Warm, fluffy pitas just off the skillet (right) and out of the oven (left). (Photo: Alice O’Dea)

If you happen to be looking for a way to destress this weekend, or if you want an excuse to warm up the kitchen, I have a simple suggestion: Make some bread. Not only will it calm your nerves and give the house a delicious aroma, but you’ll get some tasty homemade bread in the bargain, too. If you’re not up for a whole loaf of bread, perhaps you’d be game for making some pitas. They’re super-easy to make, superior to the ones from the store and a fun project-because the way they puff up while they’re cooking seems magical.

Pita bread is another one of those things, like cornbread or biscuits, that I like fresh and warm. They’re soft and steamy when just out of the oven, but they toughen as they cool and aren’t nearly as good as leftovers. To avoid having extras, it’s simple enough to either make just a small amount or to save part of a batch for cooking later (after rising, put a portion in the refrigerator for a few days or in the freezer for up to a month, and then simply bring to room temperature before dividing and rolling out). The ingredients are as follows:

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Eight pitas

Two pitas

Flour (I use whole-wheat)

2-3 cups

½-¾ cup

Active dry or instant yeast

1½ tsp

? tsp

Water

1¼ cups

¼ cup plus 1 tbsp

Salt

1 tsp

? tsp (a pinch)

Oil (optional)

1 tsp

? tsp (a dab)

The process is easy and flexible. Measure the yeast and warm water in a bowl, and mix until the yeast is dissolved. Stir in about half the flour and let the mixture sit until it starts to bubble (this might take about 10 minutes). Next, stir in the salt, oil and-a little at a time-the rest of the flour. The amount you use will depend on both the dryness of the flour and the temperature/humidity of the room you’re in. Keep adding flour and mixing until a soft dough forms. You don’t want it to be dry, but you do need to be able to handle it.

Kneading the dough is my favorite part. Sprinkle a bit of flour on the counter and keep turning the dough until it’s smooth and springy. This should provide you with a good five or 10 minutes of destress therapy. (On the other hand, if all this prep would add to your stress levels, go ahead and do the mixing and kneading in a food processor or stand mixer, according to its instructions.)

Next, put just a splash of oil into a clean bowl, roll the dough over in it, cover the bowl, and set it in a warm place to rise until the dough doubles in size. This could take one to two hours but is flexible, and depends somewhat on the temperature of the room. If you don’t have that much time, just let it rise as long as possible. You could speed things up by heating the oven to its lowest setting while you knead the dough and then turning it off before putting the dough into the oven to rise. Or, if you want a longer break, let the dough rise in the refrigerator for six to eight hours.

Whenever you’re ready to bake the pitas, heat the oven. If you happen to have a baking stone, put that low in the oven while it heats; otherwise, use a regular baking sheet in the center of the oven. The pitas can be baked at a temperature anywhere from 350 to 500 degrees; use the higher temperature for faster cooking or a lower temperature if you’re also using the oven for other things.

Divide the dough into the appropriate number of pieces (one for each pita). Put each one on a floured surface, roll it out into a flat circle, and let it rest, covered, for 10 or 15 minutes (don’t stack them or they will stick together). Gently slide it onto the baking sheet or stone and it will puff up as it cooks (if you’re making a lot of pitas, you may have to do the rolling and baking in stages). Cooking takes about three minutes at 500 degrees, or five or six minutes at 350 degrees.

If you’re only making a few pitas, it might make more sense to cook them on the stovetop instead of heating up the oven. They won’t puff up quite as impressively, but other than that, the results are just as good. Heat a skillet to medium heat, add the rolled and rested dough circle, and cook for five or six minutes, turning once. It should puff up some while it heats. Whether you use the stove or oven, after cooking, keep them warm in a kitchen towel until ready to serve.

Alice O’Dea has lived in Chattanooga for over 20 years, but was raised among the mucks and dairy farms in rural western New York. She didn’t really learn to cook until midlife. When she’s not puttering around in the kitchen, she enjoys running, cycling, traveling, photography and trying to get food to grow in the backyard of her Highland Park home. You can email her with questions, suggestions or comments at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.

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