A while back I was looking for a whole wheat bloomer recipe and a couple of those I came across included malt. Since I didn’t have any, I moved on to the next recipe. Then one day I was looking at the ingredients in the artisan bread we really like from a local bakery and it listed malt. Hmmm…is that the secret ingredient to outstanding homemade bread, I wondered. So I did a little research.
Turns out there are two types of malt (a derivative of barley) powder used in bread baking, diastatic and non-diastatic. Diastatic gives your bread a stronger rise, better texture, nicer crust color, and even extends the shelf life. Non-diastatic is used mostly for flavor, but it’s also what gives bagels their shiny crust (and elevates a plain old milkshake to rock star malt status).
Sounded to me like the diastatic was what I was looking for, and after trying in vain to find it at local stores, I ordered a bag from King Arthur Flour. You only use ½ to 1 teaspoon per three cups of flour, but it really makes a difference. Whole wheat bread loaves that were previously a little too dense for sandwiches were much lighter and fluffier. English muffins cooked up thicker with the same amount of dough. Every yeast bread I’ve made using this malt powder has turned out even better than before.
And now I’ve used it in pita bread (pocket bread). I forgot it in the first batch I made and they were good, but wow, everything was just better in the batch with malt powder. The dough rose higher, it was easier to roll, it puffed higher in the oven, and the pitas stayed puffed much longer after they were out of the oven, resulting in perfect pockets when cut in half for stuffing.
Speaking of stuffing, pita bread is the perfect sandwich vehicle. Gyros and falafel are traditionally served in pitas, but anything you would normally put between two slices of bread is pita-appropriate. You can also cut them into wedges and serve with hummus—oh my, I’m getting hungry just thinking of the possibilities! On to the recipe—I’m off to make some hummus. Enjoy!
Whole Wheat Pita Bread
1 tablespoon honey (use organic sugar or pure maple syrup for a vegan version)
2 cups warm water (105-115 degrees F.)
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached bread flour
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
1 teaspoon diastatic malt powder (optional)
In a medium bowl, whisk the yeast into the warm water. Stir in the honey. Let sit for 5-10 minutes until foamy.
In a large bowl, whisk together flours and salt. With a wooden spoon, stir in yeast mixture until you have a stiff dough. You can use your hands for the final mixing—you want the flour to be fully incorporated. Dough will be fairly sticky. Cover bowl with a damp tea towel and place in a warm, draft-free place and let rise until double in size (about an hour).
Punch down dough and turn it out onto a flour-dusted surface. Knead a few times and shape into a round. Cover again with tea towel and let rise for about a half hour.
Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Lightly oil two large baking sheets.
Using a sharp knife, cut round of dough into 8 equal wedges. Take one wedge in your hand and tuck dough underneath as you turn it to shape into a ball. Place ball onto a well-floured surface and flatten into a round and sprinkle with a little flour. Using a rolling pin, roll into a 6-7 inch round and place on baking sheet. Repeat with another wedge of dough. Bake 8-10 minutes, turning pan once halfway through. Rounds will puff up like a pillow during baking. Remove to racks to cool.
While first two pitas are baking, repeat process with two more wedges of dough. Continue until all are baked. If pitas don’t deflate on their own while cooling, gently press them down. Once they are cool, you can stack them and that will flatten them as well. Makes 8 pitas.