Friday, May 27, 2011

Naan Bread

One of the things I've kept myself busy with during my long period of unemployment is by expanding my skills in the kitchen.  I know, the stereotype does seem to fit here but hey, it's a real interest, not a reaction a stereotypical gender role.  My main focus has been to make good food as inexpensively as possible, something necessitated by my very limited resources.  Making delicious food using the most basic and inexpensive ingredients has been a challenge that I've found to be very enjoyable.

One of the things I discovered about myself is how much I enjoy baking.  I always liked baking cookies - Christmas time was always a joy for me - but I have discovered that I just love to bake bread.  Indeed, on days when my discouragement and depression crush my motivation to do pretty much anything else, reading formulas (recipes) and bread lore in books and bread blogs along with combining flours, yeast, water and salt, kneading, forming, resting and baking a loaf or two are the only things that interest me.

Peter Reinhart, one of the best known and respected authors and "gurus" of artisan bread talks about the transformative nature of the bread making process.  I wonder sometimes if that's what attracts me to it, having gone through one or two rather significant transformations myself.  He talks about the transformations the wheat and yeast go through to become bread and how these transformations work together to nourish us.  The idea of transformations in the process of becoming better, toward a synergistic whole, appeals to me.

One of the things I've learned about bread is that the transformations it goes through need time to develop.  Just like I had to go through a pretty lengthy process in my transition, so too does the gestalt of ingredients in order to produce good tasting bread.  Trans people are often very impatient once they reach the conclusion that they need to transition.  We fail to realize that while we were dealing with the issue, often for years or even decades, the other people in our lives have had no inkling of what we were going through.  Once we come out we want everything to be done yesterday.  While this is understandable, the pain of living an inauthentic life can be acute, we need to remember to give others the time and space they need to come to grips with the new situation.  This time is valuable for ourselves on a personal level as well.  Shedding the old skin and acquiring a brand new life takes time getting used to, no matter how eager we are to finish.  One of the best pieces of advice I ever got when I started my transition came from a wonderful lady, Robyn Walters, who told me to "Rush slowly," one of the best pieces of advice I ever got.

I've been able to learn enough now that I've started to modify and improve bread formulas that I find in books and the internet.  I made a new one this morning and I thought I'd share that one with you, a recipe for an Indian flat bread called naan.

Naan Bread

• 1/8 teaspoon instant yeast
• 1 cup (4½ oz) white flour
• 3/4 cup (6 oz) room temperature water

Mix the four, water and yeast in a bowl and cover.  Allow to ferment at room temperature for 6 to 8 hours or you can let it ferment for 4 to 5 hours and then place it into the refrigerator overnight (let it warm up for at least an hour before you use it if you go this route).  I usually make this right around noon and let it ferment in the kitchen until 8:00 pm.

Dough (I do this part at 8:00 or 9:00 in the evening)
• ¾ teaspoon instant yeast
• 1 cup (4½ oz) unbleached white bread flour
• 1 cup (4½ oz) white whole wheat flour (King Arthur Flour sells this stuff.  It's very good.)
• 2 Tablespoons (1 oz) olive oil
• 1/4 (2 oz) cup buttermilk or plain yogurt
• 1½ teaspoon honey
• 1 teaspoon salt (¾ tsn if your buttermilk already has some salt in it)

- To the poolish, add the oil, buttermilk and honey and mix well.  In a separate bowl, mix the white and whole wheat flour along with the instant yeast.  Add the flours, etc, to the liquids and mix until you get a shaggy dough.  Cover and allow to rest for 20 minutes.

- Knead the dough for 3 to 5 minutes and then sprinkle the salt over it.  Knead about 5 to 7 minutes more until the dough is smooth and supple.  Try not to add too much extra flour to this dough, it needs to be pretty soft.  It if gets too sticky, try rubbing some olive oil on your hands and the kneading surface.  The dough temperature at the end of the kneading cycle should be about 78º to 81ºF.

- Form the dough into a ball and place it into an oiled bowl.  Coat the top surface with oil as well.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for about ½ hour, then place it into the refrigerator overnight.

- The next morning, remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it warm up at room temperature for at least 1 hour.  It should have just about doubled in size but if it hasn't, wait until it does.

- Preheat the oven at its highest temperature (500º-550ºF for most home ovens) with a pizza stone on the center rack for at least 30 to 45 minutes so the stone is screamin' hot. Using a pizza stone will help to give naan close to same kind of heat as clay tandoor.  If you don't have a pizza stone, a cast iron griddle or even a cast iron pan or dutch oven turned upside down would be a decent substitute.

- Take the dough out of the bowl and gently flatten it with your fingertips somewhat to degas it a bit.  Cut it into 6 or 8 equally sized pieces.  Form those pieces into balls, cover them and let them rest for 15 to 20 minutes.  After resting them, roll the balls flat to about 3/16 to 1/4 inche thick (5 to 6.5 mm).  They will shrink back after you roll them so I roll them a little thinner than that and then let them shrink up.  Make sure they remain covered after you roll them so they don't dry out before going into the oven.

- Next turn the oven to high broil - 500ºF - and wait a few minutes for the element to come up to heat.

- Before putting the Naan in oven, lightly wet your hands and take the rolled Naan, and flip them between your palms and place onto your baking/pizza stone into the oven.  You should be able to place about 2-3 Naan on the baking/pizza stone at a time.

- The Naan will take about 3 to 5 minutes to cook, depending upon your oven. Don't be surprised if it inflates like a pita, this is normal.  The naan should be golden brown color on top.  Some darker brown spots may also appear.

- After the Naan is baked take it out of the oven and brush lightly with clarified butter or ghee.

- wait 2 to 5 minutes before baking the next batch of naan. It gives oven the chance to get heated again to max.

- let the bread cool on a wire rack before tearing in.  I know, it'll be hard, but it will taste better if you do.  Enjoy!

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