Regular readers may remember I made a wild yeast sourdough starter back in October, using whole wheat flour and water (and a little pineapple juice in the beginning to control pH). Since then I have been feeding and using this starter on a regular basis. So far it has proven to be an easy to maintain and versatile addition to my bread baking repertoire.
Once I got the starter going strong, I put it in the refrigerator, where I keep it in a covered glass container. I pretty much use it once every week or so, holding back at least 4 ounces of the starter and then feeding it with 4 ounces of whole wheat flour and 4 ounces of water. Keeping the starter at this ratio of flour and water (100% hydration, in baker’s terms) makes it easy to add to an existing recipe, because if you add 8 ounces of starter you know that is the same as adding 4 ounces of flour and 4 ounces of water.
On a day I plan to use the starter, I try and get it out of the refrigerator first thing in the morning, so it can warm up and get active again. Since I usually bake in the afternoons, this works well for me. If I were baking in the morning I would probably get it out the night before. I’ve added up to a cup of the starter to a number of recipes, without really changing anything else in the recipe except for maybe adding a bit less liquid or a bit more flour. The starter not only improve the flavor of the bread, but it also seems to improve the texture of the breads as well.
Once I got the hang of using and feeding the starter, it only seemed natural to try to make some sourdough flatbreads. Pitas are a favorite in our household, and we use them for pizza crusts and pita crisps as well as for pocket bread. They freeze well, and that way we always have some on hand when we want them. If I have time I often make two batches at once, while the oven is hot.
These sourdough pitas are made with 100% whole wheat flour. I’ve made them with traditional whole wheat flour, and I’ve made them with white whole wheat flour, and both work well. I usually use a stand mixer to knead the dough using the dough hook, but it can also be done by hand. With either method it takes about 5 minutes or so of kneading to bring the dough together and to develop the gluten sufficiently.
After kneading, I put the dough in an oiled bowl to let it rise. Since there is no commercial yeast in the recipe, the rising time is hard to predict, and can vary considerably. The strength of the starter as well as the temperature of the flour, starter, water and kitchen all come into play. For me, it can take anywhere from an hour and a half in warm weather to over three hours in winter for the dough to rise in this primary (and only) fermentation.
That longer, slower rising time is not exactly a bad thing, because it allows the flavors to develop. It does mean if you are in a hurry, then you might be better off using a recipe that includes commercial yeast, like my basic recipe for pitas.
The dough is ready when it has more or less doubled in bulk. That can sometimes be hard to judge with the small amount of dough in this recipe, so I usually use the ‘poke method’ to test if it’s risen long enough. If the dough springs back when poked with your finger, it needs more time. If the indentation remains, the dough is ready. At that point the dough should be divided into 8 portions if you want smaller pitas, or 6 portions to make larger ones.
I form the dough into rough ball shapes, then cover them and let them rest while the oven heats up. One secret to making pitas that puff up is having a really hot surface to cook them on. I put a pizza stone in the oven and let it preheat to 550°F while the dough is resting. The pizza stone needs at least 30-45 minutes to heat fully, depending on your oven. Remember, hotter is better in this case, and if your pizza stone is not hot then your pitas will not puff up nicely.
The dough needs to rest for about 20 minutes. This resting phase makes the dough easier to roll out. If the dough still resists rolling, let it rest another 10 minutes or so. I try and roll the dough to somewhere between 1/8 and 1/4 of an inch thick. Using a silicone baking mat will make the rolling process a lot easier. I use a little bit of flour on the mat and on the rolling pin to keep it from sticking. When rolled out, I transfer the dough to a floured pizza paddle. Then it’s off to the oven where I slide it onto the preheated pizza stone.
If all goes according to plan, the pitas will puff up in a minute or two. They may not all puff up perfectly like the one in the photo below, but that’s all right. They will still be good for use as pocket bread. For other uses, like pizza crusts or flat bread, it doesn’t really matter how much they puff up – or if they puff up at all. You can also prick the surface of the dough with a fork if you really don’t want them to puff up.
I usually bake them for about 2 minutes before flipping them over and baking them for another minute. How long you bake them depends on your oven temperature, and how crisp you want them to get. In general, the thinner you roll them, the crispier they will get, while thicker ones will stay softer. Experiment, and taste test until you get them like you want them!
When each pita is done baking, I remove it from the oven and let it cool, covering it with a clean cloth towel. If freezing, I let them cool thoroughly first before packaging for the freezer.
The recipe that follows is one that I developed specifically for my sourdough starter. It should be adaptable to other starters, but some adjustments to the amount of liquid and flour may be necessary depending on your starter. The recipe doesn’t call for any additional yeast, so you need a fully mature and active starter. It will take a bit longer to rise than recipes calling for yeast, but that longer rise will improve the taste of the finished bread.
We have made pita bread quite a number of times now since you first posted a recipe and instructions that were much better than the ones we had originally been using. This sourdough version sounds really good too.
Your breads always look great! I’ve been working on my bread baking skills. Hopefully one day I will be half as good as you are!
Oh, look at those perfectly puffed pristine pitas! Gorgeous! I made pita this summer and baked them in our neighbor’s fiercely hot outdoor pizza oven, and they turned out great, puffing almost as soon as they hit the oven floor. I’ve never tried using my sourdough starter for them though. I don’t know why, the thought just never occurred to me. I might have try next time, as these look perfect!
I was given 80 year old sour dough starter for Xmas. Very exciting!
Pingback: Dark Days Challenge recap: Week 6 WEST group « Not Dabbling In Normal
I’ve been making my own pitas from the recipe from “Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day.” Home made pitas are soooo much better than store bought – there is just no comparison. I’ve been maintaining a starter for several months now and am ready to tackle making whole wheat sourdough pitas. Your recipe looks terrific; I can’t wait to try it!
I made the pitas last week with spelt flour and starter, and they turned out great. I hope you enjoy the pitas, and thanks for visiting!
Any thoughts about making dough tonight and letting rise in refrig and then baking in the morning? I have sourdough starter that is pretty active but I need the pitas for a 10:00 church service.
I think that would work fine. The rising isn’t all that critical for the pitas anyway. I’d like to know if it works!
Pingback: Picnic Ready | Seeds & Stones
I was so excited to find this recipe! I tried it out tonight but my pitas did not puff up 🙁 I left them to rise for longer than needed. I did bake them on a cookie sheet since I don’t have a pizza stone. I am super bummed they did not turn out, but this is not the first time a bread recipe has gone down the tube 🙁
I’m guessing the cookie sheet wasn’t hot enough. The pizza stone always works for me. The dough has to get super hot in order to puff up.
I just made the pitas and they came out awsomeeeee!! my kids will be taking a few to school with them tomorrow and I am so happy to provide them with a good healthy choice of bread!
I did use an inverted cookie sheet for the pitas and left it to preheat with the oven and it worked out great.they did not puff up like yours but they deffinately puffed and are wonderfull.
I was only able to get 7 medium sized pitas from the dough :(.
And about the starter-what stage does it need to be in?
Oh-and i also had a hard time kneading the dough.it was very sticky and I kept on adding more flour and kneading and adding until I gave up and just let the dough rest…I assume the more I knead the lighter the bread will be?
And I also added a Tbsp (more or less) of date syrup because the dough was a bit too sour for my taste.
I’m glad you enjoyed them! I’m not sure kneading longer will make them any lighter. Letting the dough set a bit after mixing should allow the water to soak in the flour and be a bit less sticky.
The starter just needs to be active, and fed in the last day or so. If your starter is really sour, you can always remove more of it when feeding, and feed more often to keep it less sour. And you can pour off any liquid that forms on the top of the starter.
Pingback: Say SCOBY | Story Cooking
For the quantities of starter, flour and water, does the recipe intend ounces by weight and NOT fluid ounces? For instance, should the 8 ounces of flour should be 227 grams? Please confirm. Thanks!
Yes, all quantities are by weight, and the flour is 8 oz/227g.