I don’t know why one even bothers buying those horrid cardboard-like plastic packaged naan bread in supermarkets, it’s nearly an insult to the long tradition of bread making, specially that of the sub-continent where at any given mealtime the house smells of fresh chappati’s or hot tandoori naans – or maybe I am just a purist when it comes to naans! I can’t remember one meal in my home back in Pakistan where there wasn’t some form is homemade bread. Delicate, light and steam filled chappati’s fresh off the stove or delicious char-grilled flavoured naans either made at home or bought minutes before from the neighbourhood tandoori kitchen, sweet and savory sheermals or buttery parathas and pooris – these were always in abundance and went down rather quickly. It’s funny how easy it was to gobble these down with no count when they arrived so quickly steaming hot from the fire.
In my home no meal was ever complete without a bread, as I think nearly all Pakistani homes are just as fresh bread obsessed. There is something to be said about the age long tradition of ‘Putting bread on the table” – I was reminded of this moto and tradition when attending the Foodie Bugle lectures at the beautiful Thyme at Southrop Manor this month, where one of the speakers was Trevor Herbert of the long standing Hobb House Bakery who spoke ever so eloquently and passionately about his business that has seen 5 generations of bakers. His talk encouraged us to get back to the simple act of eating together as a family at the table and working to bring bread to the table – as did our ancestors, every penny they worked for was to provide food for the family. Trevor pointed out how we need to bring back the long lost art and passion of baking and ‘bringing bread’ to our tables and sit together and enjoy family meals. I was fortunate enough to chat to and sit with his son Tom Herbert (one half of the Channel 4 The Fabulous Baker Brothers tv cookery show and the cookbook by the same name) and we had a lovely talk about our love for baking (more his passion!) and how he would like to learn the art of baking naans – he and I hope to meet in his kitchen in the near future where I hope to be able to teach someone of his high baking standards, a bit about my home cooked version of naans – minus the tandoor. I doubt I’d be able to beat his kneading techniques or his baking knowledge, but I’ll be happy to share the little I know!
Here is a recipe of the naans I cook at home – 2 techniques – If you want to get a puffy naan then heat the naan on a frying pan or tawa – first then shove it under a grill or if in a hurry just smear some ghee on a baking tray and cook in a very hot oven, for 10 – 15 minutes, either way these naans are quite lovely.
320 grams strong plain flour, some extra to flour the rolling surface
1 tsp baking powder
less than 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 pinch salt
1 tsp sugar
1 egg, beaten
100 ml beaten natural yoghurt
1 tbsp ghee
1-2 cups of whole milk, depending how much is required during kneading
For the spice toppings (3 different options):
1) 1/2 tsp each of aniseed, nigella seeds, carom seeds and sesame seeds
2) 1/2 tsp each of dried mint leaves, pounded dry roasted cumin and coriander seeds
3) An equal mixture of sumac and zaa’tar
1. Sift the flour with all the dry ingredients and then place in a large bowl. Make a hole in the middle and pour the egg the ghee and work the dough into a ball – now add the yoghurt. If required, add a bit of milk and create a fairly firm dough.
2. Continue to knead the dough very well until you create a smooth dough ball. Cover lightly with a little ghee and place in a glass bowl and cover with a wet tea cloth and allow to rise in a cool place for a maximum of 2-3 hours (minimum 1 hour). The dough should be doubled.
3. Once ready, knead again and divide into 7-8 small round balls. With a rolling pin roll the dough into an oblong naan with tapering ends and pierce with a fork all over. Brush naan lightly with ghee then milk and then sprinkle either of the spice blends above.
4. Use of of the techniques mention above – here is the one using a pan on the stove then a grill – Heat the oven grill to high. Then grease a non-stick pancake pan or a frying pan (must be one that can go into the oven) with ghee and place a naan on that and cook on a high fire / heat on the stove till the base is brown. Immediately move the pan under the oven grill and cook for 5-7 minutes or so until the naans puff up and turn brown on the top.
5. Finally brush some ghee if desired on top and serve immediately.