Fresh Naan Bread: A Snap- Who Knew?

Making homemade naan

Chana masala (curried chickpeas) with a salad and fresh naan

I love Indian food! If you do too, check out my recipe for venison vindaloo, bahut garam! If you really want to do it up right, though, for the ultimate yummy Indian food experience, you have to make raita, fresh chutney, and naan bread. Seriously, bhai.

I have found that there are wonderful Indian chefs doing all kinds of jolly YouTubes- some of them seem like they are beautiful young women with multiple PhDs who got married and now do this because they are bored in the house- and some are wonderful aunties like Manjula, my favorite, whose capable brown hands and bejeweled wrists turn out lovely parathas, puris, curries, pickles….but that is not how I got to make my own Naan bread. What happened is that I learned how t make pitas- here is how, if you are interested, -but then I thought, hey, I really want naan, so what if I just try making them in a frying pan, like rotis and tortillas, and see if it flies.

This makes 10-12 naan about 8-10 inches long. Ample for 4 people. First, make a regular yeast dough. Spelt is really better for you- it is less inflammatory, and it is not so boring and white like plain flour, but also not so strong flavored and brown as some whole wheat.

1 1/4 c. water

1/2 tsp rapid rise yeast

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 tbsp olive oil

3 c. spelt flour- or any flour really

If you are using a bread machine, and here is my big thumbs up on that– set it at the dough setting, make sure your dough ball is forming well, and go do something else until about 30 minutes before dinner is ready. I use less yeast and let it take longer so you get a nicer flavor. You can also do this in advance and keep it in the fridge until an hour or so before you want it, so it will be soft and room temperature.

If you are making it by hand, if using rapid rise yeast, just mix it with the flour, and if not, dissolve beforehand in the water, add a tsp of sugar or honey to feed it, let sit a few minutes. Make a well in the flour, pour in liquids, stir, knead into a ball, knead until elastic and stops sticking. Take out your agressions. Let it sit until about double in size.

making naan

Prepare balls of yeast dough on a plate.

Either way, start a high flame under a good sized frying pan- ideally a heavy cast iron one. Melt a few tablespoons of butter and grab a basting brush, if you will be buttering your naan.   Flour a board, shape it into a snake about 1 1/2 to 2 inches across, and with a sharp knife cut chunks to make little golf ball sized lumps. Roll them round with floured hands and lay them on a plate.

Making homemade naan

flour your board and roll it out with a rolling pin

Flour your board just like you were going to roll out a pie crust, and roll them into thin oblongs. About an eight of an inch is good. They can be picked up without tearing. The shape is not critical.

Making homemade naan

first side

Your pan will be really hot. No oil. Just throw the dough pancake down flat and smooth it a bit with your fingers if you have to. Wait and watch, but start rolling out another one. First it will make little bubbles, then big ones. After about 2 minutes it should be ready to flip. There should be nice little brown spots underneath, and the edge will be easy to grab so you can flip it. They can burn quickly once they have ballooned up since the dough is then dry and half as thick. Isn’t this cool? When done on both sides, put it in a bowl and cover it with two layers of cloth to keep it warm and steamy. Butter them as you go- it’s tasty, traditional, and keeps them soft the next day. Keep it going. You can see why a huge pan would be best, so you can get 2 going.

Making homemade naan

second side

Serve in the covered bowl, or fold two on everyone’s plate and pass more as people run out. Of course what I did was just for us, but it lasted three meals. So yummy.

Making homemade naan



Pitas as Promised

Pitas are so good fresh- crisp but soft, with a slight smoky tang of burnt flour on the floury surface. Like tortillas, you want to keep them warm in a covered basket. Their amazing pockets create what is better than a sandwich, because the freshly baked bread perfectly encloses whatever you put in it.making pita bread (6)

I was talking about Indian food to a woman who makes goodies at the deli at our local package store, Town and Country, and the topic of pitas came up. I gave her my URL and promised she could find out how to make perfect pitas very easily there. So I’d better get on it.

OK, first, this is so easy, but it is even easier if you read my post on bread machines. I am serious. Go buy one at the thrift store for $5-$15 and improve your life.  It is great for preparing a simple dough like what you need for pitas. I do get away with throwing in a small handful of flaxseeds, but try it half white and half spelt or whole wheat. Also the white whole wheat from King Arthur is pretty nice used straight for pitas.

Now for the ingredients:

3 c. flour

1 tsp sea salt

1 tbsp oil

1 tsp dry yeast

1 cup warm water.

Dump in the workbowl, set to dough setting, and push the button. Or, follow the steps for easy basic dough in my post Making Bread: Fear Not.

Now, and this is important- when the dough is almost risen, prepare your oven. Remove the top racks. Leave the lowest rack in place in the lowest possible slot. Put your biggest, heaviest cookie sheet on it. Now preheat to 500F. Not a degree less. 550F if your oven will do it. And this is why you removed the other racks. I have several oven scars on my forearms from touching those metal racks for a nanosecond. Yes, I need long oven gloves. I should put that on my wish list.

When the dough is risen, dump it out on a floured board and form a snake. Cut it into pieces about the size of a golf ball,  bigger if you want bigger pitas. It will make 10-12 balls.making pita bread (3)

Roll each other rounder in your hands so it will be easier to roll into a circle.making pita bread (2)

Keep them floury so they don’t stick together.

Roll them out into circles like a pancake, a little less than 1/4 inch thick, flouring as you go so they don’t stick. I put another floured wooden board out for the rolled out pitas to wait on until the oven is ready. making pita bread (4)When the oven is preheated, open it and toss as many pitas as will fit onto the cookie sheet. Put on the oven light. If you are busy set a timer for 2.5 minutes. Better yet, call any available children to watch. You will hear a lot of “wow”s when they start to puff. The water in the wet dough between the two sides of the baking pita is trapped inside as it turns to steam.making pita bread (1) By 2.5 minutes they should have puffed and have a small brown spot on the bottom. Quickly reach in and flip them with your hand. Don’t wait too long or they will become hard and fragile. Let them brown slightly on the other side, a minute tops, before tossing them into a cloth lined basket you can cover, and throwing in some more pitas to bake. Don’t let the oven get below 500F or they won’t puff. These are just starting to puff. The ones closer to the door take longer. Keep the baked ones covered in what ever you are bring them to the table in, see top photo.

This is fast and easy- I can make a batch of prepared dough into a bowl of hot fragrant pitas in 15 minutes if the oven is hot. They don’t last- definitely wrap them in plastic or wax paper. They are so good with middle eastern food. Hummus, the bowl garnished with raw red onions, cilantro, and lemon juice, feta, eggplant- yum! Try making the hummus with fava beans. Very healthy for men.

Anyway, the bottom of the oven thing is a good trick to approximate a village oven, and it really does create an authentic tasting pita which is fresh, hot, and baked with healthy ingredients. Try it!

Bread Machines yes or no

Bread machines are these large clunking devices that sit on the counter taking up space and hollering out that they could be filling your house with the fragrance of heavenly baking bread. People drop them off at the Goodwill all the time. I get mine there for $5-$15. They retail for Christmas present prices. So why don’t people like them in the long run?

They take up space, they have to be cleaned, and the loaves they turn out have a stupid looking shape with a hole in the bottom from the paddle, since they bake in the mixing bowl. The slices don’t look like what we were hoping for. And if you use mixes and follow the recipes in the book, the yeast won’t really develop a nice tangy, yeasty flavor and it will taste sort of bought. Now comes the thinking part.

Use the dough setting! The great part about Bread machines is that they do all the mixing, kneading, and rising for you- I mean that it warms a bit and the dough stays warm and covered until a little beep tells you it is done rising. I really love this with rye bread because rye is super sticky and I don’t enjoy kneading it so much. The only caution is that you need to look in on it as it is mixing in the early stages because if you are adding various things, as I do, and using sourdough started, as I do, moisture content can vary, and you want to see a nice little ball being whammed around the workbowl by the paddle. You might have to add a tiny bit of water or a bit of flour.That being said, if you don’t see that, as long as it is mixing well you will be ok. If it is too full, which won’t happen with a standard 3 cups recipe, you may need to reach in and flip the dough around so that everything gets moved and mixed. But by the time you are that adventurous you will understand what I am talking about.

Every bread machine I have ever had has a dough setting, but make sure it doesn’t default to basic loaf the next time you bake- suddenly you smell it baking and you haven’t formed it the way you wanted to.

So now you have the dough. Just grease your loaf pan- I recommend stoneware, which is another Christmas present type item (pricey), dump your dough out on a floured board, shape it, and put it in the pan to rise again. I like to try to create a little more surface tension by folding the dough and putting the seam on the bottom. But I also don’t always totally crush the bubbles in the bread- called degassing. When you cover it don’t put anything tightly on it and mind it doesn’t stick. I do reuse clean plastic bags a lot. You don’t want the surface to dry out since it’s expanding.

making pita bread (3)But here’s more fun! Bread machines are ideal for making plain doughs that are easy to form into rolls, braids (try following a challah recipe), and flatbreads like pitas. I don’t like really plain white flour dough but spelt (which is less inflammatory than modern wheat) and whole wheat can give flavor without being super heavy, and you can use half and half white, smidge of this and smidge of that, to make up your 3 cups, for a very light result. The next post is about pitas, and if you want I can also make some rolls and photograph the process.

Bottom line, I love bread machines (links to Amazon search in case you feel a need to boost the economy with your surplus cash…) for certain things, enough that mine does live on the counter. We just don’t ever buy bread because it is easy and better to make it. And economical, even at today’s flour prices. Now, my friend Lisa, who has 8 kids, grinds her flour fresh and bakes bread every day. She uses extra virgin coconut oil and the bread, though completely whole wheat, is light and mild flavored. None of the oils in the grain had a chance to go rancid. It also rises faster I think. Her batches are too big for a bread machine but I think- and I have to ask her- she uses a mixer with a dough hook. Anyway, for sure she is buying in bulk so she is saving a lot.

Also- and this is so very important, don’t forget that today’s baked goods contain bromated flour. Always make sure your flour is not bromated. It is very bad for your thyroid, and I am convinced it is a factor in the thyroid epidemic we are seeing today, especially among women. You will have more energy if you substitute home baked bread for store bought, so don’t be concerned that baking will make you fat.

So do it. It is about sustainability and bliss.

Making Bread: Fear Not

Who doesn’t love the amazing smell of baking bread? Even more so delicious yeast bread, with a beautiful crisp yet chewy crust that is just the right color?

Do not be afraid of yeast. Many kinds of yeast float in the air, causing fermentations of all sorts, some of which are among the most delicious and sacred things in life, like bread and wine. Now cheese, that’s another critter, also dear to my heart. Bread, like most ancient things, is natural and easy. Follow me here. Think paleo.

The most ancient bread I have ever eaten is the Indian roti. It is just wheat (chapati) flour and water, and oil, sometimes anointed with a little ghee, which is clarified butter. You mix it up, form it into balls, roll it out into little pancakes, cook it on both sides in a dry frying pan, and then toast it over the flame with a pair of tongs. This last step is probably to approximate how it is supposed to taste after being cooked on a stone from which hot embers have just been swept.making pita bread (4)

Now, imagine yeast landed on a primitive gruel of cooked whole or pounded grains that was leftover and sitting in a cooking basket. It bubbles, but the taste isn’t bad and the woman isn’t about to throw it out.  Do they drink it, and get a mild alcoholic buzz? Does it accidentally get too close to the fire and get baked into a hard cake that is tasty, chewable, and stores well? Does it get mixed with more pounded grains and cooked on a hot stone, where the air bubbles expand rapidly as heat hits the primitive dough and the whole thing puffs up- like a pita?

Trust me, you can make bread and it will be good. And timewise it really doesn’t take that much time if you plan it around your schedule, especially when making the no-knead bread further down. But if you’re going to be like that about it, pick up a bread machine (that is a link to my article) for 5 bucks at the local thrift store. People are always dropping them off. OK, here’s the basic proportions:

3 c. flour

1 tsp salt

1 tbsp sugar of some kind- honey is fine too

1 tbsp. oil

1 c. warm water

1/4- 2 tsp yeast.

IPour flour into a big measuring cup. If you scoop the flour, it packs and you have more flour than you need. Dissolve yeast into the water with a pinch of sugar and flour, let it get foamy. Meanwhile dump other ingredients in a mixing bowl, the bigger the better. Pour in the yeast culture and stir until combined with a heavy wooden spoon. Then roll up your sleeves and knead the dough. I used to just knead like a cat until the mass got long, then turn, fold like a letter, and repeat, until I saw a friend from Taiwan just turn it a third, fold, turn it a third, repeat, so you are constantly stretching and turning the corners of a triangle. It does work well inside a large bowl, so you don’t make as much mess as when you turn it out onto a floured board. Now, you may find your dough is to dry to stick together and become elastic, or you may find it is too wet and sticky. Either make a little pocket in the dough and add tiny amounts of water that you seal into the dough so they don’t make a big mess, or add flour.

When it is smooth and elastic, like the recipes all say, it feels really nice. It is sort of satiny and doesn’t stick. It’s fun to push your face into,… at least if you are a kid. Wash, dry, and oil your mixing bowl, put the dough in it, cover with a wet cloth and a damp towel (I use recycled plastic grocery bags a lot), set in a place that is warm and won’t be disturbed (my unused microwave) until it is doubled in bulk. This will take varying times, depending on how much yeast you used per amount of flour, how much sugar and salt you used, the heaviness of the flour, the dryness of the dough, the warmth of the room, altitude… With 2 tsp I would say 2-3 hours, but it will taste nicer if you use less yeast and wait longer, as in my next recipe.

Anyway, oil whatever pan you are using- this makes 1 loaf- and form the dough so it will be about the shape of the pan only a lot smaller. No need to punch it down and let it rise again really. You degas the dough as you are forming it. Then cover it again and leave it until it is risen enough to be really soft and yielding on top, but hasn’t gone flat. That is not quite doubled. Preheat the over to 400F and bake it until it sounds hollow when it is rapped. 40 minutes to an hour. (That is a lot of energy, so try to have other things in the oven at the same time to use the heat.) Take it out, turn it out of the pan- it should fall right out and the bottom should be as brown as the top- and let it cool before cutting. If you cut hot bread it doesn’t slice well. Plus the French say it’s bad for your stomach.

OK, that was super basic beginner bread. This next one is easier. This is the famous no-knead bread that was flooding the internet a while back. I was dubious, but when my non-baking aunt brought me a gorgeous golden loaf with perfect hole structure, I had to try it.

You need a dutch oven, which is essentially a big heavy pot with a lid. Mine is cast iron. You need that kind of weight. The dutch oven fools this bread into believing it is in a steam oven, like professional bakers use, so it becomes this round crisp ball that you would pay through the nose for in an artisanal bakery. It really rocks. So:

In a big mixing bowl put:

3 cups flour

1 1/2 to 2 1/2 teaspoons salt,

1/4 tsp rapid rise yeast

mix well and add 1 1/2 c. warm water. Stir it up with a spoon until combined. It is quite wet for a dough. You could never knead it. Cover for 12-18 hours in a sheltered spot. It will be bubbly and wet.

You need something you can put it on to proof that you will be able to lift and flip into the dutch oven. I use a thin flexible plastic cutting board. My cousin’s wife uses a floured kitchen towel. When I did that it stuck. I thought it was ruined but it still turned out great. So: flour your board very well and dump your wet dough onto it. You may even need to scrape a little. Flour your dominant hand and flip the sides over the middle, so when you flip it over it looks like a round loaf. Cover with something that won’t stick and let rise 2 hours. When it has risen an hour and 20 minutes preheat the oven to 475F. Maybe yours heats faster than mine but that is what works for me. Important: put the dutch oven in to preheat as well, including the lid. When the dough has risen and the oven has preheated, wasting no time, open the oven, pull out the rack with the dutch oven on it as far as you safely can, remove the lid, pour a little olive oil into it and wipe around quickly with a paper towel, being careful not to burn yourself. Now take the dough board in both hands, aim, and neatly flip it into the pot. If you miss the middle, you can jiggle the pot a little to slide it in, but don’t panic. It will still be good. Put the lid on, push it back in and bake for 12-15 minutes. Then take off the lid and bake another 15. Put the oven light on- it is fun to see. When it is done take it out of the pan to cool- although this pan won’t ever give a soggy bottom. You could leave it in if you wanted it to stay warm longer.

Start with at least half white flour on your first try. Then move on to other flours. I prefer spelt and rye, but rye does make a flatter, heavier loaf. And I like to throw in a handful of flax seeds. It looks nice and they are healthful and delicious. I have used sourdough starters which make a very tasty bread, but have nicer results using sourdough in heavy breads.

Next post: Pitas as Promised.