If there is one consistent item missing from supermarket shelves during this quarantine, it’s yeast. People are buying up yeast like never before, and social media has been saturated with home cooks posting warm and fuzzy photos of baguettes, pizzas and banana bread baked from scratch. These longer baking projects have the extra bonus of permeating the home with beautiful scents, while tapping into fond childhood memories. This is the life our ancestors led before schedules became jammed with longer work hours, rush hour traffic, and after-school activities. Slow food has made a comeback, and I feel lucky to have witnessed special slow food traditions as a child through my great Auntie Bahieh who lived to be 96 years old. In particular, memories of her fresh fluffy pita bread transport me back to those simpler times.
Auntie Bahieh had one ritual she maintained until she died, and that was baking her own pita bread. She would bake enough loaves to last a month, and freeze most of them for later meals. She never purchased supermarket bread in all of her years living in the United States. I loved coming over in the middle of her baking frenzy, flour dust all over the counters, the smell of yeast, and the pillowy loaves of pita bread stacked on the counter under a special Palestinian blanket she embroidered in the signature red, green and black. She would always give me a taste of her warm bread right out of the oven, either wrapped around some freshly grilled lamb, or brushed with some sweet and tart quince jam she cooked herself.
Making the actual dough is an easy process, but the patience to let the bread rise between each step is essential to making a fluffy yet chewy bread. The effort is worth it, as bread from scratch puts supermarket bread to shame. Store bought pita bread is especially abysmal, and tends to have the texture of cardboard. These pocket loaves are thicker than the ones you find in stores, perfect for dipping with hummus, or for falafel or shawarma sandwiches. This bread also makes a great base for Palestinian Mussakhan, or chicken baked on bread with caramelized onions and sumac.
To see the video technique on how to make your own pita bread at home, you can click on the video below:
And if you want the recipe on how to incorporate this bread into Musakhan (chicken and caramelized onions with sumac and pine nuts baked on bread) click here:
HOMEMADE PITA BREAD
3 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 envelope yeast, dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water with 1 teaspoon sugar
1 ½ tsp salt
1/4 cup avocado or any other vegetable oil
1 cup warm water
Dissolve the yeast with the sugar into the ¼ cup warm water (make sure the water is not too hot) and combine until dissolved. Mix the salt into the flour in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Pour the oil into the well, and using your fingers rub the oil into the flour to combine. Add the dissolved yeast, then the 1 cup of water and combine–knead to make a ball of dough. If you don’t like to get your hands doughy, you can combine the ingredients in a food processor or mixer and combine until a stiff dough results. Otherwise, knead the dough by hand for 3 minutes. Let the dough sit for 15 minutes, then knead some more. Let the dough rise in a covered bowl and in a warm place for about 2 hours. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Punch down dough and cut into 10 pieces and roll into balls. Place on a floured surface and let rise another 45 minutes. Roll out each ball of dough to 6-7 inches in diameter, adding flour to the work surface if it gets too sticky. Try to shape them into perfectly rounded disks. Place the dough rounds on an oiled pan and cover with a towel. Let the dough rest for another 15 minutes. Brush a cookie sheet with oil and bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned.