Following up on my impassioned spiel about fluffy Middle Eastern flatbread: No, I have not gotten the chance to revisit Sofra to bully and harangue the chefs into handing over a recipe, or better yet, their oven.
I did, however, throw together Pita dough the next day, you know, for Pita bread. And Pita bread isn’t Pita bread without its ability to turn into a handy semi-circular pocket with which to stuff all things chunky and drippy and tasty, like so.
No, this is not a mistake. And no, I did set out to make pita. I can differentiate Pita from Naan, thank you very much.
So what in Hummus’ name happened?
Well, they didn’t puff.
And so they went the way of all disobedient Pitas and became Naan.
Very, very yummy Naan at that.
Rounds of dough.
See, Pita bread gets its lovely pocket from the way it puffs up like a balloon in the oven from the moment it hits the hot surface. And therein lay the first reason why only one of my discs of dough puffed (and even then it refused to do a good job of it, leaving the other half sealed). I cooked them in a pan atop the stove.
I didn’t use the oven because I felt lazy and wanted to conserve electricity because we all know how all big and heavy things siphon away a good portion of the utility bills each month.
There, see? The last one that went into the pan did puff up, but didn’t go all the way around. You can pretty much see how I gave as much care and patience into rolling the remaining doughs out into cute little circles as a pot of instant noodles. Which is to say I didn’t care at all, eventually. The moment I accepted that I wasn’t going to end up with Pitas for dinner, I very quickly took the rest of the doughs, slapped them around in my hands, flapped them about to achieve a crude sort of thickness before tossing them into the pan. And so I made naans.
Naans definitely aren’t inferior to pitas in any way of course, contrary to how I’ve probably made them sound for the better part of this post. They aren’t merely things to be relegated to a corner, the Pita Rejects, the oh-phooey-looks-like-we-have-to-make-do-with-Naan sort of bread. So I’d like to clear the air and say that Naans are works of art on their own, whether they are studded with pungent bits of garlic, stuffed with minced lamb, or dried fruit.
The first of anything I made was, well, naan. Yes, really.
I made frequent trips down to Little India to get Atta Flour, and I made them in a wok, fired up and heated till the cast-iron steamed, because I don’t have a tandoor (now that’s a thought…), and we tore into them and dunked them in chicken curry, rendang, and all sorts of saucey stuff, wiping our plates spanking clean. Our fingers were always tinged pink from tearing up the piping hot flatbreads, and there was never enough to go around.
You won’t get that characteristic crisp and smokey flavour of Naans cooked in a tandoor, since the most you could do is to cook them in cast-iron cookware at 300C or so, a good 200C short of a tandoor’s roaring 500C. But hey, homemade naan on a stove top in under 10 minutes (or even an oven, but we’re focusing on the utility bills here), you won’t see me pining for a tandoor much. But wouldn’t a wood-fired bricked hearth for artisanal breads be wonderful…
Anyway, Pitas, I’ll get you next time. For now, the Naans have the spotlight.
Recipe adapted from The Bread Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum
This recipe was meant to be for Pitas, but they work perfect for naans as well. In fact, I think they’d work great for a whole host of other things, white dinner rolls for example, so go ahead and experiment. Roll in minced garlic for Garlic Naan, or cheese for Cheese Naan. I used a large flat pan this time round, but if I were to make naan proper, I would use the wok and I would recommend that method if you own one. Other than that, you could use the oven as well. Just preheat it to 250C and bake the doughs for 2 minutes on the first side, then flip them over to bake 1 minute on the other side.
Makes 8 Naans.
Supple dough. Like a babys backside.
- Unbleached All-purpose Flour 454g
- Sea Salt 13.2g
- Instant Yeast 6.4g
- Olive Oil 27g
- Water 295g
- Combine water and olive oil in a bowl, followed by the dry ingredients. Using a wooden spoon, mix until the flour is incorporated and then start kneading by hand with the dough in the bowl until it comes together. It will be a little sticky to the touch. Turn out the dough onto a clean surface and continue to knead for about 5 more minutes till the dough is smooth and elastic. If you have a bench scraper, use it to help you manage the dough. Avoid adding in any more flour, using only a sprinkle here and there to help with the sticking.
- Place the ball of dough back into the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let it rest in the refrigerator overnight for maximum flavour development, or at room temperature for at least 2 hours if you’re in a rush. The dough will double in size.
- Take the bowl out of the fridge an hour beforehand to let it come up to room temperature. Turn out the dough onto a clean surface and divide into 8 pieces with your bench scraper or a knife. Do not punch the air out of the dough. Treat it as deftly and lightly as possible. If something feels like a baby’s backside, treat it as such.
- Working with one piece at a time, keeping the rest covered with a damp cloth, lightly flour the surface of your work area and roll each piece of dough till about 0.5cm thick. Alternatively, since the dough is so supple and light, you could just flatten each piece with your palms, pick it up and gently toss it back and forth from palm to palm to enlarge and flatten it out. When it comes to Naans, there’s no need for a perfect thickness or shape.
- Heat your skillet/large flat pan/wok up till a drop of water evaporates the moment it hits the surface. Lower the heat to maintain that temperature since you don’t want to burn the bread. Place the flattened dough carefully onto the surface and let it cook for about 2 minutes before turning it over. You don’t have to brown the bread although it does give the Naans a nice char and crisper texture.
- Keep each cooked Naan covered on a plate with a cloth. Serve warm and with generous dollops of curry.
Notes: If your Naans puff, then hey! You’ve got Pitas! The chances of them puffing is higher if you’ve kept them as moist as possible.