Wednesday, May 02, 2012
Of course I needed some naan to go with my chicken tikka masala. I hear Trader Joe’s makes a pretty decent frozen one, but I do enjoy baking bread from time to time, and it’s pretty convenient to do on my telecommuting days—knead the dough during my lunch break, let it rise while I work, punch it down right after work and let the second rise happen while I do miscellaneous pre-dinner tasks, then bake while I’m cooking. Posie Gets Cozy, the same site that turned me on to the tikka masala, mentioned an Allrecipes naan recipe as well, but it called for ¼ cup sugar, which seemed way too sweet, so I turned to trusty Food Blog Search instead. It turns out there are a dizzyingly diverse bunch of ways to make naan. It can be leavened with yeast, or just with baking soda; it can be cooked on a grill, on a stovetop, or in the oven; and so on. I quickly grew exhausted from combing through all the variations, so I settled semi-blindly upon this one from Use Real Butter, mainly because it had garlic, it used yeast (baking-soda breads, while simpler, never taste quite as good to me), it included yogurt (yum), it didn’t have weird-looking amounts of sugar or anything else, and it offered instructions for a several different cooking methods, plus lots of helpful photos for guidance.
This turned out to be a wise choice. The dough came together well (I used my KitchenAid mixer, and I think it’s the first time I’ve really gotten good results using the dough hook), was easy to work with, and baked up just as promised, with big bubbles, nice char marks, and a tender, springy-chewy texture. I used my cast-iron skillet on the stovetop and it did the trick just fine. I’d heard the cooking surface should be really hot, so I started at medium-high heat, but the first naan I cooked crossed the line too rapidly from alluringly blistered to fairly blackened, so I turned the stove down to medium to get nonburnt bread. However, I crammed that singed naan into my mouth while cooking the other seven breads, and it was insanely delicious. Maybe it was just that I was so hungry, but mostly likely the bread is best eaten right off the skillet; by the time we sat down to eat the other ones with dinner, they’d cooled to room temperature and even though they still tasted great, they just didn’t seem quite as incredible as that first one. So I’m going to recommend that you serve these as freshly cooked as you can, although the leftover ones are certainly beyond passable. (Or is this just a demonstration of Ramona Quimby’s principle that the first bite of the apple always tastes the best?)
The bread had a mild, not overpowering garlic flavor; I didn’t bother with adding chopped garlic to the top of the cooked naan, figuring that it would just fall off annoyingly into my tikka masala as I dipped it. I didn’t think I’d brush the breads with melted butter either, but I tried it with a few and it did give them a much more photogenic glossy finish and appealing moistness—as well as, of course, a nice buttery taste—so I think it’s worth it but not crucial (unless you want to sprinkle garlic, herbs, or anything else on top, in which case it will provide the necessary adhesion).
Even though I’m not quite sure I’d declare these as good as the restaurant naans I’ve eaten, it was a close enough approximation that I was beamingly pleased with myself. It was fun to make, too, especially watching each one bubble and puff on the skillet. I’ll definitely be making this again, not only with chicken tikka masala and any further Indian dishes I might now be emboldened to try, but with soups like curried lentil and curried coconut carrot.
2½ teaspoons dry yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
4½ to 5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting and rolling
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
3 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus a little more for oiling the bowl
Unsalted butter to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced, for sprinkling on top if desired
1. Place the sugar, yeast, and ¼ cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit) in a small bowl, stir, and let sit 5 to 10 minutes until it becomes foamy.
2. Put the flour, salt, and baking powder in a food processor fitted with a dough blade or a mixer bowl fitted with the dough hook and blend. Pour the yeast mixture, garlic, milk, yogurt, egg, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, and ¾ cup warm water into the bowl and knead until the dough forms a ball that is smooth and elastic (about 2–3 minutes in a processor, 5–8 minutes in a stand mixer, or 8–10 minutes by hand). The dough should be soft without being sticky; if it’s sticky, add more flour.
3. Put the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl. Turn the dough around to coat it with oil on all sides, and then cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let it sit in a warm, draft-free place for 60 to 90 minutes.
4. Punch down the dough and cut it into 8 pieces. Roll them into balls and set on a floured baking sheet. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rise until doubled in size (about 40 to 60 minutes).
5. Roll the dough balls out on a floured work surface to make disks about 6 inches in diameter, then stretch it slightly to make the classic oblong/teardrop shape.
6. Heat a large skillet over medium or medium-high heat. Melt a little butter in the hot skillet. Brush the first naan with water and place it in the skillet water side down. Large bubbles should begin to puff up within a minute. When the bottom of the naan is browned, brush the top of the naan with water, flip it over, and let it cook for another minute or so, until that side is browned. Remove to a basket or plate and, if desired, brush with melted butter and sprinkle with more minced garlic. Repeat seven more times.
Yields: 8 naan
Time: About 2½ to 3 hours
Leftover potential: The naan seemed best when freshly made, but it was OK the next day (when stored in a tightly sealed plastic bag and warmed briefly in the microwave). I have two pieces in the freezer but haven’t tried defrosting them yet.