Homemade naan is all about the heat

Julie Falsetti
For The York Dispatch

A few weeks back I was invited by friends for dinner. As soon as we sat down, the hostess brought out a bowl of homemade hummus and a plate of freshly made naan.

I have often had store-bought naan, but this bread was another level. One bite, and I was enthralled. The rest of dinner went by in a blur, as I had already stuffed myself on the appetizer.

If you are not familiar with it, naan is a northern Indian yeasted flat bread. It is different from pita bread, as it is soft, pillowy and full of bubbles. It is usually cooked in a clay oven called a tandoor. Since the bread is stuck on the sides of the oven to cook, it begins to stretch, giving the naan its traditional teardrop shape.

Most Indians don’t have a tandoor oven at home, so naan is something they look forward to when dining out. For the home cook, a hot cast iron frying pan makes a more than adequate substitute.

After my friend sent me her naan recipe, I optimistically attempted my first batch. I’ve been baking bread for many years, so these flat breads didn’t seem like an intimidating task. Big surprise — the results were less than stellar. Although bubbles appeared, the texture of the naan left a lot to be desired.

My husband bluntly summed it up in one word: doughy. So much for my bread hubris.

I frantically scoured the internet, looking at various recipes. My second batch with a different recipe was moderately better, but still not perfect. It finally dawned on me that slight variations in the recipe made little difference. The secret lay in the cooking.

Both times I was impatient, not giving my cast iron time to fully heat up. Success finally arrived on my third try when I slowed down and allowed the pan to reach the proper temperature.

The recipe below makes eight naans. They make a great accompaniment to any saucy dish. Topped with tomato and cheese, they can also serve as the base for a quick personal pizza. Although best straight from the pan, they freeze well.

Homemade naan is a fine accompaniment for any saucy dish and can serve as the base for personal pizzas.

Naan

  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup plain full fat yogurt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 - 21/2 cups all-purpose flour (see note below)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Note: I prefer King Arthur All Purpose flour because it has a higher protein content than other brands. The extra protein allows a yeasted bread to better hold its structure.

In a large bowl, combine the yeast, sugar and warm water. Stir to dissolve, and then let sit for 10 minutes or until it is frothy on top. Once frothy, whisk in the oil, yogurt and egg yolk.

Add 1 cup of the flour with the salt to the wet ingredients and mix well. Continue adding flour, a half cup at a time, until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl. The dough should be moist.

At that point, turn the ball of dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes, adding small amounts of flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking. You'll end up using 2 to 2½ cups flour total. The dough should be smooth and supple, but not sticky. Avoid adding excessive amounts of flour as you knead, as that can make the dough too dry and stiff.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover and let rise until double in size (about 1 hour). After it rises, gently flatten the dough into a disc and cut it into 8 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a small ball. Let rest for 15 minutes.

Heat a large, cast iron frying pan over medium-high heat for at least 5 minutes. Working with one ball at a time, roll out on a lightly floured board until it is about 1/4-inch thick. Place the rolled-out dough onto the hot pan and cook until the bottom is golden brown and large bubbles have formed on the surface, about one minute. Flip the dough and cook the other side for another minute, or until golden brown. Stack the cooked flat bread on a plate and cover with a towel to keep warm as you cook the remaining pieces. Serve plain or brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with herbs.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at julietrulie11@gmail.com.