Tuesday, October 28, 2008
I cook a lot of Indian food at home and while frozen naan is okay, I just wanted to be able to create my own delicious, hot-from-the-oven naan. That's where the problem starts because authentic naan is cooked in a clay beehive oven called a "tandor". The internal temperature of a tandor reaches 800°F! The bread is made using a very wet and sticky dough that is slapped and stuck on the inside wall of the oven. There it quickly cooks and is removed using a metal rod. As you've already imagined, you're just not going to get close to that kind of thing from your home oven. So, you do some research, improvise and modify. Sometimes you can even get lucky.
So, for some time now, I've been trying a number of recipes and techniques to make naan and roti so I can have a hot Indian bread with my homemade Indian food. All of these noble attempts met with limited success. While roti is easier to prepare, it's just not naan, and prior to the recipe below, the best I ever did was in creating naan that looked good, but it was a little dry, crispy and well-boring!
That all changed at 8:00 PM, Sunday, October 26th when I finally "mastered" naan in my home oven. The recipe and techniques below are the product of research, trial and error and some experimenting that culminated in my success on that evening. It produces an authentic naan, that looks great, is soft, slightly moist and delicious, the perfect accompaniment to homemade Indian food. You cannot imagine my satisfaction. No, really, you can't.
There are several differences in this recipe, and the technique I use, compared to the others recipes and techniques that I tried or read about.
I use unbleached bread flour to create a drier-than-normal-naan dough. Most recipes call for all-purpose flour. Bread flour is higher in gluten and lends itself better to the dough manipulation required to make naan at home. Also, real naan is going into an 800°F oven and it needs extra moisture to cook properly in there, so the resulting dough is wet and sticky. Not so on a pizza stone in a normal home oven. I've found that going with a normal dough moisture content makes it not only easier to handle, but it bakes perfectly in the home oven.
Many recipes call for rolling out the dough, I couldn't disagree more. When I rolled the dough during previous attempts, I always found the resulting naan would be flat, dry and crisp. So, I shape the dough balls into naan shapes by flipping it hand over hand. I then let it rest and rise a little more and then give it a few more flips before popping it onto the stone.
Finally, and thanks to Chef Sanjay Thummas' excellent suggestion in his recipe, I used the broiler to cook it. This helps it to cook a little more authentically by allowing it to brown quickly and nicely. I have a newer oven with the broiler in the same space as the regular oven, so it is easy to regulate the naan's exposure to the flame. You may need to adjust or improvise based on your oven.
So after a number of less-than-satisfactory results in my Indian flatbread cooking education, I offer you my recipe for GREAT homemade naan.
3 cups unbleached bread flour
1 TBS whole wheat flour
1 tsp instant yeast
1/2 cup water (75° to 85°F)
1/2 cup milk*
1 tsp peanut oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
*Maybe a little more or a little less
In a small bowl add the water, oil, sugar and yeast. Stir well and set aside for a few minutes.
Sift all the flour into a large bowl. Add the salt.
Add the water, oil, sugar and yeast to the flour and mix it in well.
Begin adding the milk a little at a time until the dough forms a single, solid mass.
Turn the dough ball out onto a lightly floured surface and knead. I've found the best way to knead this dough is to push down and forward into the dough mass. Pick it up, return it to its original position and then repeat three times. Then turn the dough ball 1/4 of a turn and repeat the entire procedure. Continue doing this for 10 to 12 minutes.
You're looking for a dough that is soft and pliable and tacky but NOT sticky. If you're not familiar with working with dough, be patient. Dough responds slowly to changes in moisture. Make small adjustments and give it time. If the dough seems a little dry, moisten your hand with a little water or milk and continue working it. If it seems wet and is sticking to the kneading surface, dust the surface and dough with a little flour and continue kneading. Again, the resulting dough after kneading should be smooth, pliable and tacky but not sticky.
After kneading, form the dough into a rough ball and cover with plastic wrap. Allow it to relax for 10 minutes.
While the dough relaxes find a suitable bowl or container that is large enough for the dough to easily double in size. Coat that container with a thin layer of oil.
When the dough is done resting place it in the oiled container and cover it with plastic wrap. Place it in a warm place (not in the sun or too hot), and let it rise to twice it's original size. This can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours.
When the dough has doubled in size turn it back out onto the kneading surface.
Turn on your broiler and set your pizza stone on a rack midway in your oven. (If you have an older oven you may need to improvise here as old broilers place the food very close to the flames.)
Take the dough and GENTLY knead it down with your knuckles (don't push forward, just gently downward). Take one end of the dough and fold it midway over itself. Take the other end and fold it over that. Knead GENTLY down again. The dough should still be soft and spongey, it should form a rough rectangle. Repeat the folding and then knead gently one more time.
Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Place the pieces under plastic wrap so they don't dry out.
Gently shape each piece into a smooth round ball by lightly gathering it and tightening it by pinching it on the bottom over and over. (DO NOT roll it between your hands like clay). Again, the dough should remain soft and spongey. Place each ball under the plastic wrap to keep it moist. Keep the balls apart as they will rise a little bit and if they touch they'll stick. Let them rest for 10-15 minutes.
Shape each dough ball into the traditional naan shape by placing it between your thumb and fingers and quickly turning your hand over, slapping the dough into your other open hand then grabbing it similarly and repeating, (Kind of like holding a plate and turning it over). Do this over and over rotating the dough a little each time until it relaxes and begins to stretch into the naan shape. This is a two stage process you'll do it once and then place the flattened dough under the plastic wrap to allow it to rise a little and relax, and then do it briefly one more time just before you place it in the oven. By the time you've stretched your last ball for the first time, it is time to go back to your first one. See the video below for a demonstration.
Open the oven door. Grab your first naan, quickly flip it hand over hand to give it its final stretch and then CAREFULLY place it on the pizza stone. Watch and note the time it takes to bake the first one. Between one and two minutes it will start to get brown spots. Carefully turn it over until that side browns in spots. Remove from the oven, quickly brush both sides with butter or ghee (careful it is HOT) and then place in towels or a tortilla warmer to keep warm.
After the first one is done and you have a sense of the process and time involved, you may feel confident enough to cook them 2-3 at a time.
With a little practice making your own naan is kind of fun and it is certainly delicious!
Recipe: Homemade Naan from Chop Onions, Boil Water by Henry