28 Jan

I realised recently that one of the only reasons that eating Indian food at a restaurant is so special, as opposed to at home, is that you get delicious bread with the meal.  So I decided to make Indian bread at home.  I started out making chappati, thin Indian breads which don’t rise.  But it was naan that I really wanted.  Soft, doughy naan.  So I tried it.  I found this recipe, which had been developed through trial an error to find a way to make naan in the home.

It is a simple dough, made from flour, water, milk, oil, yeast, salt and sugar (although I think the second time I made it I forgot to put the sugar in – it still worked fine). You make the dough, and then knead it for about 10 minutes.  The dough should be wet, but not sticky.  The recipe says to use unbleached bread flour, but I didn’t have any on hand.  I used plain all-purpose flour for my first batch, and that worked out fine . For my second batch I ran out of plain flour, so I used about 1/3 plain flour, 1/3 rice flour and 1/3 wholemeal flour (it is this batch that the photos are from).  That batch was slightly less fluffy than the first, but it was still pretty good.  So I would say don’t be too worried about the type of flour you use, but for the fluffiest bread I would use white flour (it has more gluten, which helps it rise).

After kneading, the dough needs to sit in a warm place for about half and hour to an hour, until it has doubled in size.  If you are cooking a curry at the same time then I think the best place to rise the bread is next to the curry on the stove.  You then make it into a rough rectangle shape, being an gentle with the dough as possible (you don’t want to undo all that good rising).  The rectangle is cut into eight pieces, which are then formed into rough balls (again, be gentle: try not to roll the dough between your hands, rather pinch the bottom to make it into a round shape).

Once you have made eight balls, you again leave them to rise, this time only for about 10 minutes.  Once they have risen a little more, you need to make them into the bread shape.  You do this by slapping them from one hand to the other, which will flatten and  stretch them.  You don’t want to make them too thin, as this will make them less fluffy.  When I flattened the bread, I did each bit twice, with about a five minute break inbetween.  This allowed the bread to rise a little bit more.

The recipe that I was following said to cook the naan on a pizza stone, beneath a grill.  As I don’t have a grill in the oven, which appears to be required for that technique, I just cooked mine in a very hot, non-stick frying pan.  You don’t need to use any oil to cook the bread.  If the pan is hot enough, you only need to cook each bit of bread for about 15-20 seconds on each side.  You want them lightly browned on each side when you turn it over.

To cook enough for everyone, I just put the ones which were done in a warm oven.

Then serve with your favourite curry.  We had this lot with a chickpea and spinach curry.

Homemade Naan

3 cups flour
1 tbsp whole wheat flour
1 tsp instant yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
Non-stick frying pan

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 place it in an oiled container and cover it with a tea towel. Place it in a warm place (not in the sun or too hot), and let it rise to twice it’s original size. I found this took about 30 minutes, but it could take longer.

When the dough has doubled in size turn it back out onto the kneading surface.

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 a teatowel 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. Again, the dough should remain soft and spongey. Place the balls under a teatowel for about 10 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.

Get your frying pan and heat your element to its hottest temperature.  You want the pan to be hot before you put your first piece of bread in.  When  your pan is hot, put your first piece in.  Cook it until that side it browned, then flip.  It will need less time on the second side.  When that bit is done, put it in a warmed oven, and go on to the next piece.  To cook all eight pieces will take about 10 minutes.  Serve with delicious curry.

If you are cooking for a large group of people you can just increase the recipe – I did a 1 and 1/2 lot and it turned out fine, the dough just needed a little longer to rise.


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