Every time we are in a North Indian restaurant the must order item from the menu is Naan. Soft and puffy this flat bread is the perfect way to scoop up the spicy curries or to wrap that hot juicy kabob . Making these the traditional way is an art. The bakers hand stretch the dough and paste it on the wall of the hot tandoor. Sixty seconds later in goes the iron poker to bring the piping hot naan out. Hot an puffy and brushed with generous amount of ghee (or not !) these are indeed a treat.
Tandoors have been in use for centuries and even millennia. These were not the run of the mill wooden stoves in the village homes, most were owned and operated by the village food vendors or part of the communal kitchens. Temperatures inside the tandoor reach very high , as high as 800 to 900 degree F. Cooking at these temperatures gives the bread its puffy texture and the characteristic light smokey flavor. One can get a very close approximation at home , but if you have a a tandoor or a pizza oven I urge you to use it.
Unlike the other popular flat breads of the region Naan is a leavened bread. Traditionally these were leavened by the ambient wild yeast or using a piece of the old dough. Wild yeast brings out complex flavors, but increases the leavening time. To get a taste of the depth of flavors the the wild yeast brings try my Sourdough Naan recipe. Modern recipes use the packaged active dry yeast thus drastically shortening the leavening period. The recipe today takes about 2 hours from start to finish.
The recipe with step by step instructions:
Warm 1/4 C water to just warm to touch (100˚–110˚F). Dissolve 1/2 tsp sugar in it and sprinkle the yeast on top. Set a side for 5 minutes an. It should froth up m if the yeast is alive and kicking. Take the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Stir well. Add the yogurt and and activated yeast mix to it. Slowly pour the water and knead well . The dough should be a little sticky. As you knead the dough becomes less sticky and softer. If after a few minutes of kneading the dough is still very tacky add a few tablespoons of flour. Knead for 10 minutes for a very smooth and pliable dough . Form into a ball . Transfer to an oiled bowl, turn the dough ball to coat all sides with oil . Cover and let rise till doubled – about 1 hr.
Punch down the dough. Divide it into 6 pieces and form into balls about the size of a large lemon. Set aside covered for 10 minutes.
Lightly oil the work surface . Place one dough ball on it and using the heel of your palm stretch the dough out to an oval / teardrop shape . The dough should not be sticky at this point , spread a little bit of oil in the palms to prevent sticking.
My favorite way to cook this is a combination of stove top and broiler. This is the quickest and most energy efficient way to do it at home . Heat a thick bottomed pan – like a cast iron griddle till it is smoking hot . Turn the broiler on and place a cookie sheet about 4 inches away from it . Place the shaped naan on the hot griddle and cook for 30 seconds. By this time bubbles start forming on top . Use a wide turner or a pizza peel to transfer the naan to the cookie sheet , without flipping . Let it cook for a minute or till the bubbles are fully formed and the tops begin to brown . Remove from the oven and brush with oil (optional) , and keep covered .
If you have a pizza stone, set the pizza stone in the lowest rack of the oven . Heat the oven set to the highest setting . Once the oven is preheated , keep it on for 20 minutes or so for the stone to absorb as much heat as possible. Place the shaped naan directly on top of the stone and cook for 2 to three minutes until it has puffed up and light brown spots appear on top .
These can be made the same way in the grill.
Naan is best served warm. The dough on the other hand stores well in the fridge or freezer. To make naan for dinner , the dough can be prepared in the morning and allowed to rise in the fridge. The excess dough can be frozen in an airtight freezer bag. When using frozen dough , allow it thaw in the fridge before shaping the naans.