Plain Naan

Plain Naan

Who does not love a naan? A soft, enriched dough, mildly salty and slightly charred, flash-cooked for big bubbles with a crispy exterior and pillowy inside, it is the most indulgent flatbread to scoop up spicy Indian curries.  

‘Naan’, a word that just means bread in Persian, is a flatbread native to west, central and southern Asia. It is baked in a clay oven at very high temperatures, rather than over a flame like the chapati, which gives it a crisp exterior, a fluffy core and a distinctive charred flavour. 

Naan is made from an enriched dough which means that there are other ingredients added beyond the flour, water, yeast, and salt to make the bread. In naan usually you will find some sort of dairy like yogurt, milk, ghee, butter or even egg at times.

Making naan is a lot like making pizza at home. You want the oven to be heated as hot as possible, and you want the quickest transfer of heat to the dough as you can. This will create a perfectly cooked crust with a doughy interior.

You can either cook the naan in an aluminium cooker (see pictures) or in the oven to get the crispy delicious naan. I usually cook it in my cooker ( you can see the well used state of the cooker in the pictures :-)) and they turn out perfect every time. Oven results are the same and I cook the naans in oven when I have large gatherings or when my daughter insists on helping me as oven method is safer to use with children.

Ingredients

3 cups plain flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoon instant yeast
¼ cup plain natural yogurt
¼ cup warm milk
¾ cup warm water
2 tablespoons oil/melted ghee
1-2 teaspoons black onion seeds (kalonji)
1-2 teaspoons finely chopped coriander (optional)

Directions

Step-1

In the bowl mix the warm water, milk, sugar and yeast. Allow the mixture to sit for a few minutes until frothy. Add the oil/melted ghee and yogurt.

Step-2

In a bowl mix the flour and salt. Gradually add the flour to the yeast mixture few tablespoons at a time, mixing and kneading between additions. Continue adding the flour until the dough can be pulled away from the sides of the bowl with a spatula, but the dough will still be quite sticky.

You may need to add in a little bit more or less flour, but the key is to remember that the dough will be slightly sticky and will stick to your fingers when you try to pull it apart.

A simple test to check if the dough is ready for proofing is tear a small piece of dough off and gently stretch it so it does not tear. If you see a web like structure when held up to light, then the gluten has developed enough strands and it is ready for proofing. If it breaks apart the dough needs more kneading.

Step-3

Grease a large bowl and gently scrape the dough into it. Cover the bowl and a let the dough rise at room temperature until doubled for 1-2 hours.

Step-4

After proofing sprinkle some flour on the work surface and turn the dough on it and gently punching out the air. Divide the dough into equal 11-12 pieces and shape into balls, dusting with flour as needed to prevent sticking. Set the dough balls on a floured plate and cover with a damp kitchen cloth or cling film and leave in a warm place for 40-45 minutes for second proofing.

Step-5

After the second rise, sprinkle some water on the dough ball and sprinkle some onion seeds and coriander. Roll the dough to shape it into a teardrop shape- roll into a rough circle, then roll one part of the circle or stretch it to make a more triangular shape (either using rolling pin or your hands). You can use little flour if needed while rolling the dough.

Step-6

Cooking naan in an aluminium cooker

Put your aluminium cooker upside down on high flame and warm it. The cooker needs to be hot. It would take approximately 2-3 minutes on high flame for it to be that hot. Please be very careful while handling it.

Spread few drops of water on one side of the rolled naan.  This side needs to stick to cooker’s wall and water will do the trick.

Once cooker is hot, paste the naan on its wall (as shown). Turn cooker upside down and keep the heat on medium/low. You will have to keep checking the naan by turning the cooker over to make sure that the naan is cooking evenly. Upside-down method is to help accumulate heat inside the cooker and cook the naan like in a Tandoor.

Step-7

Let it cook until your naan turns light golden brown in colour and gently take it out using tongs.

If by any chance, the naan is uncooked from any of its corner, cook it on the flame directly.

Serve hot glazed with butter!

Tips & Variations

  1. I have used instant dry yeast (rapid rise) for the naan, as it is possibly the most widely available type of yeast and has a shelf life of one to two years at room-temperature storage conditions (65° to 80°F) when unopened.
  2. Oil/ghee provides tenderness, mouth feel and flavour to the finished crust. Oil/ghee also helps in enhancing the volume of the dough and inhibit moisture penetration during baking. I prefer using melted ghee or oil.
  3. High heat is extremely important for naan, so if you have a standard oven, I recommend preheating at the maximum temperature.
  4. Bake in oven- To bake, preheat the oven to 250C/475F/Gas 9 or the highest your oven heats up to for at least 15 minutes. Arrange rolled naan on a baking tray lined with parchment. Bake them in a preheated oven for about 3-4 minutes or until the naan’s are golden brown in colour. Flip them halfway to cook both sides evenly. Remove them from the oven. Top it up with butter or ghee and serve with your choice of curry.
  5. Since we are going to bake the naan at a much lower temperature compared to restaurants, the dough needs to be a soft dough. This is because the dough will take longer to cook, so more of the moisture will evaporate. Too much lost moisture and we end up with a tough hard flatbread. This means the dough is very sticky to work with, especially at the beginning when trying to mix and knead it.
  6. Lot of people ask me which method is the best while cooking naan at home. My personal favourite is cooker as it replicates an oven and cooks the naan at a higher temperature compared to other methods. The texture is slightly different in each method due to the heat, proportion of heat and water evaporated during cooking. Since cooking in a pan means heat is coming from one side at a time, you will get a more moist and chewy bread. Baking in an oven will yield a crispier, lighter naan and will be slightly darker in colour. Grilling will give the same chewiness as the pan method, but with that extra flavour from the grill.
  7. Weather can have a huge impact on the proofing, so I would advice you to check the dough every 15-20 minutes. If it is hot, then first proofing might only need 45 minutes.
  8. I always prove the dough twice. Firstly, immediately after kneading to activate the yeast, secondly after making the balls for 45 minutes. If you are rushed for time you can shorten the time for second proofing. Just keeping the dough balls for even 10-15 minutes helps the yeast to begin its magic again.

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