Thursday, April 12, 2012

Garlic Naan

Holy crap these are good! I can't tell you how happy perfecting this naan recipe has made me (and my tummy). Naan, which today can be found in nearly every grocery store in America, is an Indian leavened flat bread. It is traditionally made in a clay tandoor oven; the dough is stuck to the oven's walls to bake. For most of us, the next best thing is the broiler, stovetop, or grill. I've been wanting to make Madhur Jaffrey's recipe for naan (from An Invitation to Indian Cooking) for a while, so when a friend at work asked me if I had a naan recipe, I knew it was time to try it out. I'm so glad I did! My adapted recipe creates a beautifully doughy naan and can be made almost entirely of items lying around a well-stocked kitchen on any given day.

Proofing yeast

On my first attempt, I made Jaffrey's original recipe exactly as written, which resulted in rather thick, stiff, and chewy naan. This was due to my dough being far too stiff  from the very start. It was not pliable and elastic as it should have been, making it difficult to knead. Jaffrey's recipe did not require proofing the yeast or a second rise and I think those are both neccessary steps needed to create a perfect dough. The addition of a little more milk helped to loosen it up as well. 

Also, the dough needed to be much thinner before cooking. In my first go-around, as advised by Jaffrey, I stretched and flattened the dough by hand. In my second attempt, I tried rolling the dough out with a rolling pin to a thickness of about 1/8 inch. This created the exact texture I was aiming for. I also tried cooking the dough on the stovetop in a hot cast iron skillet as well as in the broiler. I was surprised to find that the stovetop method worked leagues better and created the bubbling golden brown dough I was aiming for. 

Smooth and elastic dough after kneading 

First rise

Deflating the dough 

As with most yeast breads, contrary to common belief, I find they allow you a great deal of free time. The rising dough does all the work for you and only requires you to knead for 10 minutes. You can mix all the ingredients together, knead, and place in a warm spot to rise for a couple of hours while you run errands, walk the dog, or live your terribly exciting life. When you return, you knead it and shape it again, letting it rise, allowing you to carry on with your life once more. I like to make the dough work to my schedule and not the other way around. You will be welcomed home by your risen dough, ready to roll out and cook just in time for dinner.

Dividing the dough

Second rise

Rolling the dough to 1/8 inch thick


Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey, An Invitation to Indian Cooking

1¼ cup whole milk, warmed to 110 degrees
3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 egg, beaten
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1  1/8 tsp. active dry yeast 
2 tbsp. vegetable oil or ghee, plus extra for cooking later (see notes below)
4 tbsp. plain Greek yogurt
2 to 3 cloves garlic, smashed and finely minced

In a small saucepan, heat the milk to 110 degrees F and set aside. Use an instant-read thermometer to be absolutely sure you've reached the right temperature (be careful not to overheat the milk, as this could kill the yeast, and your dough won't rise properly).  

Next, proof the yeast: add the yeast, sugar, and ½ cup of the warm milk to a small bowl and let rest for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, the mixture should be nice and bubbly, proving that your yeast is alive and active. Meanwhile, sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. 

Once the yeast mixture is bubbly, stir in the beaten egg, vegetable oil or ghee, yogurt, and baking powder. Mix well to combine and pour over the flour and salt mixture. Using a wooden spoon, mix the dough together, adding more warmed milk by the tablespoon until your dough begins to come together (you will probably not need all of the warmed milk, but it's good to have some extra if for some reason your dough becomes too stiff). Mix the dough together with your hands to fully incorporate the milk and flour (if it sticks ever so slightly to your hands that's ok, but you shouldn't have to scrape it off the bottom of the bowl or pry it off your fingers). If you add too much milk, simply add a little flour to the dough and knead to incorporate until you've reached the desired texture. Transfer the dough to a clean work surface dusted with flour. Knead the dough for 10 minutes, it should knead with ease and be soft, pliable, and extremely elastic (think pizza dough). Shape the dough into a ball.

Put a splash of vegetable oil or ghee in a large glass bowl, and roll the ball of dough around, so that it is evenly greased. Cover bowl with a clean damp cloth or plastic wrap, place in a warm spot in your kitchen, and let rise for 1 to 2 hours until it has doubled in size (I like to let the dough rise in the oven. Turn the oven onto 250 degrees F for about a minute and then it shut off- you don't want it to get too hot. Place the covered dough in the slightly warmed oven. Repeat with each rising session. If you're already baking something in the oven, simply place the bowl near it to stay warm). 

After the dough has risen, press it down and form into a log. Cut the log into 8 even pieces and form each piece into a ball. Place all 8 pieces on a floured baking sheet, and cover with a clean damp towel and let rise until doubled in volume again, about 1 to 2 hours.

After the second rise, dust a clean work surface with flour and use a rolling pin to roll out each ball of dough to 1/8 inch thick. Place a large cast iron skillet over high heat. When it is very hot, pour in just enough oil or ghee to coat the bottom of the pan, about 3 tbsp, and let it heat up for a moment (continue to add more oil to the pan as it becomes dry). Brush one side of your rolled out naan with water and place this side down in the pan. Cook over high heat for 30 seconds to a minute, until the naan begins to bubble up and become golden brown. Using tongs, flip the naan and cook 30 seconds to a minute on the other side. Remove the naan from the skillet and place on a paper towel lined plate. Repeat in the same manner until all of your naan are cooked. Serve immediately. 

Yield: 8 large naan

  • Ghee is a form of clarified butter (butter that has been melted and removed of milk solids and water, enabling a higher smoke-point). You can buy it in specialty food stores, Indian markets, or make it yourself. 
  • Feel free to add to the dough one or a combination of the following: cumin seeds, black onion seeds (kalonji), poppy seeds, minced green chilies, chopped cilantro, mint, or other herbs. 
  • If you haven't managed to gobble up all your naan at dinner, store it in a gallon-sized zip-top bag. Place the naan directly on the rack of a preheated 300 degree F oven for a couple of minutes to reheat (although nothing can compare to freshly cooked naan). 

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