The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Pita SOS!

tc's picture
tc

Pita SOS!

I've made pitas about 3 times now and having a puffing problem. The first time I got pockets, however they were very thin on the top and thick on the bottom. Second and third times I got uneven puffing and also  no puffing at all. I tried raising the oven temp - from 400, to 450, to 475. Using yeast bought a month ago, works fine in rising the dough and in my other breads. I preheated for 2 hours or so this last time, to make sure the oven was thoroughly hot. Using tiles that are always in the oven. Tried rolling and hand shaping the dough to be very thin as recommended by others on the forum. No dice. What am I doing wrong? I follow the recipe, using whole wheat and AP. The big difference I can see is the first time, I made 7 "large" pitas and the second and third times I made several smaller ones.   Is it possible that somehow there's uneven temperature in the oven, or on the tiles? Sometimes even in the same batch some pitas have a pocket while others don't or just look lumpy.


Side view of problem pitas.

Juergen Krauss's picture
Juergen Krauss

Hi tc,

How long do you let the pitas rest before you put them in the oven?

If during that period you bend or pinch the pitas they might dock - the top and bottom might get stuck together (docking is required for matzah, for example)

I usually rest my pitas on a thin semolina layer on a peel (or cutting board, something stiff and thin) so that I can just slide them into the oven without touching.

Juergen

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

tc,
Pita is one of those breads that is raised by steam instead of by CO2, so a key element of the process is to have enough moisture in the dough to make the required steam when you need it. Another piece is the balance of top heat to bottom heat - but it is not just a temperature thing. The heat has to get into the dough fast enough to flash the moisture to steam before it can evaporate or leak out. The top is heated by either convection or (more likely) radiation while the bottom is usually heated by conduction. The surface cooks and forms a skin that is both tight enough to contain the steam and strong enough to withstand the pressure as the pita puffs up, breaking open only after the whole thing has inflated.

From the browning of the upper surface in your photo it looks like the oven is hot enough, but the fact that it only partially expanded suggests that the dough was not strong enough to pull open the pocket (perhaps due to inadequate gluten development) or the moisture escaped from the portion that did not puff before it got hot enough to flash, or the dough was so thin and dry that it cooked all the way through before the pocket that did form could expand to include it.

I would suggest fully developing the gluten (perhaps moving to a higher protein flour and reducing the whole wheat), forming the pitas about 1/4" thick when you roll them out, then letting them proof until they are almost 1/2" thick before you bake. Check the tile surface temperature with your IR thermometer to make sure that it is over 400°F. You may want to go to 100% high gluten flour for a batch or two before you start reincorporating whole wheat flour. I have found that sometimes the whole wheat flour can weaken the dough to the point where the pocket springs a leak before it has fully inflated.

Doc

Janknitz's picture
Janknitz

I have had much better luck with pitas using a lower protien flour--tipo 00! They puffed like crazy and were tender, not dry and chewy. Just right IMHO. My observation is that the dough has to be soft not stiff to expand well. You might try increasing the hydration a little.

tc's picture
tc

thanks for all the replies! Very helpful. I used bread flour mixed with whole wheat and beat the crap out of it! Now I get pockets 95% of the time.

One last thing - the top layer of the pocket is VERY thin while the bottom is much thicker. Is there a way to even this out? When I stuff the pitas the thin layer tends to rip. Thanks!

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

A thin top (or a thin bottom) tells me that there is still a thermal balance issue to deal with. Your description of the oven preheating and the tiles sounds right. The only suggestion I can think of is to try rolling them a little thicker or waiting a little longer before you bake them. Or you might proof on cornmeal or use cornmeal on your peel as a dry lubricant - it will act as a standoff insulator when the bread goes onto the tile.  The pitas will always separate at the weakest point after the first bubble begins to expand and peel it apart. Naan has one side thick and one side thin, and I think it is because the wall of the tandoor cooks it through from the back before the front side gets hot enough from the radiant heat to form the characteristic large bubbles.