At long last it seems Melbourne's run of hot, hot heat is at an end, and as we dissipate into Autumn so too goes the last of the summer veg. A recent pre-dinner stroll between the beds uncovered some cucumbers, a few tomatoes and plenty of greens that needed using up, and since I knew there were also some beautiful backstraps waiting for me inside there could be only one thing for it, souvlaki.
But despite being a regular feature on the tables of childhood I realised that I've never actually made my own pita, and having learnt the benefits of doing it yourself when it comes to homemade pizza, I figured these were also worth giving a crack.
The dough itself is reasonably simple, and while it requires a good couple of hours preparation it needs little in the way of attention. Where the skill comes in is in the cooking, and I'll admit now that I am a long way from mastering these yet. To create something vaguely authentic the oven and trays need to be really hot, and I also learnt that there's a very fine line between perfect pitas that are lightly golden, and those that are just that little bit too crisp.
Next time I'm aiming for thinner and to be on the lighter side of golden, and I'm also tempted to cook them up on a barbecue hotplate for more of a griddled, smoky effect. But these minor tweaks aside I'm happy to report that they're still pretty delicious, and well worth making yourself should you have the time and adequate conviction.
PITA BREAD (Adapted from Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros. Makes 12)
- 10 g fresh yeast
- 30 ml olive oil
- 500 g bread flour
- 5 g sea salt
In a small bowl dissolve the yeast in 100 ml tepid water and leave, covered, for 10 minutes or so, until it starts activating and looks frothy.
Sift together the flour and salt into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Add the yeast mixture, oil and sufficient extra water (around 200-220 ml) to form a soft dough. Turn out onto a lightly-oiled surface and knead for 10 minutes, or until the dough is soft and pliable. Return to the bowl, cover with two tea towels and leave in a warm, draft-free place for 1-1.5 hours until risen by half again.
Once sufficiently risen turn the dough out onto a lightly-oiled surface, knocking back to its original size before kneading lightly and dividing into 12 equal portions (approximately 70 g each). Roll into balls and set them a fair distance apart on a floured surface. Dust with flour and leave, covered, for another 30 minutes, or until the swell up again.
In the meantime, preheat the oven to 220°C, placing two baking trays in there for 20 minutes or so to get them really hot.
One by one, roll out each ball to a slightly elongated round of about 16 cm. Carefully place each pita onto the hot baking trays, sprinkle lightly with water and place in the centre of the oven. Bake for around 8 minutes, until the bread puffs up in the middle and is very lightly golden, then turn over and bake for another 2 minutes. Keep the pitas in a basket wrapped with a clean tea towel to stop them hardening.
** Tessa notes that the pita breads are best baked in batches so that you have only a single tray in the oven at any one time, and that it's worthwhile making a few extra as they freeze well, which comes in handy for when you feel like souvlaki or need something to dip in that leftover tzatziki and hummus.