You know, sometimes when I wake up at 3:58 in the morning on my day off, I wonder if I seriously pondered the implications of being a baker before diving into the field… Did I? Nope. Not. At. All.
There should be an occupational hazard list they give you when signing up for pastry school that includes things like, “Indefinite failure to sleep past 5am, Possible career as hand model eliminated, and Probability of arthritis: 98.6%.” Fortunately (I think), they don’t tell you any of these things. But it’s not like it would have stopped me if they did. I just need some Ambien, a periodic spa day for my hands and about 5 heating pads paired with a bottle of Ibprofen.
I’m still happy to be a baker though, in spite of all its woes. One thing I love making is bread. And one thing my husband gets tired of is trying to make sandwiches out of irregularly shaped loaves… but he’ll get over that.
Lately I’ve been making a lot of naan. No, I don’t have a tandoor oven; which is probably a good thing because it might set this 125 year old house I live in on fire. I wouldn’t mind having a wood fired oven, but that’s also not going to happen. Actually, I’d be happy with a normal sized oven, but I make do with my rinky-dink mini version. Some girls dream of having a big house with a white picket fence when they grow up. I dream of being able to put a full size sheet pan into my oven (guess we all have our priorities).
But my oven doesn’t really matter here. I like to make my naan on the stove top, in a dutch oven (or french oven or enameled cast iron pot). This bread is super easy to make, very versatile on flavor and only takes a couple minutes to cook. I like to make a big batch of it, portion it into rounds, and store them in to the fridge until I’m ready for it. Since there’s hardly any yeast in naan, it’ll keep in dough form for several days, even a week. You can freeze the dough blobs but it’s honestly better to make the bread and then freeze it; I’m not a huge fan of freezing dough as it tends to affect the quality of the finished product in a negative manner.
I know most people probably don’t want to have to make their bread every time they want to munch on some hummus or make a panini, but this stuff is honestly best the day of. It’s still edible the day(s) after, but it’s pleasant chewiness becomes a bit of unpleasant rubberiness. So, if you cook it all off, warm it back up in the oven to reverse some of the staling.
You can use any mixture of seeds, herbs and spices in this bread – just make sure they go together. Like don’t put fennel, basil and dill in at the same time. I’ve made it with poppy seed, cumin and fennel, or dried chives, fennel and marjoram, or basil, oregano and thyme, etc, etc, etc. Also, I like to use whole wheat flour to make it “healthier,” but feel free to use all bread flour.
And lastly, a note on the yeast. Active dry and instant yeast are what you commonly find on the shelves at the grocery store. They will work in this recipe but you’ll need to cut the amount in half (which means going into gram land). I managed to procure some fresh compressed yeast from work. Fresh yeast, for whatever reason, is far superior to the dry stuff. It leavens longer than dry yeast and lends to a better tasting, more moist product. It, however, doesn’t keep very long so most people would end up throwing the bulk of it out. I’m told it’ll keep for a week or so in the fridge and still be effective. I read on the internet (so it must be true) that you can freeze fresh yeast for up to 4 months and just thaw it out before you need it… I’ll let you know how that goes for me next time I make bread.
- 9 oz whole wheat flour
- 23 oz bread flour
- 1/4 oz fresh compressed yeast (about 7 – 8 grams)
- 3/4 oz kosher salt
- 3/4 oz seed/ herb mixture (or a few tablespoons…)
- 1 C soy yogurt
- 1 1/2 C water (room temp is fine)
Weigh out your dry ingredients, including the yeast, into a bowl. I know a chef instructor that would tell you to add the salt during mixing, but I haven’t noticed any ill effects from adding it with everything else.
Put the yogurt and water in the mixing bowl of your KitchenAid. Pour the dry ingredients on top of the wet and knead with the dough hook for about 5 minutes or so. The actual mixing time may vary. What you’re looking for is a nice, smooth, supple ball of dough. It should not be sticky and there shouldn’t be any dry spots. You want to mix it long enough to develop a strong gluten network, but if you mix it too long the gluten will break down and the dough will get all sticky and gooey and you’re screwed at this point. Put the dough in a large bowl (or be lazy like me and leave it in the mixer bowl), cover with plastic wrap and let it ferment until double (about 2 hours or so).
Once the dough has fermented, punch it down and portion it into rounds. A bench cutter is your friend here. For me, about 3 oz portions seem to be a good, single serving size. 3 oz also fits in my dutch oven and makes an excellent panini sandwich. Anyway, you won’t need any flour on the bench or counter for this. Just take the dough and cut portions off with a bench cutter (weigh them if accuracy if important to you). To round the dough, grab a blob and press it down a bit to expel some air and kind of fold it into itself. Flip it over so that the folded into side is face down and cup your hand around it. A 3 oz ball should fit in one hand, larger portions will take both hands. With your hand cupped over the dough, press down and move your hand in a circular motion. You’re looking to make a smooth surface all over the dough, a little pucker on the bottom is ok. If this sounds confusing to you go look on YouTube for some videos. There are a lot of ways to round dough so you’re going to find an array of videos out there.
Place the rounds on a parchment (or Silpat) lined sheet tray, cover with plastic wrap (I use a clean trash bag), and place in the fridge until ready to use.
When you’re ready to cook, spray a little bit of oil in your dutch oven and heat it over medium high heat. Grab a blob from the fridge, place it on the counter and use your hands to flatten it out as thin and large as you can get it. When the dutch oven is hot (not smoking, hot), peel the naan off the counter and lay it in the pan. Put the lid on it and twiddle your thumbs for a minute or two. Grab some tongs and flip the bread over. Let is cook for another minute or two, or until brown and puffy all over. Your going to have spots that are more cooked than the rest of it but that’s ok.
Toss it on a plate or the counter or what have you and make another one or just start chomping away.
Well, I think that does. I’m off to find another cup of coffee in hopes of staying awake the rest of the day. Happy Friday!