Get Your Hands (and Kitchen) Dirty Baking Pita Bread with Kids

The most important ingredient is patience.

Pita Bread
Pita Bread | Photo by Alanna Hale
Pita Bread | Photo by Alanna Hale

The first time I tried to bake pita bread with my five year old, it didn’t quite turn out. Ahana, my daughter, accidentally added extra water while kneading the dough, and so our initial attempt quickly became too sticky to handle.

Jennifer Latham tells me not to worry. “Even if the recipe doesn’t turn out perfect, the experience is more than perfect,” says the author of Baking Bread with Kids. The book is full of colorful photos and carefully chosen recipes for aspiring bakers of all ages, and includes crusty baguettes, fluffy milk breads, and, yes, a pita recipe.

Pitas are especially meaningful to Latham, who grew up in California with what she describes as “hippie” parents. Her mom would fill pitas with sprouts and cheese to serve alongside salads at family picnics. They’re also extremely versatile. You can make pitas with a mix of bread and whole wheat flours for a wholesome chew, and fill them with all sorts of unexpected ingredients.

“Bread and ice cream is a very underrated combination,” says Latham. “I love to fill my pita with soft serve and add some caramel sauce to it.” Filled ahead of time and frozen, it’s an exciting alternative to a traditional ice cream sandwich. And, to me, it would be a great treat to serve at kids’ birthday parties.

The first step for any parent-child baking project is to manage expectations, Latham says. It’s important to adjust your timeframe to theirs. “Kids are on their own schedules. They can take longer and are a lot slower.”

She suggests giving younger children manageable tasks like whisking ingredients or cracking eggs, if they’re up to it. “Let them handle it. It’s really hard to step back, but let them do it and watch them create something delicious and amazing.”

With so many screens and digital kids’ activities out there, baking is a pleasantly tactile endeavor, too. My daughter loved the chance to get her hands in sticky dough and spread flour across our kitchen counter.

Plus, there’s a certain alchemy to baking that can be exciting for children. Turning raw ingredients into freshly baked bread is “a magical moment for kids,” says Latham. “This transformation is always amazing for me as an adult, and when I look at it through my kids’ eyes, it’s more engaging and transformational.”

I agree. When our first round of dough didn’t come together, I asked Ahana if she had any ideas for a solution. “Let’s add more flour,” she said. We slowly added more flour while kneading the dough, and it became the perfect consistency. It was a delightful moment for Ahana and I both, as I watched her eyes sparkling with pride and confidence.

“Baking bread is a slow and long learning process,” says Latham. ““Every time you try, there is something new you are going to learn. Being flexible and persistent are huge attributes of a successful baker.” They’re pretty great skills for parents to have, too.

pita bread
The author, Aishwarya, and her daughter, Ahana | Photo courtesy of Aishwarya Gupta

How To Make Pita Bread

This is an easy dough to put together and makes delicious pita or flatbreads. Scoop up hummus and olive oil, or they can also be used to make pita sandwiches, stuffed with yogurt, cucumbers, sprouts, tomatoes, and whatever else you can imagine.

Ingredients:
• 1½ cups (354 grams) of warm water (about 85°F)
• 1½ cups(367 grams) unstrained whole milk
• Plain yogurt (not Greek)
• 1 teaspoon (4 grams) of instant dry yeast
• ½ cup (108 grams) extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 tablespoons (18 grams) kosher salt
• 3½ cups (490 grams) of bread flour
• 3½ cups (490 grams) whole wheat flour

Directions:
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the warm water, yogurt, and yeast thoroughly. Add the olive oil and salt and whisk to combine. Add the flours and mix together with your hand until all the ingredients are combined. Let rest for 3 minutes.
2. After 3 minutes, wet your hand and mix the dough well in the bowl for about 5 minutes, lifting, stretching, folding, and pressing it down. Mix in this way until the dough is smooth, stretchy, and strong. Alternatively, mix the dough in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook on medium for about 5 minutes.
3. Scrape any dough off your fingers and the edges of the bowl back onto the dough—it will heal itself like magic and become part of the dough again!
4. Cover the bowl with clean linen and place it in a warm, draft-free spot to rise. Let it rest for 30 minutes to allow the gluten to relax.
5. After 30 minutes, fold the dough. This will even out the temperature, re-distribute areas of more activity, and strengthen the gluten. To do so, loosen it from the edges of the bowl. Lift the side of the dough up, stretch it over the top, and press it back down into the bowl. Do this a few times until you have lifted, stretched, and folded all the dough.
6. For a more tender and flavorful pita, refrigerate the dough overnight or up to 48 hours at this point. Remove the dough from the fridge and let it come to room temperature (it usually takes about an hour) before you move on to the next step. For same-day results, continue with the next steps.
7. Cover it again and let it rest for 30 minutes.
8. After 30 minutes, fold the dough one more time.
9. Cover it again and let it rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour. After this last rest,it should have risen noticeably in the bowl. You should be able to see bubbles in the dough. If you can see the rising and the bubbles, it’s time to divide the dough. If not, let it rest for 15 more minutes. Check the dough every 10 to 15 minutes and divide it when you see a dramatic increase in size and lots of bubbles.
10. Once it has risen, it is ready to divide and shape into balls. Scoop the dough out of the bowl onto a clean work surface and divide the dough into 10 equal-size pieces. You can use a little flour on your hands, if you need, to keep the dough from sticking, but try to keep the flour minimal.
11. Place one ball on a clean, un-floured work surface in front of you. Cup your hands around it and roll the dough in a circular motion, making it as round as even a ball of dough as you can. Repeat this with all the dough pieces. Let them rest for 20 minutes.
12. While the dough is resting, insert a baking stone or steel in the oven on a rack in the middle position and preheat to 500°F (get an adult assistant for help if needed).
13. After 20 minutes, flatten each dough ball into a disk ¼-inch thick and about 6 inches in diameter. You can use as much flour as you need on your hands and your work surface to keep the dough from sticking. Let them rest for 30 minutes.
14. After 30 minutes, you’re ready to bake. Lightly dust each pita with flours that slide onto the baking surface easily. Bake them one or two at a time, using oven mitts and a metal spatula or a baguette peel to slide them onto the baking surface (get an adult assistant for help if needed).
15. Bake for 1 minute. The pitas should puff up and be light brown on the bottom. Flip the mover, wearing oven mitts and using a metal spatula or tongs, and bake for another minute, until the (now) bottom has lightly browned.
16. Once they are lightly browned on both sides, remove them carefully with a metal spatula or tongs and set them on a plate. Cover them with clean linen to make sure they retain some steam and heat. Repeat with their remaining pita dough pieces.
17. These are best served warm. If you want to keep them for a day, seal them up as tightly as possible so they stay soft. To reheat, use a clean spray bottle to spritz them lightly with water and heat them quickly in a hot oven.

Reprinted with permission from Baking Bread with Kids by Jennifer Latham, copyright (c) 2022. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.

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Aishwarya Gupta is an SEO specialist at Thrillist who will graciously write about kheer and Diwali, among other topics.