Naan – Traditional Indian Tandoori Flatbread

Naan Bread in Nangarhar

Naan Bread in Nangarhar

By Cat, Jan 2008 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

Naan is a flatbread common in all of Central Asia, including Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. It is very similar to pita, but made with yogurt and brushed with melted butter or ghee, and often flavored with spices like coriander. I first tried this amazing bread at a small restaurant in Portland, Oregon: Bombay Bicycle, and was hooked.

Traditionally baked in a Tandoori oven, it can be made at home in your oven or on a hot griddle – or in an outdoor brick or cob oven.  Like pita, it puffs up into an air-filled balloon when baking (or into several smaller bubbles), then falls when cooled. The bubbles turn dark golden-brown from cooking.  Naan is best served while still hot from the oven or griddle.

An outdoor brick or cob oven would be perfect to bake naan. Using your kitchen oven to works best if it provides heat both above and below the naan, and a Baking Stone (or use a regular baking sheet) to place on the lowest rack position. A Pizza Peel is handy to transfer naan to and from the stone.   Otherwise, consider baking your naan on a hot dry griddle (about 450°F), and turning them over during cooking (similar to Lefse – Scandinavian Potato Flatbread).

Although you can butter the naan before baking (using butter or ghee),  I got the best results from moistening with water before, then buttering after baking.

For an excellent video on making naan, visit Manjula’s Kitchen (1).

Notes on Ingredients

Refer to Flatbreads: Note on Ingredients & Equipment. Below are some notes specific to pita.

  • Flour: Most naan recipes I found use all-purpose white flour. I prefer to use whole wheat (or mix of whole wheat and unbleached white). Be sure to pick a flour that has not been bromated. (For more on flour options, refer to my articles on Wheat Flour (about) and Other True Grain Flour (about).  When using whole grain flours, extra moisture is required, as whole grain flours are drier than white.
  • Butter or Ghee: Naan is most typically made using Ghee (Clarified Butter), but if you are avoiding dairy, I recommend using olive oil. The ghee/butter/oil is not used in the dough, but rather brushed on the shaped naan either before or after baking (I recommend after baking).
  • Water:  Use enough filtered water warmed to about 105°F, so that the dough is light and slightly sticky.  Water is also used to moisten the shaped naan right before baking them; again, it is best to use warm filtered water. This ensures enough steam while baking to puff up and form a pocket.
  • Whey or Yogurt: These are slightly acidic, which help to break down the phytates in the dough that would otherwise keep the grain’s minerals from being absorbed. But in naan, they are also used to soften and sweeten the dough. Boiling water is added to kill the probiotics in the whey/yogurt, that would otherwise compete with the yeast for the sugars/starches in the flour. Baking soda is added to the dough after the sponge step, to neutralize the sour taste of whey/yogurt.

Whole Wheat Naan

I developed this recipe based on research of several naan recipes, from which I chose 5 from different countries, 4 of which use white flour and one uses whole wheat. See Constructing my recipe, below. I’ve revised my original recipe after the first test (see below) to include a 12-hour whole wheat sponge, then adding unbleached white flour after the sponge rise and for rolling.

I love this so much, I never got around to testing my Pita recipe. I’d like to revise it to a 12-hour (overnight, lightly acidic sponge, as in this naan recipe).

Makes six oval naan, 8″ by 4″.  Alternately, you can make 18 mini round naan, each about 4″ diameter.

Equipment:

  • glass measuring cup
  • large bowl
  • wooden spoon
  • kitchen towel
  • waxed paper
  • rolling pin
  • baking stone and peel, or baking pan; or stove-top griddle

Ingredients & Method for Sponge

  • 2 Tbsp warm water (105°F)
  • 1 tsp raw local honey
  • 1 ½ tsp active dried yeast
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • 6 Tbsp unsweetened yogurt
  • 1 ½ cup whole wheat flour
  1. Proof yeast in warm water mixed with honey until nicely bubbly (use glass measuring cup)
  2. Meanwhile, add boiling water to yogurt (very important); stir & cool to about 105°F. Add yeast and yogurt mixtures to 1 ½ cup flour in a large bowl; blend, then beat with wooden spoon for 100 strokes to develop the gluten.
  3. Press a sheet of waxed paper against the top of the dough and place in refrigerator to rest for at least 12 hours.

Ingredients & Method for Part 2:

  • 1 ½ tsp Unrefined sea salt
  • 2 Tbsp Ghee (Clarified Butter) or olive oil
  • 1 -2 tsp minced garlic (optional)
  • ½ tsp ground coriander (optional)
  • ½-¾ cup unbleached white flour
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • bowl of water (for wetting fingers)
  • additional butter or ghee to brush on naan
  • 1 Tbsp chopped cilantro leaves (optional)
  1. Sprinkle salt, ghee (or oil), and optional garlic, coriander (or other spices/herbs) over the dough.  Mix ½ cup flour and baking soda together and work into the dough with your fingers, to form a soft dough.  Knead in the bowl until dough is smooth.  Add more flour as needed, but reserve some for rolling later.
  2. Lift dough out of bowl and pour some oil into the bowl.  Then rotate dough in bowl to coat all the surface with the oil.
  3. Cover again with moist towel and let rise until doubled in bulk, at least 1 hour.
  4. Roll each ball into a 6″ long oval, ¼ inch or so thick, on lightly floured surface.

Bake Naan:

Two alternative methods for baking: oven or griddle. As it bakes, it will bubble up and brown in spots – see photo, above.

  • Alternative I:   Position oven rack in lowest position, remove all other racks,then preheat oven to 4500 F, if using oven with broiler.  Place baking stone, on the lowest rack before heating oven; if using a baking sheet, do not preheat it.
  • Alternative II:  Preheat dry griddle to 400° – 450°F. I use my stovetop griddle, but a lefse griddle will work as well.

For each naan after rolling & right before baking it: Pick up and stretch each oval to about 8 inches long (stretching is important). Lightly wet hands; pass each naan a few times between the wet hands to moisten, then stretch it.  Do not butter, but place directly on stone/griddle.  Butter after removing from oven/griddle; then, if desired, sprinkle with cilantro or other fresh herbs, or with Unrefined sea salt.  Wrap in foil to keep warm.

Constructing My Recipe:

Most recipes have the major ingredients in common:  water, yeast, flour, yogurt, baking soda or powder, salt and ghee. [NOTE:  Ghee is clarified butter, with all but the butter oils removed; it can be found in most natural food stores, or you can make your own.]  Garlic, herbs and/or spices (such as coriander) can be added to the dough, sprinkled on the rolled-out dough before baking, or mixed with the butter/ghee and spread on after baking.

White flour is used in most recipes, but I prefer mostly whole grain flour, and a sponge technique, to partially predigest the the complex protein and starches in the flour.   Two Afghan recipes call for a whole wheat flour sponge (see cdkitchen (5) and Golden Road to Samarqand blog (5)).

There are several video recipes on the web which give you an idea of how this is made, even though they use white flour.  My favorite is by from Manjula’s Kitchen (1); another is from Natasha Levitan (4).  However, both use white flour.

When I downsize the Afghan version to 6 smaller naan, the ingredient amounts roughly resemble Manjula’s white flour naan (1), except that the liquid includes more yogurt and less water for the whole wheat version.

It is also interesting that the Afghan recipes mix boiling water with the yogurt, then cool it down to a temperature comfortable for yeast.  The use of the boiling water must be to kill competing organisms in the yogurt, so as not to interfere with the action of the yeast.  [I noted when developing my whole wheat bread recipe using a yogurt sponge, that the bread did not rise as well as I would have liked; this was resolved by adding boiling water to the yogurt, after learning this technique here.]

Refer to next section, for comparison of ingredient amounts between the reference recipes, based on 2 cups flour total.

Another issue is how long to let the sponge rest.  The Afghan recipes use all whole wheat and a 1-hour sponge rise with yogurt.  In order to effect partial digestion of the flour, the sponge needs to rest overnight, or at least 12 hours.  For the first test, I followed the original recipe with only a 1-hour sponge.  For my second test, I allowed the dough to rest in the refrigerator 12 hours (as for my Traditional Focaccia (Italian Flatbread) recipe).

Comparison of Ingredients and Methods between Recipes

All but one recipe bake the Naan in the oven.  I decided not to use the grill recipe for further comparison. However, during testing, I got better final result if I cooked the Naan on my stove-top griddle, than when baked in the oven.

The first recipe, which I believe is an authentic traditional version, uses 2 cups flour to make 6 Naan.  The other recipes all used more flour for a larger quantity of Naan.  In order to make a valid comparison, I proportionately revised the larger recipes to use only 2 cups of flour.

Three of the selected recipes do not include a sponge method, and use exclusively white flour. The other two recipes (CD Kitchen/Afghan) use exclusively whole wheat flour for the sponge and the final mix; this requires more added moisture than white flour — refer to Total Liquid comparison).  My final recipe uses whole wheat for the sponge, and unbleached white for the final mix.

Comparison of 7 Naan Recipes

Comparison of 7 Naan Recipes

 

Testing

2/24/08: (the original recipe used for this test is copied below): Used 2 T warm water + ½ tsp sugar to proof ½ Tbsp yeast.  Heat 6 Tbsp yogurt with ½ cup boiling water; cool, mix with 1 cup ww flour and yeast mixture to make sponge.  Rise 60 min. Stir in 1 tsp salt, 2 Tbsp olive oil; mix in ½ c ww flour, ½ c white flour, ½ tsp soda to form the soft dough.  Required 3 – 4 additional Tbsp white flour for light kneading and rolling. Baked on pizza stone in bottom of 450°F oven 3 minutes, then under broiler flame 1.5 minutes (rather than turning naan over). Made 6 small naan.  Result:  Texture and flavor are nice, tho they didn’t puff to make pockets.  No brown spots, even after putting under the broiler.  Next time, try adding minced or pressed garlic to dough, wetting rather than buttering rolled dough, and using my stove-top griddle, like lefse.

3/1/08:  Ingredients as previous, plus added 3 cloves garlic, minced fine, and ½ tsp ground coriander with salt, oil and final flour.  Allowed sponge to rise 1 hour in warm spot, punched down and rested in refrigerator overnight.  Removed from fridge and set in warm spot 2 hours before adding final ingredients.  Then 1-hour rise before rolling, wetting, and cooking.  Used stove-top griddle (maintaining between 450° and 500°F).  Made 6 small naan.  Result:  Wonderful flavor.  Still did not puff, but got brown areas on both sides (I turned them over halfway).  Unfortunately, I allowed the rolled-out naan to rest too near the griddle.  They rose and stuck to the surface, so they had a weird shape.  Next time I need to keep them away from the heat until ready to cook.

3/7/08:  Recipe as for 3/1, but I skipped the 1-hour rest period and simply put dough into refrigerator overnight, then warmed on counter 2 hours before shaping and baking on griddle.  I moistened my hands to dampen each rolled naan (both sides) right before baking.  Made 6 small naan.  Result:  Perfect, with brown spots.  They did not bubble up, but that doesn’t matter; the texture and flavor are wonderful.

Whole Wheat Naan:  Original Recipe (used in 2/24/08 test *)

* NOTE: Testing resulted in revision of this version. See my final recipe, above, for version after testing.

This recipe makes 6 each 8″ by 4″ oval naan.  Alternately, you can make 18 mini naan, each about 4″ diameter.

I’ve revised my original recipe for a 12-hour sponge, using whole wheat flour to make the sponge, and adding unbleached white flour after the sponge rise and for rolling.

Ingredients & Method for Sponge:

  • 2 Tbsp warm water (105°F)
  • 1 tsp Rapadura sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp active dried yeast
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • 6 Tbsp unsweetened yogurt
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour,
  1. Proof the yeast in warm water mixed with sugar until nicely bubbly (use glass measuring cup)
  2. Meanwhile, add boiling water to yogurt; stir to cool to about 1050 F. Add yeast and yogurt mixtures to 1 cup flour in a large bowl; blend, then beat with wooden spoon for 100 strokes to develop the gluten.
  3. Cover with a moist towel and let rest in a warm spot for 1 hour.

Ingredients & Method for Part 2:

  • 1 ½ tsp Unrefined sea salt
  • 2 Tbsp ghee or olive oil
  • 1 -2 tsp minced garlic (optional)
  • ½ tsp ground coriander (optional)
  • 1 – 1 ¼ cup unbleached white flour
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • bowl of water (for wetting fingers)
  • additional butter or ghee to brush on naan
  • 1 Tbsp chopped cilantro leaves (optional)
  1. Sprinkle salt, ghee (or oil), and optional garlic, coriander (or other spices/herbs) over the dough.  Mix 1 cup flour and baking soda together and work into the dough with your fingers, to form a soft dough.  Knead in the bowl until dough is smooth; dough should be quite soft.  Add more flour as needed, but reserve some for rolling later.
  2. Lift dough out of bowl and pour some oil into the bowl.  Then rotate dough in bowl to coat all the surface with the oil.
  3. Cover again with moist towel and let rise until doubled in bulk, at least 1 hour.
  4. Roll each ball into a 6″ long oval (you will stretch to 8″ long, right before placing in oven or on griddle), ¼ inch or so thick, on lightly floured surface.

Bake Naan:

Pick up and stretch each oval to about 8″ long, and butter one side*.  Transfer to hot baking stone or griddle, buttered side down, and bake about 3 – 5 minutes.  Remove naan from oven and butter the top side.

* Testing later determined it is better not to butter before baking, but rather to moisten with water before baking, and butter after baking.

References:

  1. Manjula video recipe (youtube.com/watch?v=vow-kxTPatc)
  2. AllRecipes recipe (allrecipes.com/Recipe/Naan/Detail.aspx)
  3. Sarkar recipe (indianfood.about.com/od/breadrecipes/r/naan.htm)
  4. Levitan video recipe (video.about.com/indianfood/Naan-Recipe.htm)
  5. Afghan recipes (cdkitchen.com/recipes/recs/390/HomestyleNaan44787.shtml and amiralace.blogspot.com/2007/02/afghan-naan-recipe.html)
  6. Garlic-Coriander recipe (townie.wordpress.com/2008/01/11/garlic-coriander-naan-breadmaker-version)

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