Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Bread Around the World: Naan

Today's "Country of the Day" was India, so you would think that our culinary adventure of the day would be some amazing curry, or spicy tikka masala, or some kind of satay. With the whole world of unfamiliar but delightful spices and flavors, who couldn't help but be adventurous? Yeah, my son opted for naan. In other words, bread made from flour, egg, sugar, salt, and a splash of milk.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, by any means. I love naan. And since my son is a fellow bread-aholic, it didn't come as a surprise that he chose bread as our foreign food of the day. It actually kicked off a fascinating discussion of how people throughout the world have some form of bread as a dietary staple, no matter where on earth they live, whether it's the soft white bread we eat in America, crustier loaves in Europe, tortillas in South America, or sadza ( or ga'at, or posho, or ugali) in Africa. Everybody loves bread.

So we found a simple recipe, collected our ingredients, and got ready to cook! For the complete recipe, please scroll to the bottom.

First, we collected our ingredients: flour, sugar, yeast, salt, an egg, some butter, and a little milk.

The first step is to dissolve a package of yeast in a cup of warm water (handwashing warm is about the right temperature). Do this in a large bowl - you can do not only the mixing but also the kneading right in the same bowl. Fewer dishes to wash, yay! Give the yeast about 10 minutes to work its magic. We took advantage of those 10 minutes to measure out the rest of our ingredients. 



Measure out 1/4 cup of sugar, then add 2 teaspoons of salt. They'll be added at the same time, so it doesn't matter if they're mixed together.  

Measure out 3 tablespoons of milk. We used 2%, but anything from whole to skim is fine. I suspect that even soy or almond milk would do. We measured it into a small bowl before adding, because we had just opened a new gallon of milk and it was hard to pour neatly!

Next, break the egg into a small bowl and beat it with a fork.
 

Measure out 4 cups of flour. You may need 1/2 cup or so more, but 4 cups is a good starting point.

After the yeast has been in water for 10 minutes, add the remaining ingredients, except for the flour. Mix well with a spoon.
 

 

Next, gradually add the flour. You may want to trade your spoon for a whisk at first. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the dough from the sides of the bowl. It's handy to have a friend scrape while you stir. Once the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl, it's ready to mix with your hands.
 

 

The dough will still be lumpy and sticky, but keeping it in the bowl while you knead makes it easier to work in the extra flour that's already in the bowl. If the dough still seems very sticky after it absorbs all the flour, feel free to add some more. Once the dough forms a nice ball, you can start to knead it properly: Fold the far side of the dough ball towards you and push it down and away from you with your knuckles. Then turn it a quarter-turn and repeat. Keep pushing and turning until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. You can flip the dough lump over now and then, if you like. If your bowl slips, put a rubber pot lid gripper under it, or a few layers of damp paper towels.
 


Your dough is now ready for its first rising! Spray another large bowl with cooking spray and turn the dough into the bowl. Cover it with a tea towel (to prevent the dough from drying out) and place it in a warm place (if your oven has a "proof" setting, that's ideal; if not, the top of your fridge is usually nice and toasty). Let the dough rise until doubled in size, about an hour or so.


When it's done rising, you get to do the funnest step: punch it down! Seriously, take your fist and punch straight down, right in the middle of the dough ball.

Knead it a few more times to get it all smooth and even.

Next, cover a couple of cookie sheets with non-stick foil. 

Divide the dough into golf-ball sized pieces, rolling each into a smooth ball and laying them out on the cookie sheets with a little space in between. A dozen balls fit nicely on each pan, and the dough made exactly two dozen balls. My small helper didn't like handling the dough at its sticky stage, but he enjoyed helping roll it into balls at this stage.
 



Place the trays of dough balls back into your warm place for about 30 minutes, for a second rising. I didn't bother covering them this time.

When they're finished rising, spray your grill or griddle with non-stick spray (be sure to have the flame OFF when spraying!!!). Pre-heat the grill to high. 

While the grill is heating, melt 1/4 cup butter in the microwave.

I moved all the dough balls onto a single tray and used the empty tray (still covered in non-stick foil) as my rolling surface. Well, technically, it was my "squashing" surface, since I used the ball of my hand instead of a rolling pin. Flatten the dough balls until they're quite thin, pushing and stretching as you would pizza dough. My final circles were about 6 inches in diameter.


When the grill is hot, place the flattened circles on it. Cook for about 3 minutes, then brush the uncooked surface with the melted butter and flip with tongs.


 

Cook for another 2 or 3 minutes on the second side, then use tongs to put on a paper plate to cool. The buttered side keeps the grill well greased, so there's no need to re-spray the grill.

Fresh naan, hot of the griddle, is the best! But the leftovers will keep nicely if well-wrapped (I reused the foil I had used to line the cookie sheets), and can be reheated either in the oven or on the grill. A few seconds in the microwave will soften it slightly, but it's still delicious. Enjoy!


FULL RECIPE:

1 package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup white sugar
2 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
3 tbsp milk
4+ cups flour
1/4 cup butter, melted

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Add sugar, salt, egg, and milk and blend well. Gradually add enough flour to make a soft dough. Knead for 6-8 minutes on a lightly floured board (or in the mixing bowl) until smooth and elastic, adding flour if needed. Turn dough out into an oiled bowl, cover with a towel, and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch down dough, then pinch off golfball-sized handfuls of dough and form into smooth balls. Place balls on a cookie sheet lined with non-stick foil. Cover with a towel (or not) and allow to rise an additional 30 minutes.

Spray the grill with oil and preheat to high heat. Flatten each dough ball into a thin circle with rolling pin or hands. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until lightly browned and puffy. Brush the uncooked side with butter and flip with tongs. Cook the second side for an additional 2-3 minutes, until browned, and remove from grill.

Recipe makes approx. 24 6-inch diameter rounds.

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