I did not plan to spend my morning standing in the middle of the bakery section with a crowd of bewildered supermarket employees eyeing me as if I was an escaped mental patient. I certainly did not plan to be miming bread rising in an oven whilst brandishing two french sticks and making (what I thought were inspired) yeasty type noises. I would have liked to think that after a year I would have a working knowledge of Spanish. Unfortunately, too little can be more dangerous than not at all.
Spanish does not distinguish between yeast and baking powder. Both are known as levadura, and both are known to make baked goods rise, albeit different types. Unfortunately, trying to explain this with a limited vocabulary causes much confusion and hence my impromptu mime session in the middle of Commercial Mexicana. Eventually, a passing customer, red with suppressed laughter but unfailingly polite as all Mexicans I have met so far, gently guided me to the packets of instant yeast.
The reason for this public humiliation? Today I was going to attempt to make naan. I have incredibly fond memories of naan and I felt today was the day for me to make those memories a reality. When I was still living in Bahrain we used to eat out a lot as a family. Being a small, infertile (think desert) island the government subsidised food imports heavily. Bahrain also has an ethnic mix more varied than London with more expatriates than nationals and this makes for an amazingly authentic, international and affordable restaurant scene.
A family favourite was a chain of Turkish grills that specialised in high quality meat, fresh made-to-order mezze and the softest, fluffiest naans you could possible imagine. (Actually naan is a bit of a misnomer – they were turkish breads but still….). And the best part – the whole family could eat a meal for under £25! Bonus!
These turkish breads were a thing of beauty. The size of a large dinner plate, they were slightly crisp and floury on the outside with a meltingly, pillow-soft inside. As a family we could pack away about 6 or 7 of these breads with the soup and mezze. By the time the succulent, meaty, juicy grills arrived we were usually in a Turkish bread coma. It was an unsaid competition to see who could plough through their grill the furthest before admitting a groaning defeat and asking for the remaining meat kebabs or lamb chops to be packed up in a takeaway container.
After trawling through various internet sites I found a couple of recipes for naan that seemed foolproof. I have a total mind block when it comes to following a single recipe. I am much more of a mix-and-match cook. Why stick with just one recipe when you can have the best of many worlds?! Another thing that I was excited about was the opportunity to use yeast. Up until now my love of yeast had been strictly confined to a laboratory and I felt I was ready to take the next step in our relationship (actually baking with it).
Multi-storey car park navigated and with an unplanned stop for a full blown explanation as to why my car did not require a giant map of the world or a head torch to the man selling them at a red light I finally made it back to Casa Biriyani. I was eager to start my foray into naan-making.
The ingredients required are as follows:
- plain flour
- milk (ran out of fresh as YM goes through a litre a day at the moment so had to use cardboard milk)
- vegetable oil
- natural yogurt
- sugar (unfortunately, I have several vanilla pods buried in my sugar that I liberated from a plantation in Veracruz – great for cakes but the taste might be a bit odd in a naan)
- a sachet of dried yeast (not in the photo because I forgot it in the car causing me to run out to the car park without shoes once again – my neighbours must think I have some sort of psychological aversion to shoes)
First, add two mugs of flour to a large bowl
Then add 7g of dried instant yeast, a teaspoon of salt and 2 tablespoons of sugar.
Thoroughly mix your dry ingredients.
Make a well in the centre of the flour and add a tablespoon of oil
Follow this by adding 4 tablespoons of yogurt but don’t mix anything yet.
Heat up 75ml of milk in the microwave until it is tepid. Add it very slowly to the bowl whilst gently mixing all the ingredients together with a big spoon. Eventually you should have a smooth, non-sticky ball of dough (add a little warm water or a sprinkle of flour if you need to). To be honest, I gave up with my spoon and just used my hands (it feels nicer too!).
Now get the dough out of the bowl and give it a good kneading. If you don’t have a light dew of perspiration across your nose by the time you have finished you’re doing it wrong.
Eventually your dough ball should be smooth and elastic. Place it back in the bowl and cover with a damp tea towel. Now leave the dough to prove somewhere warm. I can recommend the front seat of a Nissan Platina parked in the sun (remember your shoes).
Wait until the dough has doubled in size. This usually takes about half an hour. I actually forgot mine because I was half way through an episode of The West Wing before I remembered it but it seemed okay. Lightly knead the dough and then split it into balls the size of your palm. The secret to a good light, fluffy naan is to roll them out as thinly as possible. Unfortunately, I don’t have a rolling pin so I had to make do with an old sauce bottle full of tomato chilli jam. This jam was a previous experiment that had failed to set properly and started leaking out of the bottle as I was rolling.
It was pretty impossible to get my naans really thin with such a crap rolling pin substitute. However, I persevered and eventually had 6 small naans laid out on a well oiled baking tray. Bake them in an oven at 230 degrees C for 10-15 min
Once they have risen, I would recommend browning the tops under the grill if you have one. I don’t have one so I didn’t bother. 15 min later – 6 golden naans drizzled with melted butter and ready for the taste test.
Look! They look like naans! They were crisp on the outside and fluffy(ish) on the inside. To be honest, they were a little too thick (damn sauce bottle-rolling pin) which meant they were more like a pita/naan hybrid than a true naan. But they tasted good! So, I call this an almost complete success. And YM needs to buy me a rolling pin.