How to cook the perfect Naan Bread

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naan-breadNaan Bread is the staple compliment to Indian cuisine. Its characteristic soft texture, crispy exterior and distinct flavor make in a must have either as part of a meal or a quick hearty treat.

‘Naan’ simply means ‘bread’ in its originally Persian etymology, however, the traditional art of making this bread is anything but simple . Many chefs claim to possess the secret formula for making this unique flatbread; perfectly cooked and tender on the inside, crunchy on the outside and lightly aromatic with a distinct toasted flavour.

The Flour

To achieve the perfect soft yet chewy consistency, the right flour must be used. The two options that can be easily found in any supermarket shelf are plain flour and white bread flour. While plain flour will achieve a delicious soft dough, the chewy consistency particular to naan bread can only be attained using a strong flour with higher protein and gluten content such as bread flour.

Raising Agents

The most traditional raising agent is yeast. Adding yeast and allowing the dough to rise for a few hours before baking gives these flatbreads a bubbly texture. Baking powder can be added with the yeast to cut down the rising time of the dough to two thirty minute intervals. These two intervals, in between which the dough will be lightly kneaded and left to rise again under a damp cloth, are necessary to achieve an extra fluffy interior. But if you are in a crunch for time, baking powder on its own is a sufficient substitute.
To get a slight tang and maintain the soft chewy texture of the bread, a bit of diluted yoghurt is added to the batter. Eggs would yield a more rubbery texture and may not be to the taste of all.  A little fat, best in the the form of butter, is a more accepted and tastier addition.

Flavours

Sugar and salt are the fundamental flavours. Sugar is necessary to activate the yeast while salt adds a little flavour. Garlic butter or fragrant seeds and spices such as nigella (black cumin) and coriander can also be added according to preference. A nice dollop of melted ghee or clarified butter to finish over the naan bread is also highly recommended for that special taste.

Method

Traditionally naan bread is baked in a clay oven which gives it a distinct toasted flavor. To replicate this a very hot pan on high heat can be used to achieve a similarly crispy bread with a soft and chewy core.

Excessive kneading and rolling is not advised. Because the aim is to have a stretchy bread, the dough has to have a soft and sticky consistency that can only be stretched by hand. If the dough is dry enough to be handled with a rolling pin then it is too tough and will yield a hard, rubbery bread. A little water should be added to soften the dough.

The Recipe

Upon research , the following recipe proves to be a simple way to achieve the perfect naan bread with little hassle.

Yields 4.

  • 1 tsp dry yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 150ml warm water
  • 300g enriched white bread flour (plus extra for kneading)
  • pinch of salt
  • 120ml natural yoghurt
  • 4 TBSP melted ghee or butter
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • (optional) Fragrant seeds of choice: black cumin , sesame or poppy seeds

Stir the yeast, sugar and two tablespoons of warm water into a small bowl. Set aside until the mixture begins to froth (about 10 minutes.
Mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and stir the yoghurt-sugar-yeast mixture into it, plus 2 tablespoons of the melted ghee.
Mix gently with a wooden spoon until the mixture starts coming together. Gradually stir in enough water to make a soft, sticky mixture that is just firm enough to call a dough, but isn’t dry. Turn this over onto a lightly flour-dusted surface and knead for about five minutes until smooth and a little less sticky.
Lightly oil a large bowl. Put the dough in the bowl and turn it to coat. Cover this clean kitchen towel and leave in a draught-free place for about 30 minutes until the dough has doubled in size.
After thirty minutes, add some oil to the dough and knead in until smooth. Cover and set aside again for another thirty minutes.
Tip the dough back out onto the lightly floured surface and divide into four balls. Roll each portion of the dough into a teardrop shape and gently stretch the shape with your fingers to get a naan that is less than 5mm thick.
Meanwhile, heat a non-stick frying pan over a very high heat for five minutes and put the oven on low. Prepare the mixture of melted ghee and seeds for garnishing.
Brush one side of the naan with water and place it in the pan, water side down. When it starts to bubble, turn it over and cook until the other side is covered in brown patches. Turn it back over and cook until browned thoroughly with no raw bits left.
Serve on its own with extra ghee or with curry of choice.

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