Where’s the pop in my pita?

Have you ever made pita bread? It’s a great example of the Endless Quest for Success that baking can sometimes be.

Most of the things I bake are pretty reliable. If they’re not, I stop fussing and move on. But there are two things I bake that are a roll of the dice every single time: Popovers, and pita.

If you’ve ever played golf, popovers and pita are just like the perfect drive. Eyes on the ball, slow backswing, weight shift… and there it goes, the ball making a perfect 250-yard parabola down the middle of the fairway. “Ah, yes,” I think to myself. “NOW I’ve got it.”

And I step up at the next hole, do the VERY SAME THINGS I did not 15 minutes before, and shank one about 30 yards into the water.

I’ve tried every popover method possible. Making batter in a blender (vs. mixer); letting it rest (vs. not). Into a cold oven; into a hot oven. Peeking; not peeking. Aluminum pan, cast iron, silicone. Sometimes they pop; sometimes they just lie there like a puddle of cream-colored mud. And I swear they’re laughing at me. “HA—and you call yourself a baker…”

Pitas do the same thing. When I lived in Maine and baked in a big old cast-iron Garland gas oven, my pitas popped like crazy. They looked like little balloons in the oven, barely able to contain all of that steamy air in their thinly stretched skins.

But here, using an electric oven, my pitas lie quietly on their pan, rising just a half an inch or so. Just so I know that yeah, the yeast is working. But something else isn’t. Oh sure, the occasional pita will pop pretty nicely. But it’s so random… With three pitas on a pan, one pops, two don’t. I mean, what’s up with that? I can’t figure it out.

But I keep trying. And in the meantime, even when my pita doesn’t pop, it’s pretty darned good. I like to fold it around homemade tarragon chicken salad (with golden raisins and toasted almonds). And cut it into wedges for hummus.

And I comfort myself with the fact that, like the perfect golf shot, a popped pita is always a possibility, appearing in the oven just often enough to tease me into continuing my quest.

img_5098.JPG
Like most yeast breads, pita dough isn’t complicated to put together. Simply put all of the ingredients in a bowl…

img_5099.JPG
Mix to form a cohesive dough…

img_5100.JPG
And knead till smooth, and just a bit sticky/soft.

img_5101.JPG
Put the dough in a lightly greased container, cover it…

img_5102.JPG
…and let it rise for about an hour. It won’t necessarily double in bulk. Though mine did, as you can see.

img_5103.JPG
Gently deflate the dough, and shape it into 8 balls. They don’t need to be smooth, but they should be round.

img_5104.JPG
Working with 2 to 4 balls at a time, flatten each into a disk.

img_5109.JPG
Then roll into a 6” circle. Keep the other dough balls covered as you work, so they don’t dry out. Place the 6” circles on a parchment-lined baking sheet. If you have a baking stone, you can pick the parchment up and slide it right onto the stone, pitas and all. If you’re not using a stone, you’ll just leave parchment and pitas on the baking sheet.

img_5115.JPG
Now, the secret is a REALLY hot oven. Like, 500°F. I have trouble bringing our test kitchen ovens to that temperature, so my pitas often don’t pop. If I’m lucky, they kind of pop halfway, like this.

img_5113.JPG
Most of the time they just kind of lie there and become golden, like this. Which is fine; they make a lovely, soft, wrap-type bread, perfect for wrapping around sandwich fillings, mopping up spaghetti sauce (I know, I’m mixing cultures here), or cutting into wedges and using as bread dippers.

img_5116.JPG
In order to keep the pitas soft, stack them in a cotton towel as soon as they come out of the oven, and let them cool there.

img_5126.JPG
Even when they don’t pop, pitas are a nice-looking, comfort-type bread: soft, golden, tasty. That’s why I’ll never give up my quest for perfectly popped pita: it’s so easy to love the failures!

Read, review, and rate (please!) our recipe for Golden Pita Bread.

Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Supermarket pita bread, 21¢/ounce

Bake at home: Pita bread, 4¢/ounce

Update: See comment from Cathie (Sept. 12) below. Her method worked just fine for me, except I baked the pitas 5 minutes, because they didn’t fully pop until 3 minutes. I used my favorite pizza crust recipe, as it’s so easy to roll out. Here’s a picture of the finished pitas; they’ve deflated a bit, but are still popped—yeah!

img_8373.JPG

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Suze

    Hi PJ! I really love this blog. Okay, so I used a recipe from (cough) *elsewhere* to make pitas last night and it was not a success, despite following instructions to a T. I know, I should have come here first… Anyway, the pitas were seriously chewy and didn’t want to separate or form pockets, even though most of them puffed. I want to try again, and reading through the blog and comments I found Cathie’s rack method. The recipe I used was for cast iron on the stovetop and it didn’t seem to work so well. So in your update of the blog post, you have a link to your favorite easy pizza crust recipe, but when I clicked on it, the link seems to be broken. If it’s no longer available on the site, do you have a second favorite? Or if it’s simple, could you leave it here in your response? Your help and time are much appreciated. Bread is my nemesis but I continue to try and I really want to get back on the horse soon, we have leftover chicken shwarma and homemade tzatziki but my first attempt pitas were the pits and got chucked. Thanks!

    Reply
  2. Hilario

    After the pita is rolled, flip them over to bake and see if that gives you the pop and even sides you seek.

    Reply
  3. Adam Slovik

    I have the opposite problem – they puff up nicely, but the top part of the pocket is paper-thin! Very hard to stuff anything into it. Any suggestions

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      One thing you might want to try is baking the pitas quickly rather than letting them rest for 15 minutes while the oven pre-heats. Instead, pre-heat your oven before you start to roll out the pitas. Once you have rolled out enough pitas to fit on your stone or baking sheet, put them into the hot oven. Sometimes during the rest period the pitas can start to rise, causing the top layer to separate. Baking them right away can prevent this separation. You can also try flipping the pitas halfway through baking to encourage more even heat exposure on both sides of the pita. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  4. Leanne

    Popping pittas is all about humidity. The dough has to be constantly covered and out of any drafts. I use flour sack towels and mist them to keep them slightly damp. As I roll out the dough before putting them in the oven I may flick some water drops on them from my wet fingertips if the first batch doesn’t pop. Then I bake them in an old O’Keefe and Merrit stove in the basement cranked up to 500 F just like my Lebanese grandma did. Baking bread with her every weekend when I was child is a priceless memory.

    Reply
  5. Khaireddin

    Hello all,
    As help to all pita bread lovers out there, I would like to share my experience in making pita bread; I’m Palestinian where I grow up in typical Palestinian village watching my Mother making dough and backing Taboun bread to feed 10 kids on almost daily basis. My mother used no measurements to prepare bread and always come out perfect.
    Now I’m living in a Country where it is impossible to find any kind of flat bread in the market, to satisy my carving for Taboun bread and pita bread I start playing with making my own bread. I tried different recipes using house hold oven that goes up to 250o C, with no real luck sometimes it puff and most of the time did not, I know that higher temperature is needed and it is not the recipe. I decided to make my own oven that can heat up over 250o C, I had an old 40 liters grill oven as shown in included photo, I pay bass the thermostat (easy to do) inserted unglazed clay tile inside it and backing pits became a Joy I get them perfect all times.
    Oven Specs.
    1. Oven shall have minim 55 watts/liter.
    2. 28 liters and larger will allow to pack.

    Reply
  6. Skippy

    I’ve been making this recipe frequently for a few months now (why not? It’s so easy!). I started out with white AP flour, then I switched to half whole wheat, and now have made it quite a few times with 100% whole wheat. The first time I did all whole wheat, I noticed that the dough was very dry, so I added more water. Since then I’ve been adding water to the dough in varying amounts, just guessing as I go along. Sometimes the dough has still been pretty dry, other times so sticky I had to knead more flour into it to make it manageable. So my question (finally): Is there a specific rule for how much more liquid you should add to a recipe when you sub whole wheat for AP? Like “x Tbsp per cup of flour” or something like that? Thanks!!!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Two teaspoons of extra liquid for each cup of whole wheat flour often works well. In truth, though, flour is greatly affected by the environment’s humidity. It is always best to adjust the dough by feel.~Jaydl@KAF

  7. karima

    I used a shortcut of baking them in oven by cooking them on a skillet (tawa), on stove and they all popped up like a balloon, also I rolled the pita on flour not oil, so i got perfect pita bread. Also frying them on tawa has a technique, which is, heating the tawa very well in the start, then cooking the bread on lower fire, just for 30 seconds seeing bubbles, then flip the bread then u will get pop, flip again for more golden colour..done

    Reply

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *