Tender Flatbreads

Nan-Piar

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Makes

    24

    Thin 8-Inch-Diameter Flatbreads

Appears in

Known as nan-piar, these fine tender flatbreads are closely related to Indian naan and are made in markets in many parts of Burma. Usually they’re baked in a tandoor oven (for which a baking stone in a regular oven is a good substitute). The breads are slightly sweet and leavened with both yeast and a little baking soda.

Make the dough about 2 hours before you want to bake the breads. Or make it the night before, and shape and bake the breads in the morning. The breads bake in a couple of minutes. Serve for breakfast or as a snack anytime, spread with almond butter or topped with slices of firm cheese (and see Sweet Flatbread Breakfast, below). This is a large recipe that yields about 2½ pounds of dough. You can bake half the dough one day and then save the rest for the next day.

Ingredients

  • cups lukewarm water
  • ½ teaspoon yeast
  • 5 to 5½ cups all-purpose flour, preferably unbleached
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda

Method

Put the water in a large bowl, sprinkle on the yeast, and stir. Add 2 cups of the flour and stir to make a smooth batter. If you have the time, let rest for 20 minutes.

To make the Dough by Hand

Sprinkle on the sugar, add the egg, and stir in thoroughly. Add 2 cups of the flour, the salt, and the baking soda and stir to incorporate. Add another ½ cup of the flour and stir. Once you can pull the dough together into a ball, turn out onto a dry, generously floured surface. Knead, incorporating more flour only as necessary, until smooth, soft, and elastic.

To make the Dough Using a Food Processor

Combine the batter, sugar, and egg in the processor and process briefly to blend. Add 2 cups of the flour, the salt, and the baking soda; process to blend. Then add another cup of the flour and process until a ball of dough forms. Process for another 10 to 15 seconds. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a minute, incorporating more flour only as necessary. The dough should be smooth, soft, and elastic.

Set the dough aside in a tightly covered bowl, and let rest for 1½ to 2 hours; you can also let it rest overnight in a cool place if you wish.

Twenty minutes before you wish to bake, place a rack in the center of your oven, lay a baking stone, pizza stone, or a surface of unglazed quarry tiles, and preheat the oven to 500°F.

Meanwhile, dust your work surface with flour, turn out the dough, and cut it in half. Set half aside covered in plastic wrap (if you won’t be using it until the next day, refrigerate until 1 hour before you wish to bake). Cut the remaining dough in half, and then in half again. Cut each quarter into 3 equal pieces—you will have 12 pieces altogether. Roll each piece firmly between your lightly floured palms to make a smooth ball, then flatten each to a 2-inch disk on the floured surface. Set aside, loosely covered with plastic wrap, for about 15 minutes.

Working with one disk at a time on the lightly floured surface, press first one side and then the other into the flour, then roll out to a round 7 to 8 inches in diameter, working with short firm strokes of the rolling pin and rolling from the center outward; rotate the bread a quarter turn or so after each stroke of the pin. (This technique helps prevent the dough from sticking to your work surface as you roll it out.) Set aside and repeat with another disk. Stretch each bread a little more with your hands, so it’s as thin as possible.

Transfer one bread onto a baker’s peel lightly dusted with flour or the floured back of a baking sheet and use the peel or sheet to transfer the bread onto the hot baking stone or quarry tiles. Repeat with the other bread. Bake for 2 to 3 minutes, or until they are touched with color on the bottom and have little bubbles on top but are still soft and pale, then remove and wrap in a cotton cloth to stay warm and soft. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Serve as a snack or to accompany any meal: the breads are thin and seductive, so allow 3 per person.

Rangoon Tea-Shop Banana Flatbreads

At my favorite tea shop in Rangoon, the breads are pale yellow and sweet. The baker’s secret ingredient is ripe banana. To try this, substitute 1½ cups water mixed with ½ cup pureed very ripe banana for the water in the recipe, then proceed as above.

Sweet Flatbread Breakfast

Spread nan-piar with lightly mashed tender cooked chickpeas or cowpeas (see Peas for Many Occasions), sprinkle on a little sugar if you wish, and roll up. Cut into 2-inch pieces and eat with pleasure, to accompany tea or coffee. This combo of bread and cooked peas, with or without sugar, is known as nan-piar bei-leh.