Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Indian Naan Breads

I have read that Naan bread is not terribly common in India. This is due to the fact that they are traditionally made in a tandoor oven, something that is not available to the common household. While naan may be served in large establishments or restaurants, the breads found in most households are simpler flat breads such as chapati, roti, puri, parathas and others. However, these fluffy and soft naan have taken the US by storm. This includes my husband and me. I have yet to actually make any of these other flat breads, but I have made naan quite a few times over the years and my husband is just crazy about them, wanting them any time I make an Indian dish.
Indian Naan Bread

I do not have a tandoor oven, of course, but I do bake naan by throwing the shaped dough onto a very hot pizza stone; while not as hot as a tandoor, it gives a somewhat similar result. There are any number of recipes for naan bread and I have no idea what might be most authentic. My recipe is a variation on recipes I have tried in the past from lots of Indian cookbooks. I had posted a different recipe for naan on my website some time ago, but I felt that while good, those were a little too dense in texture. I tried again, and came up with what seems a better recipe, yielding a softer, puffier bread. 

Does Naan Call for Yeast or Not?

I have seen recipes for naan that call for yeast and some that do not. I am not totally sure, but it seems like most of the packaged naan in the supermarkets more closely approximate a pita-type flatbread than a yeast dough. I could be mistaken. In a pinch, they are certainly tasty, with a nice soft texture. In the past I have made pita breads, watching them puff up into little balloons before shrinking back to the flat bread with a pocket. The naan breads I have made over the years have all used yeast as the leavening, though there are recipes for naan that rely on baking powder, baking soda or both. I was looking around just now for naan recipes that do not use yeast and found a new website, which I added to my favorites at right, called Veg Recipes of India. I got so involved looking at recipes on this site and seeing so many things I would like to try - I just lost an entire hour-and-a-half looking and dreaming (and salivating!). 

Unusual Seeds for Sprinkling

Naan can be made with no seeds on them of course, though if you happen to have them on hand, the flavors are certainly enhanced and exotic. Most people have used or eaten poppy seeds, but not everyone has used spices like nigella seeds (kalonji), black cumin (kala jeera), or Ajwain. This last one is apparently called Carom seed in English, but I really never seen it called that, so I stick with one of the (7 or 8) different spellings for Ajwain! All of these flavors are very different. Black cumin is almost unknown outside India. It is so unusual that when trying to buy black cumin online, one is most often being sold nigella seeds. Nigella is nigella sativa, to be absolutely sure. Black cumin is a completely different and unrelated plant, bunium persicum, or bunium bulbocastanum. So be aware, when buying online to get the correct seeds. Nigella is also often called "onion seed" though again, this is a misnomer. It is not related to onion at all, though the seeds look somewhat similar. Nigella and black cumin look nothing alike.

So, I like using yeast in my naan breads, though some day I must try a recipe that does not. For now, this is my latest recipe for a nice and tender naan made with yeast.
Indian Naan Bread, showing the seeds, a mix of black cumin and nigella

Indian Naan Bread

makes about 16 naan breads

1 1/2 cup warm water (90 to 110 degrees)
1/2 cup yogurt or buttermilk
2 cups bread flour
1 packet of instant yeast

3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup butter or ghee, melted
4 cups more bread flour, more or less as needed
More melted butter or ghee for brushing
poppy seeds, nigella seeds (kalonji) or black cumin (kala jeera) for sprinkling

Mix the warm water with the yogurt or buttermilk in a large bowl. Add the yeast, sugar and salt to 2 cups of the flour and stir to combine; add this to the liquids in the bowl. Whisk well to combine and set aside for at least 10 minutes or up to 30 minutes. The dough should have formed a spongy mass.

Add in the eggs and melted butter or ghee and mix well. Begin adding more flour, 1/2 cup at a time until  a stiff dough has formed. This may be done in a heavy duty stand mixer or by hand. Mix well for about 5 minutes or more as needed until the dough comes together. It should be tacky but not sticky. Cover the bowl with a cloth or with plastic wrap and let rise until about doubled in bulk.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into 16 equal balls. Let the balls rest for 10 minutes to relax the gluten. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. If you have a pizza stone, set the stone on the lowest rack to heat with the oven. If you do not have a pizza stone, prepare baking sheets with parchment, sprayed with cooking spray. You will need to bake these in batches.

Pat or roll the little balls of dough into long, narrow  wedge shapes. Pull one end to create the teardrop shape. Set the shaped dough aside onto a lightly floured surface as they are formed. Brush them with the melted ghee or butter and sprinkle with seeds of choice, or leave plain. 

If baking on a pizza stone, place two or three naans at a time (however many will fit) onto the very hot pizza stone. Alternatively, place 2 to 4 of the prepared naans onto the baking sheet and place in the lower third of the hot oven. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, or until they are well browned. As the naan are done, set more onto the pizza stone, or have a separate baking sheet prepared for the next batch. 

I never need this many naan breads at one meal, so I package them into zip top bags and freeze them for up to 3 months. To reheat, heat the oven to 350 degrees and set them onto baking sheets for up to 10 minutes or until hot. Watch closely - you are not cooking them, only reheating. To keep them softer, wrap in foil before reheating.

Naan breads are meant to be served with very sauced dishes, curries and the like. It is meant to be an either/or. If rice is served, the bread is not necessary. Not so for my husband! Serve these delicious breads with any food, as desired.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.