Welcome to my kitchen

A while ago, I realized I was serious enough about bread baking to stop diddling around with the 3-packs of yeast from the grocery store, or even the small jars for a small fortune. So I pulled up my big girl pants, and ordered "A Pound Of Yeast". It's in my freezer, and I use it regularly, and I guess that makes me "A Baker". Even though I always said "I can't bake". So, join me on my journey, and let's see what that pound of yeast makes, and where we go next....

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

In Search of "Naan-vana"

One of my favorite things about eating in good Indian restaurants is the basket of naan bread they bring you when you sit down.  Hot, steamy and charred from the tandoor, usually painted with ghee, it’s a savory prologue to the deliciousness of the Indian meal to come.  And it’s so great alongside the meal, to sop up the spicy, flavorful sauces.

I think naan was one of the reasons I fell hard in love with Indian cuisines.  After all, I am, first and foremost, a carb freak.

Naan is a flat bread, and puffs in the middle to form a pocket similar to a pita.  The two are very different animals, though.  I feel the pita is somehow “sturdier”, and the naan a bit more delicate.  Naan typically have dairy in their recipes (usually yogurt, but sometimes milk, or both), and most recipes require an egg, as does this one.  Pita breads don’t use eggs or dairy, hence (hence???  HENCE???? Where the heck did HENCE come from?) the more delicate crumb of the naan.

Naan is difficult to recreate at home because, unless you’re very, very lucky, or very, very dedicated, or more likely, very, very obsessed, you don’t have a tandoor in the backyard.

Confession time….if I win the Lotto tomorrow, I'll *HAVE* a tandoor in the backyard.  And a wood burning pizza oven.  Of course, it won’t be in THIS backyard, but I’ll have them in whatever multi-acre backyard I purchase with my MegaMillions.

Tandoor ovens are cylindrical (usually beehive shaped) clay ovens fueled with a live charcoal or wood fire.  There’s a grill above the fire level.  Tandoors are used to make some of the most iconic Indian dishes, most notably (along with naan), tandoori chicken.  Skewered meats can also be cooked in a tandoor.  The intense heat from the fire below, plus the radiant heat from the clay walls, crusts the outside of the proteins into charry, smoky lusciousness, while keeping the interior moist and juicy because the intense heat cooks so fast.

Naan is “baked” by slapping the dough onto the sides of the oven, then pulling them off with a long hook  Since temperatures in the tandoor can exceed 900°F (yeee-IKES), no matter how we hack our home oven, or how long we preheat it and our baking stone, we’re not gunna achieve that.  But seriously, if Lady Lotto finds me, making authentic naan would be worth the tsuris of installing a tandoor.

So.  What can we do with our feeble home ovens?  Well, it’s not necessarily “authentic”, but it’s pretty darn good, and it did PUFF, so I claim success.

Before we get into the specifics, let’s talk a bit about another couple of essential tools.  I’ve already sung the praises of my bench knife…

which is absolutely essential for dividing dough, scraping gunk off the board, and freeing over-sticky dough from the board when needed.  It’s very stiff, and should have enough of an “edge”, without being sharp, that you can divide dough up with little pressure.  This guy's about 3 inches from bottom of the handle to the edge of the blade, and about 4 inches across.  That's a good size, not too big, and not too small.  These things are also handy for scooping chopped veggies into your saute pan or stock pot.  And safer than using the blade of your knife, which I know we all do.  'Cuz *I* do it !  And I've cut myself doing it.  Don't be like me.  Use a bench knife.

By the way, they last forever.  I bought that one for my MOTHER about 35 years ago.  I think it'll still be in fine shape 35 years from now, when whoever finds it in the Goodwill for a quarter uses it.

You’ve seen my dough doubler in every post I’ve done with yeasted doughs.  I have a very hard time visualizing the magic “doubled” quantity, and the doubler has quantity markings on the side that help a great deal with that.

Scales, yeah.  I needs me my scale when I’m dividing dough.  We’ve seen the results when I “eyeball” it.  Not good…(remember the one large, one small olive oil-rosemary bread…?  I sure do).  And of course, many bread recipes are written with measurements given in weight, not volume.  Gotta have a scale for them.

And rulers.  You’ve seen me use rulers before, and you’ll see them here with the naan, and in the future.  Because again, I don’t “eyeball” it so good.

Oddly enough, I’m remarkably accurate “eyeballing” stuff when cooking.  I can pour a tablespoon of oil, or even a quarter cup of it (did that yesterday when I was making mayonnaise), or pull out a teaspoon of salt and be dead-bang on.  Divide dough?  Not so much…

And it really is all about the accuracy when baking.  Baking is just so much more precise than cooking….it took me the LONGEST time to get that through my head.  You can’t wing it, at least not until you know the basics.  And then you also know to be as accurate as possible, and you’ll have good results.

Enough blathery preaching.  Let’s make some naan, maan !

The stars of the deal,

Flour (AP), yeast, egg, yogurt, salt, butter and sugar.  You’ll also need some boiling water.

Mix the yogurt and boiling water together in the bowl of your KitchenAid (or equivalent).

And melt some butter.

To the yogurt/water mix, add the yeast, sugar, salt, melted butter, and egg and mix well.  Then add the flour on top of that.

Start slow with the dough hook to get everything incorporated, then amp it up when it starts to come together.  Here’s the texture right at the start.

And here it is after it kneaded about 10 minutes on medium.

You know, it never ceases to amaze me, the transformation of the dough from the beginning of the process to the end.  Look at how rough and “shaggy” it was when we started, and how smooth and soft it became.  Every time I see that process, it blows me away by the sheer magic of it.  It’s just so basic, but so complex at the same time.  The mechanics of kneading produces something so different than what you started with.

(Pulling back from the hyperbole….).  It’ll probably be about 10 minutes of kneading on medium to get the dough where you want it.  For me, in my kitchen, with my flour and my KitchenAid, 10 minutes seems to be the magic number for the kneading stage for most doughs.  You’ll find your sweet spot as you do this.

Note, that this is a soft dough, and won’t “clear the bowl” the way other doughs do.  Not to worry, you have this:

That’s a bowl scraper.  Another indispensable tool.  It does *NOT* function well as a bench knife.  For one thing, it’s flexible.

And it’s curvy.  It’s designed to follow the contours of your bowls, and get between the sticky dough and the bowl’s surface, and help you scoop that puppy right on out with minimum sticking and grief.  Trust me, trying to pull a sticky dough out of the mixer bowl with your finger tips leads to a)a boatload of dough jammed under your nails, which, once hardened, is literally impossible to dig out, b)broken nails and c)stress and anxiety over both a) and b).  Get a bowl scraper.  Your manicure will thank you.  They’re cheaper than dirt, you can find them at just about any kitchen/cookware shop and they rock.  But you’ll still need a bench knife.

Into the doubler with the dough (half recipe, what a pathetic little amount of dough….but just enough for me, nothing worse than stale bread).

And ignore the dough for a couple of hours.  The recipe said “4 hours or until doubled in bulk”.  Mine doubled after two.  Go for the volume, not the time.

Here’s the set-up for portioning.  Doubled dough, bench knife (thanks bowl scraper, job well done, into the dishwasher now) and plastic-wrapped scale.

The entire blob of dough weighed 13&3/4 ounces.  Which is 13&6/8 ounces.  (Day-um, wish I’d paid more attention in math…)

So, since I want 4 naan, and I’m going to start by dividing the dough in two, each half-blob should be about 6&7/8 ounces (OK that caused me to blow a brain cell or 3…).

First one up, 6&3/4 ounces,

second one, 6&7/8 ounces.

Close enough for government work !

Then I divided the two half-blobs in half again.  Don’t ask me to do THAT math; I was a liberal arts major.  But I did weigh the quarter-blobs to make sure they were all in the same weight neighborhood.

Then I had a glass of wine to recover from all that math.

Roll each quarter-blob out into about a 5-inch circle.  I used a rolling pin for this step.  Don’t worry about making the quarter-blobs into a ball, as we normally would to get a circle.  This dough was so easy to work with, the blob rounded out just fine.  And you won’t overwork the dough that way.

Again, the transformation in the dough after the rise was startling.  What had been a sticky, tacky, clingy mass became smooth and soft and silky.  I needed no extra bench flour to work it, and no oil on my fingers to shape it.  Wow.  What a magical creature dough, in all its permutations, is.

Take each circle, and roughly shape it into the traditional “tear drop” shapes that are about 5 to 7 inches long.  Use the rolling pin and the tips of your fingers as needed to get that shape.  There’s our friend Mr. Ruler again.

This one is my favorite.  It’s metal so I can clean it with screamin’ hot water and soap.  It cost I think around a buck at Staples.  Get one.  You’ll use it more often than you think.  It will help to make you a baker.

The oven has been preheating at this point for about an hour or so.  That’s another “Tip To Take To The Bank” about bread baking.  Preheat your oven hard and long.  One preheat cycle is not enough to get the interior of the oven hot enough, and the heat stable enough, to get successful breads.  Or pizzas.  Or naan.  Or pitas.  Or other bready-type things.  I usually let it go for at least an hour, especially if I’m baking on my stone.  So preheat the oven to 500° for at least an hour, with a baking stone if you have one (you should have one, another indispensable tool).  Take as many of the shaped naan as will fit on your stone at one time, and slap them on there.  I could do two at a shot, and I didn’t find the need for using my peel.  I *did* remove the extra rack, so I didn’t have to worry about brushing my arm up against it, thereby getting yet another grill mark on my right forearm.  You want the rack with the stone in the middle of the oven.  If you’re not using a stone, you can bake the naan on a baking sheet.

After about 4&1/2 minutes, the naan should have puffed up and browned.   Like this:

I’d made pitas before and naan before (a couple of times) and never got POOOF like this.  I was pretty stoked.

Lather, rinse repeat for the remainder of the shaped breads.  Let the stone recover a bit between batches.  I did the shaping for the second batch while it was coming back up to temp.  I’d kept the second half of the dough under a towel while the first two were baking.

If you’re serving immediately, run the breads under the broiler or on a grill for a couple for a couple of seconds, to get that nice char on them.  Then brush with more melted butter.  I held them for about an hour or two after baking, so before I served them, I brushed them with butter first, then ran under the broiler for the briefest amount of time.

Serve as soon as possible, while still warm and steamy.

That’s a blurry, out-of-focus shot of the crumb (which was nice) and the POOOOF, of which I was very proud.  Was it “restaurant quality”?  Nope.  See not having a tandoor, above.  Was it an adequate substitute?  Absolutely.  Will I make it again?  Bet on it.

I think they’d also be quite dandy cooked on a charcoal or gas grill, much like a grilled pizza, and intend to try that out this summer.

Here’s the quantities…

Baked Tandoori Bread (Naan)
Adapted from Julie Sahni’s Introduction to Indian Cooking
Makes 8 naan

1/2C yogurt
3/4C boiling water
1 tsp. active yeast
2 tsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. coarse salt
1/4C unsalted butter, plus additional melted butter for brushing
1 large egg
3C unbleached all purpose flour, plus additional for dusting
Vegetable oil as needed

Whisk together the yogurt and boiling water in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Add the yeast, sugar, salt, butter and egg, and mix thoroughly.  The cool yogurt should temper the temperature of the water so that it’s not too hot for the yeast, but check the side of the bowl to be sure, and let sit a bit to cool if needed.  Add the flour and mix slowly with the dough hook until the dough starts to come together.  Knead on medium speed for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and satiny.  If kneading by hand, oil your fingers as needed to prevent sticking, rather than adding too much additional flour.

Put the dough in an oiled bowl or doubler, cover and let rest in a warm place until doubled, about 2 to 4 hours.  Check the progress after two hours to be sure, and go on volume of dough, not time.

Preheat the oven and a baking stone for at least an hour to 500°F.  The rack should be in the middle of the oven.

Punch the dough down, and knead again, gently, for about a minute.  Try to use a minimal amount of additional flour to prevent sticking.  Divide the dough into 8 equal portions, and roll each portion out into a 5-inch round.  Using your hands, stretch and pat the round out into a 5- to 7-inch tear drop shape.  Place as many naan as will fit on your stone, and bake for about 4&1/2 minutes, or until the naan puff up and brown.  If you don’t have a stone, place the naan in a single layer on a heavy baking sheet, and bake on the middle rack for the same amount of time.  Repeat with remaining dough.

Remove, and, if desired, grill or run the naan under the broiler briefly, no longer than 15-20 seconds.  Brush with additional melted butter and serve immediately.

To hold for a short while, let sit, uncovered until ready to eat.  Then brush with butter, run under the broiler for the briefest amount of time, then brush with more butter.

If it's bread (or made with yeast), the cool place to be is Yeastspotting !

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