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Pita bread

Every now and then I think maybe I've gotten a little too deeply into this world food hobby. Like the other night, for example, when it occurred to me that it might really be nice to whip up some cevapcici for dinner.

This Bosnian treat was delicious, too easy to require a recipe (beef-lamb-porkburgers laced with raw minced garlic, salt, paprika and cayenne, bound with a little egg white and formed into Vienna-sausage shapes, sauteed in a heavy skillet until crisp and brown), but it occurred to me that there probably aren't that many people more than a couple of hundred kilometers from Sarajevo who would casually think of whipping up a mess of 'em for a spur-of-the-moment meal.

Not that there's anything the matter with that. But I'm not here with a cevapcici recipe today, other than the short one that I just recited. Let's talk, instead, about the home-baked pita bread that I stuffed them in. It was only about 30 seconds after I thought about cevapcici that I realized, "D'oh! We don't have any pitas!" Worse, it was getting late in the day, and it was much too cold to encourage venturing out.

A little quick research brought good news: Despite their unusual construction - puffy yeast-raised flatbreads that neatly open up into a pocket that you can stuff with good things - pitas are among the simplest and quickest of breads. Made with only the most basic ingredients, they don't require long rising, so it's possible to get hot bread on the table in 90 minutes or less.

INGREDIENTS: (Makes four small pitas, enough to serve two)

3/4 cup (6 oz, 180ml) water
1/2 teaspoon (5g) sugar
1 teaspoon (10g) dry yeast
2 cups (240g) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon (3g) salt


1. Using water that's warm to the touch (120F, if you're precise enough to measure it, although the touch test works for me), put the water and sugar in a mixing bowl and stir to dissolve. Stir in the yeast with a fork, and set aside for 5 minutes or so.

2. Mix the flour and salt. Stir it into the water and yeast mixture, about half at first, then adding the rest a little at a time, stirring until it forms a rough ball. Don't be surprised if you don't need all the flour, or if you need a little extra. It's unpredictable, depending on the flour and perhaps the weather.

3. Put the dough on a bread board or clean counter top and knead it for 5 minutes or so, adding a little more flour if necessary to keep it from sticking. When it's smooth and dry, pat it with a little olive oil, cover with plastic wrap, and leave it to rest and rise somewhat for 30 minutes. Unlike many breads, it need not double in size, but it will expand a bit as the yeast works.

4. Preheat oven to very hot, 500 to 550F (260 to 290C). Cut the dough into four equal parts and form each into a ball. One at a time, roll them out quite thin, no more than 1/4-inch (0.65cm) thick. They're attractive if you keep them circular, but they'll taste the same even if you're not finicky about it. Let them rest under a cloth towel for 15 minutes or so, then gently turn them over and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet or baking pan. Bake them for 5 to 7 minutes, just until they puff and become lightly browned. Serve warm or at room temperature. They come out of the oven crisp, but reportedly soften as they cool. We didn't give them time enough to prove it.

This recipe vividly demonstrated that our oven, like most home ovens, heats anything but evenly. The pita in the front corner was much darker than the rest; if I had turned the baking sheet around midway through the process, they might have browned more evenly. The oven may also have been implicated in the fact that two of the pitas puffed up well - one became almost a spherical balloon - but the others expanded less enthusiastically or evenly. They split nicely for stuffing, though, as pitas should, and the only real ugly duckling was one that I rolled a little too thin. Take your time and be patient about rolling them out, and don't over-work the dough. Even thickness seems to pay off in handsome pitas. But, as noted, even the esthetic failures still tasted good.

Never mind what the poet said about "a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou." Plain bread isn't that much of a wine match. Choose your wine to go with the main course, and let the bread come along for the ride. We enjoyed a hearty Cotes-du-Rhone with the Bosnian-style cevapcici.

Want a copy that's easy to use in the kitchen? You'll find a simple, plain-text version of these recipes, suitable for printing, online at

If you have questions, comments or ideas to share about this recipe or food and cookery in general, you're welcome to drop by our Food Lovers' Discussion Group, where I've posted this article as a new topic, "FoodLetter: Pita bread"

Click the REPLY button on the forum page to post a comment or response. (If your E-mail software broke this long link in half, take care to paste it all back into one line before you enter it in your Web browser.)

If you prefer to comment privately, feel free to send me E-mail at

Last Week's FoodLetter and Archives

Last week's Wine Advisor Foodletter: Oven "fried" chicken (Jan. 13)

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Last Week's FoodLetter and Archives

Last week's Wine Advisor Foodletter: Prime rib for two (Dec. 30)

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Thursday, Jan. 20, 2005
Copyright 2005 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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