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Pita Bread

Pita Bread

Makes 24 small or 12 large pitas

2 cups warm water (90? to 110? F)
2 envelopes (¼ oz ea) active dry yeast
½ teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons sea salt
5 to 5 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus flour for kneading

1. Pour the water into a large bowl and sprinkle in the yeast. Stir to dissolve.
2. With a wooden spoon, stir the sugar and salt into the yeast mixture; mix thoroughly. Gradually add 5 cups of the flour, stirring constantly until the dough is smooth. Slowly work in the remaining flour (up to ½ cup) with your hands, kneading until the dough is no longer sticky. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board. Knead until it is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.
3. Shape the dough into an even rectangle and cut it in half lengthwise. Divide the dough into 24 portions for small pitas; 12 for larger ones. Shape each portion into a smooth ball. Place the balls on a floured surface and cover them with slightly damp towels while you roll out 1 ball at a time.
4. Gently press each ball flat with your fingers, keeping it well rounded. Flour a work surface and a rolling pin. Roll each round from the center to the outer edge, giving the dough a ¼ turn after each roll, to form a perfect circle not quite ½ inch thick (about 5 to 5½ inches in diameter for small pitas; about 8½ inches for larger ones), Carefully flip the circles over to smooth out any creases that might prevent the pocket from forming.
5. Fifteen minutes before the loaves have finished rising, preheat the oven to 500? F. At the same time, place an ungreased baking sheet in the oven to warm.
6. As each loaf is rolled, place it carefully on a floured surface and cover with a clean, dry towel; do not let the surface of the loaves dry out. Let the loaves rise in a warm draft-free area, 30 to 45 minutes.
7. To bake, place 4 small pitas or 1 large pita on the hot baking sheet. Bake on the bottom rack of the oven until puffed and lightly browned on the bottom and almost white on top, about 4 minutes for small pitas and about 3½ minutes for large; the pita will be soft and flexible. If desired, flip the loaves over after they have puffed and bake up to 1 minute longer to brown the tops; be careful not to let the pita get crisp and brittle.
8. Remove the hot pitas from the oven and wrap immediately in clean, dry towels until cool enough to handle. Serve warm or at room temperature. Repeat this process until all the pitas are baked.

Poppy Seed or Sesame Pita: After rolling out each circle of dough in step 4, brush the tops lightly with water and sprinkle with poppy seeds or toasted sesame seeds. Let the loaves rise and bake as above.