooking in the frying pan concept came from watching naan bread and Chinese flat breads puff when cooked on griddles. A griddle is not necessary though - and I think most people have at least one frying pan.

The recipe is so simple, and I make it so often, that I've committed it to memory.

Whole wheat pita bread without an oven

  • 1 packet (7g) instant dried yeast
  • 250ml warm water (A U.S. cup plus a bit)
  • pinch of sugar
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup white bread flour (or strong flour; in Switzerland use Zopfmehl (farine de tresse)) (Using bread flour ensures there's sufficient gluten in the dough.)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp olive oil

Equipment needed:

  • a non-stick frying pan or two
  • lids to fit the pans
  • mixing bowl
  • clean washed pillow case

Mix together the warm water (from the tap is fine), yeast, and pinch of sugar. Leave in a warm place until frothy.

Mix together the flours and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the liquid gradually, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon. Add the oil, and as soon as it's formed a ball start to knead. (If it's a bit dry, add water drops at a time until it's kneadable). Knead until smooth and pliable.

Put the dough ball in a plastic bag or in a clean bowl covered with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place until more than doubled in bulk. In the winter, I find the ideal warm place is on top of a Big Ass PC case with gimpy motherboard which gives out excessive heat despite two cooling fans. This is one instance where I consider a PC to be superior for a task than a Mac.

After the dough has risen, punch it down and knead again. Cut into 8 to 12 equal pieces. Round off each piece into a smooth ball, and leave, covered with a damp cloth or plastic, to rest for about 10 minutes, on a floured surface. (This resting time I find is critical for the successful formation of the pocket inside the pita.)

Flatten the balls with your hand or a rolling pin to your desired diameter (for 12 pieces, about 5-6 inches / 12-15 cm is good). Let rest again for a few minutes so that the dough balls 'relax'. [Edit: this was omitted before. It's not critical, but if you're having trouble getting a 'pocket' to form inside the pita, give this step a try.]

Heat up one or more non-stick frying pans, over medium-high heat.

Take a flattened ball and put in a hot frying pan. Cover with lid. Leave for about 2-3 minutes, until it puffs up. Flip over and cook for another 2-3 minutes on the other side. Some will puff more than others - don't worry if the puffing is minimal, you can still use it.

Take out of the pan and immediately put into the pillow case. Close up the pillow case. This allows the pita to cool in a somewhat closed environment, so the surface is sort of pliable rather than crispy and brittle. (You can, of course, use a large kitchen towel instead, but I thought you might have fun pointing out to your friends that there's a crazy woman who wants you to use a pillow case for baking bread. And it works!)

Repeat for the rest of the dough. Once you get used to it, you can heat up 2, 3 or more frying pans at once and cook several at a time. I find that juggling two pans is my limit though, or the pitas get too black. A little charring is fine - it just adds to the flavor.

Now let's see if there's a pocket inside by cutting one open.

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There sure is!

(Sometimes there isn't a pocket - the ones that didn't puff much may be solid inside - but you can easily make one with a knife, or just by wiggling around two fingers inside the bread.)

These come out a bit puffier than commercial pita bread, but are delicious - better! - nevertheless. Use as you would any pita.

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