Pita is a staple in the Mediterranean diet, and sourdough pita bread is a step above the usual yeast-risen variety. When you use a homemade fermented sourdough starter to make pita, the bread becomes more digestible. In fact, some studies indicate that sourdough fermentation adds a prebiotic and probiotic quality to the bread. This helps to nurture good bacteria in your gut, leading to a healthier digestive system overall. Sourdough also has higher levels of antioxidants and folate than yeast-risen bread. Moreover, sourdough breads are tastier. They have a slight tang that many people love, myself included. Sourdough pita for the win!
A Brief History of Pita Bread
When my friend Professor Ken Albala shared a picture on Facebook of his homemade sourdough pita bread, I immediately asked him to share his recipe here, as well as this bit of pita bread history:
“Historically flat breads have been made anywhere wheat is grown and can be baked directly on a hot stone, sand, or a round of clay. It has been a staple throughout the Mediterranean, even in places where risen loaves are common. It can be baked in an oven, but that would have been a waste of fuel. A tannur oven – a large cylindrical oven with a fire at the bottom was also used in ancient times and the bread baked directly on the inner side, just as naan is still made in India. This method (for sourdough pita, below) replicates the flavor one gets from an open fire, but can be made in a home kitchen.”
What do you serve with pita bread?
A special thank you to Professor Ken Albala for sharing his tips for this post. Photos by Kelly Jaggers.
Sourdough Pita Bread
- 1 stand mixer
- 1 Nonstick skillet
- 1 tea towel
- 1 cutting board or smooth rolling surface
- 2 cups (16 ounces) sourdough starter at 100% hydration, fed 3-4 hours ahead of baking
- 3 cups (13 ounces) bread flour
- ½ to 1 cup (4-8 ounces) filtered or spring water, at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon (.5 ounce) extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, or into a large bowl with a wooden spoon, add starter, flour, ½ cup water, oil, and salt.
- Mix on low speed until dough starts to cling to hook, about 3 minutes. Touch dough and if it feels sticky but does not cling to your fingers, it is ready to start kneading. If there is dry flour remaining add water a tablespoon at a time until dough is the right consistency. If the dough clings to your fingers, add additional flour 2 tablespoons at a time until dough is the right consistency.
- Increase mixer speed to medium and let dough knead for 5 minutes. Turn dough out onto a floured board and shape into a smooth ball. If kneading by hand knead vigorously on a floured work surface for 10 minutes before shaping into a ball.
- Lightly oil work bowl and return dough to bowl. Cover with a towel and let stand at room temperature for 2 hours, or until doubled in bulk.
- Dough is ready when a finger pressed into the dough leaves a mark that does not fill back in.
- Turn dough out onto a floured board and gently press your palm into the dough. Form dough into a fat snake and cut into 8 pieces, about 4 ounces each.
- Shape each piece into a ball by rolling each piece of dough between your palms until smooth. Cover dough balls with a towel and let rest for 10 minutes.Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
If using a gas range:
- Working one at a time, roll dough balls on a lightly floured surface until they are ¼-inch thick, about 6-inches round.
- Transfer dough to heated skillet. Cook for 40 seconds on each side. When you flip the pita, turn on a second gas burner to high heat.
- After the pita has cooked in the skillet, transfer to the open burner. Let stand for 10 seconds, then gently move the pita with tongs until it begins to puff and has lightly charred, about 20 seconds. Flip and cook the second side, constantly moving as with side one, until the pita is lightly charred and steaming vigorously, about 20-30 seconds. Turn off burner.
If using a non-gas range:
- Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add your first round of dough and turn heat up to medium-high. Cook for 2 minutes, then flip and cook for 2 minutes on the second side. After this initial cook time, start to flip the pita a few times to encourage additional puffing. Pita is ready when it is steaming and there are dark char marks on both sides.
- Transfer pita to a large plate and top with a second plate. Repeat with remaining dough balls. Serve warm.