I think the third time is the charm. and maybe finding a better recipe helped too. Nothing against the BReadwinner's recipe, but i think he left out some technique instructions.
my new favorite pita recipe is from Smitten Kitchen. With a few minor technique changes, i was able to fit it to what I had in my kitchen, and what i'm capable of doing. She also gives stove top cooking instructions, which made very tasty flatbread (think Olga's or gyros), but not much pockets.
Pita (makes about 10)
3 cups + 1/4 cup flour
2 tsp salt
1 packet yeast
2 tbsp oil
1 1/4 cups water at room temperature
the day before baking, make your dough:
blend 3 cups of flour, the salt & the yeast in a big bowl. add the oil & water and mix well. knead the dough on a lightly floured surface (or in the bowl, if you're lazy like me) for 5 minutes. it's going to be super sticky, add as little additional flour as possible. cover for 15 minutes and let rest.
(sticky dough means high moisture content. high moisture content means you'll get more water vapor during baking, thus more puffyness)
knead the dough for another 5-10 minutes until it is smooth and elastic, again it's going to be insanely sticky, and this is a good thing. add as little additional flour as possible. put some oil in the bowl, and roll the dough around in the oil. cover with greased plastic wrap, and set in the fridge for at least 8 hours, and up to 48 hours.
one hour before baking, preheat oven to 475 and put a cookie sheet (or whatever you're going to bake them on) on the bottom most rack. cut the dough into 8-12 pieces. working with one peice at a time (leave the others in the bowl, covered with plastic), shape it into a ball, and then press into a disk. let rise on 10"x10" peices of lightly floured parchment paper for 20 . next time I might try greased parchment paper, espeically for any pitas that i want to cook on the stove.
put another peice of parchment paper on top of a disk, and roll it into a flat circle about 1/4" thick. it should be about 8" to 10" across. let rest uncovered for another 10 minutes.
when you're ready to bake, do a test pita first. lifting by the parchment paper corners so you don't disturb the bread, put one pita on the baking sheet, and bake for 3-4 minutes when it should be completely puffed. do NOT open the oven during the baking time. if the pita doesn't puff, you don't have enough moisture in the dough. spritz the remaining pitas with a little bit of water, and wait 5 minutes before trying again. Once you've got the moisture thing down, bake as many as will safely fit on the baking sheet at a time. remember not to touch the dough itself while transfereing to the baking sheet, just pick it up by the corners of the parchment paper.
I had minimal success cooking pitas on the stovetop, i think because the dough was so sticky that i couldn't get it off the parchment paper without disturbing the rise (thus the thought of using greased paper next time!). preheat a pancake griddle over medium high heat, and spray with non-stick cooking spray. turn heat down to medium, then slap down one pita, and watch all thsoe crazy bubbles form! flip it over after about 20 seconds, and let cook on 2nd side for about a minute. see it puff up all cool?? flip it over again, and let cook until it's completely puffed up, then remove to cool.
my stovetop pitas tasted incredible, and looked beautiful, but even though they puffed on the stove, there wasn't much in the way of useful pockets.
of my 7 oven baked pitas, only one was a complete disaster, the rest were pocketty and tasty. see!
I'm not sure if my husband is totally sick of pitas, but there might be another try for more perfect pitas next weekend. just for kicks.