I'm not what I would call a "recipe fine-tuner". When I usually test a recipe I either am disappointed, and just avoid making the same recipe again, or I like it and put it in my mental "to be cooked again" folder (although the "cooking again" seldom happens, too many recipes to try out there). But sometimes I'm ready to make an exception. Naan is probably my favourite flatbread but I can't go to my favourite Indian every time I feel like it. So I started looking for a good recipe for home oven baked naan. Ok, making naan in a home oven is not the ideal option,but how many westerners have a tandoor?
So I started trying out recipes, 7 or 8 of them, before coming up with my own version. The recipes I found on books and the internet ranged from bland or weird tasting to good. In the end 3 recipes gave nice naans, each with something peculiar that the others missed. So I played a bit by combining the good points in the recipes till I found a nice balance. And here it is:
- I start by mixing 1 1/2 cup lukewarm water with 1 cup yogurt and 2 tablespoons of ghee, melted. In this I dissolve 1 tsp of active dried yeast. Some recipes might use only water, some a big proportion of buttermilk. I found the above yogurt/water ratio gives a nice, slightly sour flavour, which I enjoy. Clearly one could play around a bit to adapt it to personal preferences.
- I don't use a fixed amount of flour, I just keep adding till I get a smooth silky elastic (very important) dough which is very slightly tacky. I use type 1050 flour, a German flour which is slightly darker than unbleached bread flour because I enjoy its taste. For the given amount of liquid I usually need close to 1 kg (2 lb). Since it doesn't have as much gluten as strong bread flour it has to be kneaded longer (15-20 minutes) to nicely develop the gluten, which you'll need when stretching the dough to shape the naans. I tried adding 30% strong bread flour but found that this makes the dough way too stretchy, giving problems when trying to get the naans in the oven (more below). I also add 1 Tbs of salt here, usually after the first 2 minutes of kneading.
- With the amount of yeast used the dough takes 2 to 3 hours to double. Once there I flatten, portion and shape the dough into small ovals. With this amount of dough you can make 8 medium or 6 large naans. Since I always seem to have problems getting a big naan into my not-too-big oven I usually make 8 pieces. Or, as I did yesterday, I take half of the flattened dough and put it back in the fridge and make only 4 naans. The dough will continue to rise slowly in the fridge and it will get a more complex flavour. When I do this I always make the remaining naans on the next day so I don't know how long one could keep the dough in the fridge: I wouldn't exceed the two days mark. I flatten these dough pieces slightly, to get an oval and let them rise, covered 20-30 minutes.
- Before baking I always pre-heat the oven to the hughest temperature it will reach, 260C in my case. You can bake the naans on a pizza stone or quarry tiles or use an inverted baking sheet. The stone gives a nicer result but also takes more to heat up. You'll need to calculate at least an hour of pre-heating time. If you use a metal sheet 30 minutes will be enough (metal heats quicker) but you'll get a slightly crunchier underside.
- To shape the naans I use one of two methods, depending on how I feel like. To get a nice bubbly naan I usually just stretch the dough with my hands to get the classic teardrop shape, and eventually sprinkle some sesame seeds on. Otherwise I shape the naans like a snowshoe. To do this wet your fingers and dimple the dough with them, making quite deep marks. The dough will stretch only slightly so you'll need to finish off the naan by stretching it out in one direction. With this method eventual toppings stick better to the dough. Be careful not to get the underside of the naan wet or it will almost inevitably stick to the surface you'll bake them on. For a more graphical explanation you might wan to to take a look at this episode of Julia Child's tv show, only adviseable if you have a high speed connection. Don't worry if you get a few holes, these will give the naan some nice crunchy bits. It's important to remember not to stretch the dough to its full size as it will continue stretching while you move it into the oven. Otherwise you might have to flip one side over.
- Finally the baking. Move the naan into the oven and lay it down flat on the baking surface. If your oven is big enough you could bake two side to side. Laying the naan down takes a bit of practice and some care. Whatever you touch will burn your hands so one has to be concentrated. Also, as the back of my hand wishes to remind me :-), even leaving your hands too long into the oven might cause slight burns. Nut what's a little burn, if you manage to get a tasty naan ;-)? Once the naans are in the oven they will bake in about 5-6 minutes. I usually turn the grill/broiler on in the first 1-2 minutes and then turn it off again (the grill is about 30 cm/12 in away from the bread). I find this helps the naan to bubble up nicely and also gives a few more of those aesthetic brown spots you can see in the pics. Once ready I let the naans cool slightly on a rack and then wrap them into a cloth to keep them warm. If I want garlic flavoured (or other) naan I just brush the top side of the bread with some ghee in which I've slowly simmered some chopped garlic and then either eat the bread straight away or fold it in two.
With these method you'll get thin soft bubbly naans, which are my personal ideal. Sure it does take a bit of effort, but if you like these flatbreads as much as I do, it is worth the bother.
Yesterday we ate palak gosht with our naans, made using a recipe very close to this one. Other times we just like to eat a simple mint raita with our naan.
Maybe, if the result is so nice, I should consider fine tuning other recipes too...
As I wrote the title of this post I thought a lot about using the word perfect. I didn't want to sound arrogant or anything: these naans I made were, for me, perfect. On the other hand perfection is a rather fleeting concept. I made naan again yesterday night (1/3 or 3/1 if you come from the US). They came out great but I already found one or two details to improve. The search goes on....