Naan (Or Something Like It)

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If you know me, you know that I never bake.  Baking is as much science (chemistry, especially) as it is an art, and we don't get along so well – Screw up a step (which I'm good at) and there's usually just no recovering from it.  I mean, you can't exactly go and add that third egg white later.

So if I'm talking about bread, you know it has to be fairly simple, and bullet-proof.  There has to be a fair amount of -ish in both ingredients and production, or I just simply won't be able to pull it off.  

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 120g
Servings Per Container 5

Amount Per Serving
Calories 450 Calories from Fat 72
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 8g 12%
Saturated Fat 2g 10%
Trans Fat g
Cholesterol 3mg 1%
Sodium 258mg 11%
Total Carbohydrate 82g 27%
Dietary Fiber 3g 12%
Sugars 5.1g
Protein 11g 22%

*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Enter naan.  It's a leavened (meaning it has yeast) flatbread (meaning it's flat) that is kind of an Indian staple.  It's also a 'rustic' bread, which means it doesn't have to look pretty, either.

Total time to make this is 3-4 hours, but most of that is spent drinking beer and waiting for it to do stuff.  Also, this recipe makes 4-5 personal (fun?)-sized loaves, but could be stretched to six (at the most).

First things first, we need yeast.  Yeast is a peculiar thing, in that it's a fungus that lives in foil packets in the back of your freezer.  They're usually fairly easily identifiable (unlike most of the things in your freezer) because the packets will have some sort of identifier such as "Flesichmann's" or "Red Star" printed on them.  Now, yeast needs to be "activated" because in it's natural habitat, it's too cold to actually do anything.  This requires a Wonder Twins power to activate, where the yeast takes on the form of a tan powder, and water takes the form of a, well, cup of warm water.  Introduce the two (I suggest adding the yeast to the water, rather than the other way around) give a bit of a stir and wander off for a while. 20-ish minutes later, the mix will be tan and cloudy, which means they've decided to become friends.  

Next up is the rest of the ingredients.  In a large-ish bowl, combine:

  • ~3 cups flour
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1tsp baking soda
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3 tbsp sour cream

Mix all that together as best you can, and start slowly adding the yeasty water, stirring as you go.  Once about half the mix is in, stop and add another cup of flour, work that in with your hands, and add the rest of the yeast water.  

Knead that (work it with your hands) and add a sprinkle of flour now and then until you can form a ball of not-goopy dough.  Basically, it should be able to more or less hold its shape, and not try to stick to your already sticky-with-dough fingers.  Cover the bowl with cling-wrap and leave it someplace warm and safe for a while (by a while, I mean at least three hours).

Right about now is a good time to talk about how pathetic your oven is.  Traditionally, naan is baked in a tandoori, which is a large brick affair that's capable of reaching temperatures in excess of 700F.  Unfortunately, they're both expensive, and impractical so few people own one.  In fact, if you do own one, I'd be surprised to know you're reading all this.

So, we have to improvise.  A good quality baking stone, and an oven cranked up as far as it can go will get kinda close (if you have an oven thermometer and can crank the temperature up to 'oven' you're good).  Most ovens are capable of 550-600F, and the stone emulates the heat capacity of the brick.  (Heat capacity means it can get hot, and stay hot over time, making for a more even baking process).  It's imperative that you put the stone in first, then fire up the oven.  Put a cold stone in a hot oven, and it's likely to get all crack-y, thus limiting its usefulness.  It's also important to start the two long enough before you're going to bake to let the stone heat up to the ambient oven temperature.  About an hour usually does it.

And now we have some dough that has risen (at least hopefully it has risen indeed), and a really hot oven.  Time to bake.

Except, not yet.  The dough should have at least doubled in size, but in the process has gone and made itself all sticky again.  It's also one big lump o' stuff.  We need to do something about the last two.  Sprinkle the dough with a bit more flour, and work it in the bowl until you have a ball again, and it's not trying to stick to the bowl any more.  Tip that out onto a cutting board and work it with your hands a bit.  Divide the dough into 4-6 pieces and form them into Tom Brady-shaped footballs.  You can also do one big loaf, but don't flip it when baking.

NOW it's time to bake.  I'd recommend sprinkling some corn meal onto the stone to help keep the bread from sticking,  don't do this unless you want your kitchen to smell like burnt popcorn and add the now flattened bread loaves.  For fluffier bread, leave it alone for about four minutes.  For flatter bread, flip the loaves about half-way through – 2-3 minutes – and let the other side go for a while.  I usually just let it go since everyone seems to like it that way.

And that's it, really.  Take the loaves out of the oven and serve with something preferrably Indian, or at least saucy so you can sop the sauce up with the bread.

Update:  Brush with a mix of melted butter and garlic, top with a sprinkle of green onions and it's like magic and stuff.

Shopping list:

  • Packet of yeast
  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Baking soda
  • Vegetable oil
  • Sour cream
  • Baking stone