This pita bread recipe is super reliable and results in gorgeous, pillowy pitas that will wow everyone in your kitchen. I love this pita bread recipe especially because it is brought to us by Molly Yeh, from her Yogurt Short Stack cookbook (get it here!)! Yes, there is yogurt in our pita dough! Yogurt imparts tenderness and a sourdough-like flavor.
I’ve never given homemade pita a whole lot of attention, always thinking that because it is impossible to achieve at home the very thin, large, chewy pitas we love so much, then there will be little to no pita coming out of my oven.
The state of pita was the topic of a story I wrote for the Chicago Tribune back in the day (way back), when I visited the Al Khayem bakery up on Kedzie where they used to bake the softest, most glorious thin pocket bread I had experienced since my growing up days in Michigan. George’s pita at Al Khayem made its journey, from dough to rise to oven, via a conveyor that included a big roller, one that miraculously flattened the dough in such a way that its pocket was thin yet sturdy, and even on both sides. The thrust of my article was something along the lines of, “when homemade isn’t better.”
In the house of Abood, and in the houses of grandparents Abood and Abowd, there was a lot of baking. A lot. But none of it included pita bread. I suspect this was in part because we could enjoy perfect thin pocket bread from nearby bakeries without a thought; this is mid-Michigan, my friends, and while we may have our drawbacks, we’re rich in Middle Eastern bakeries and restaurants.
And, we don’t actually call pocket bread “pita.” Do other Lebanese and Middle Easterners among you call it pita? Or something else? Or just pocket bread, or khubiz, or kimaj?
So. I never felt the pull of the pita-baking until I wrote my cookbook. I heard from whole bunches of people that a pita recipe was in order. That was delivered with pleasure. I still hear from whole bunches of people that a pita recipe is in order on my blog too. But have I made pita much since the cookbook pita recipe development? Right.
Then I recently tore into Molly Yeh’s Short Stack book on yogurt. If you haven’t graced your cookbook collection with some of these leaflet-like single-subject booklets, I highly recommend, especially Molly’s book which takes yogurt, our beloved laban, in all kinds of exciting directions.
The last, very very last thing I expected to find in Molly’s yogurt book was pita bread. But there the recipe jumped out, and it includes, of course: yogurt. “Yogurt Pita.” The recipe’s description was so simple and inviting (all about the soft dough and the soft pockets it results in) that it made me wait not another day to bake my first round.
What perplexed and excited me was how straightforward Molly’s recipe is. I recall the pita recipe testing for my cookbook as a pita version of a freight train running through my kitchen every day until I landed on an acceptable method. It was so stressful that, truth here, I rarely made it again once the book was out and had always felt fine saying I don’t bake pita.
With Molly’s recipe we have a bread dough with few ingredients, as bread dough should, but with the inclusion of thick, lush yogurt which imparts a beautiful dimension of sourdough-like flavor to a bread that is mostly about texture, puffy soft texture.
I can tell you that my home people (a.k.a. family) is thrilled with my newfound pita baking high. We still have our large, thin pitas from the pro bakery on hand always for tearing off and picking up food with, but these thicker pillows are so perfect and great for slathering with butter or dipping in hummus or labneh or muhammara or opening up and stuffing with something great for lunch that I now call them My Pillows.
I pull the dozen out of the oven while everyone is just gathering to find dinner, and it’s like I’m a magician, a hero, a pita-pillow queen who does indeed bake pita, and often. Pita-pillow queens don’t ever drive freight trains, so I’m good with that, too.
Yogurt Pita Bread
This perfect recipe is from Molly Yeh’s Short Stack Yogurt book (get it here, and see Molly’s post with photos here). I use labneh rather than her recipe’s Greek Yogurt, because, well, I always have labneh in my refrigerator and I use it for anything and everything calling for thicker yogurt. If any of the pitas don’t balloon in the oven, don’t worry one bit. They’ll still have a pocket when you open them up and they’ll still taste wonderful. Be sure to put the pita in a ziplock bag or airtight container immediately after they cool off to keep them soft. If they’re at all hard on the outside, they’ll soften right up in the container.
- 3/4 cup warm water (105-110 degrees)
- 2 1/4 teaspoons or 1 packet active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 3 3/4 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting (if needed)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the bowl
- 3/4 cup whole-milk Greek yogurt or labneh
In a medium bowl, combine the water, yeast, and 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Let the mixture sit until it's foamy on top, about 5 minutes.
In a large bowl or stand mixer fitted with the hook attachment, combine the flour, salt, and remaining tablespoon of sugar. Add the yeast mixture, oil, and yogurt and mix to combine. Knead the dough either in the mixer or by hand on a clean work surface, adding more flour if needed, until the dough is soft and slightly sticky, 7-10 minutes.
Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, cover with plastic (not touching the dough), and let the dough rise in a warm spot until it's doubled in size, about 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and divide it into 12 equal balls. Cover and let rise an additional 20 minutes.
Roll the balls out into circles that are 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick. Place them on the baking sheets an inch apart, then bake until they're puffy and lightly browned on top (begin checking for doneness at 5 minutes).
Transfer the pitas to a wire rack to cool. Enjoy!