The word “Naan” isn’t really Indian at all, nor is it particularly specific: it’s actually just the Persian word for “bread”. However, speak to any English patron of Indian restaurants and of the many wonderful breads that Indians make, naan is the one that stands out. It’s one of the simplest of their breads but one of the trickiest to get absolutely right, pillowy soft and puffy on the inside, with the thinnest of crisp outsides, and the traditional teardrop shape. When you do get it right, it’s a magical accompaniment to curries and lentil dishes.
Since there are a growing number of flatbreads in this journey, it’s worth talking about the differences between them. The first obvious thing is the choice of flour: wholemeal for aish baladi, strong white bread flour for most of the others. Next, there’s the thickness: paper thin for lavash, a centimetre or so for aish baladi or naan, deeper for focaccia. Then there’s the flavour profile: focaccia laden with olive oil and herbs, naan most likely to be flavoured with ghee and nigella seeds. There are other choices to be made, like whether to add dairy products to your dough and whether to use oil (or butter or ghee), but these often vary as much in different recipes for what’s notionally the same bread as they do between nationalities.
As a Western home cook, your inevitable problem with naan is the absence of a tandoor with its intense heat and stone sides. For most of these breads, my recommendation is now the same: put the oven on its hottest setting and use a pizza stone if you have one. If you don’t, use a heavy metal frying pan that you can put in the oven (no plastic handles). Using a frying pan will give you the “slightly scorched in patches” effect that you often get in restaurants.
The Guardian’s Felicity Cloake usually does a great job of trying out many different recipes, so I’ve gone with her ingredient list, matched to my normal flatbread-making drill.
The quantities here made four good sized naans.
- 300g strong white bread flour
- 8g salt
- 5g nigella seeds (kaloonji)
- 150ml tepid water
- 6g sugar
- 7g dried yeast
- 100g yoghurt
- 40g ghee (or melted butter)
- Mix the flour, salt and nigella seeds
- Mix the water, sugar and yeast; leave for a few minutes until frothy
- Add the yoghurt and melted ghee to your wet mixture and mix evenly
- Add the wet mix to the dry mix and combine to form a smooth dough
- Using the dough hook of your stand mixer, knead for 3-4 minutes
- Leave to rest for 15 minutes
- Knead for another 2 minutes, then transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise. Depending on the strength of your yeast and the temperature of your kitchen, this should take between one and two hours.
- Put your pizza stone into the oven and preheat to 250℃.
- On a lightly floured board, knock back your dough and divide it into four.
- Using a couple of baking sheets, form each of the four pieces of dough into the classic teardrop shape.
- Cover with tea towels and leave to prove for another 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- Brush with melted ghee (I forgot to do this for the photos) and bake for around 10 minutes