Thursday, 19 November 2015

Tasting Jerusalem #29 – Pita Bread

Dee – What I feel is missing most from the Jerusalem cook book are the bread recipes.  Bread appears in the book in plenty of photographs and is mentioned in the narrative, but is only included in recipes as a ready-made ingredient.   It may just be because there are such a wide variety of breads available in Jerusalem that there wasn’t enough space in the book to detail them, but as someone who loves to make, and of course eat, bread, I feel that it needed more attention.  If not recipes then a written passage, such as was dedicated to Hummus and Za’atar.
Of course, not everyone has the time or the inclination to bake their own bread, but for others, like me, who do not recognise the concept of ever having enough bread recipes don’t worry; help is at hand.  A book I love very much, and treat as a sort of sister volume to Jerusalem, is Anne Shooter’s ‘Sesame and Spice’.  It is all about sweet and savoury baking and is packed with recipes from the whole Middle Eastern region.  There is a mixture of traditional modern breads, cakes and pastries, and modern recipes inspired by them.

November 2015’s featured ingredient, Pita (also spelled Pitta) Bread, is one of many breads that are baked, sold and eaten in Jerusalem.  These breads have so many names it is not difficult to get tied up in knots trying to differentiate between them.  Pita for example is also known as Syrian Bread and Arabic Bread. 
For the purposes of this article, a Pita is a flatbread made from wheat flour and baked in the oven.  The finished bread is characteristically soft and pale coloured, with a ‘pocket’ achieved by baking it for a short time at a high temperature. 

Ready-made Pitas are widely available, but they can also be made at home using a wheat bread dough enriched with olive oil.  I have set out below the recipe that I use.  Many recipes include sugar in the dough but mine doesn’t.  I do however use two different types of flour.  The reason for this is because the plain flour has a weaker gluten structure than the bread flour, making the dough a little less resistant to being rolled out before going into the oven.  It is still possible to make a Pita with 500g bread flour but the dough becomes more ‘springy’ and more of a challenge to roll out flat.  It might be possible to use all plain flour dough for a Pita but I’ve never felt the urge to try.

The recipe below makes enough dough for 8 Pitas
300g White Bread Flour
200g Plain White Flour (I think the US equivalent of this is All-Purpose Flour)
10g Salt
1 sachet (7g) Yeast
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
300g lukewarm water

1. Mix the flours, salt, and olive oil together in a bowl, and dissolve the yeast in a small amount of the water
2. When the yeast is dissolved and starts to foam (this will take about 15 minutes), add it, along with the rest of the water, to the dry ingredients and mix to a dough
3. Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and knead until the dough becomes smooth and elastic
4. Return the dough to a bowl, cover it and leave it in a warm place for about 2 hours
5. After 2 hours, knock back the dough and return it to the same warm place for 30 minutes
6. After 30 minutes, turn on the oven and heat it up to 230 degrees C/450 degrees F/Gas Mark 7
7. After a further 30 minutes the oven should be up to temperature and the pitas ready for shaping and baking
8. Divide the dough into 8 equal parts and roll each one out into either an oval or circular pita.
9. Leave the rolled pitas to rest for about 15 minutes.  This will help them to rise more evenly when they are in the oven
10. After 15 minutes put the first pita in the oven and bake it for about 6 minutes.  Tip:  It is fun to watch the pita puffing up in the oven at this point.
11. After 6 minutes take the pita out of the oven and close the door to stop the heat escaping.  Place the pita on a cooling rack and cover with a tea towel.  This will keep it soft and stop it drying out.
12. Bake the rest of the pitas in the same way as the first and keep them covered.  Leave them to cool completely before using them.

Wholemeal Pitas can be made in exactly the same way using wholemeal flour instead of white.

Perhaps the most common way to enjoy Pita bread is split into two semi-circles and stuffed.  In the photo below I have stuffed my Pita with lettuce and falafel, topped with tahini sauce and roasted red pepper and walnut sauce.

A’ja Bread Fritters
It was surprisingly difficult choosing a recipe from the book to feature Pita bread.  As I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of recipes to make which can be served on top of, or in, a Pita bread, but they all took the spotlight away from the bread. 
After some searching, I eventually chose the A’ja bread fritters on page 64, which featured the bread as an integral part of the recipe rather than an accompaniment to it.
The bread is soaked before being added to the batter along with cheese, herbs and spices.  The mixture is then divided up into individual fritters and fried on both sides.  I found the taste to be reminiscent of a thick savoury pancake and had a soft rather than crispy texture.  The commentary accompanying the recipe pointed out that there was plenty of scope for experimentation with the ingredients.  Grated vegetables were suggested as either an addition to, or substitution for, the bread.  Jay commented that the recipe would be ideal for using up leftovers.
The fritters are described as convenience food and are in fact recommended to be served inside a Pita, but after making them I decided that this would be a bit too stodgy for my taste, so I served them topped with tahini sauce, alongside a chopped salad.

“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ebury Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to  following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook Page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups’ dishes on Pinterest

(Please note: I have listed the UK publisher and have linked to the UK Amazon site.  The US details are provided on the web site)


  1. Thanks for the suggestion for the Sesame and Spice book for baking recipes. I'm inclined to try your pita recipe as you seem quite expert at it! And so smart to try those fritters - I've turned past that recipe so many times - maybe because there is no picture. And I agree with your assessment of the book missing bread recipes - other than babka - but I can imagine it is really a subject all on its own.

    1. Thanks for considering the pita recipe. Do let me know how you get on with it if you try it.
      I have a few notes about some more breads so will see if I can add another recipe or two in future blog entries :-)