Home-Style Tandoor Naan

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Easy

  • Serves

    4 to 5

Appears in

Mangoes & Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels Through the Great Subcontinent

Mangoes & Curry Leaves

By Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

Published 2005

  • About

Tandoor ovens are traditionally associated with the northern and western regions of the Subcontinent, from Rajasthan and the Punjab in India to north-central to northern Pakistan (and beyond into Central Asia, where they originated). Over the last decade or so, they’ve also become a popular restaurant fixture in almost all tourist areas and in truck stops throughout the region, from Bangladesh to southern India. A tandoor oven is a large vertical clay oven shaped like a barrel. Breads made in a tandoor are baked by slapping flat rounds of dough against the very hot curved inside walls of the oven, where they immediately stick. Tandoors are heated to anywhere from 500°F to 800°F, so the breads cook quickly (under 3 minutes). Once cooked, they release from the oven wall and can then be lifted out (with a hooked stick) and served. The taste is delicious, like food fresh off a grill.

To make these tender home-style naans, assuming you don’t have a handy tandoor in your kitchen, we suggest you improvise as we do, by putting unglazed quarry tiles or a large baking stone in your oven and cooking the breads directly on the clay surface. It works well, and it’s fun.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups lukewarm water
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1 cup milk
  • 5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon salt
  • About 2 tablespoons butter or ghee, melted

Optional Topping

  • 1 teaspoon nigella seeds, or about 1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Method

About 4½ hours, or as long as 10 hours, before you wish to serve the breads, begin preparing the dough: Place ½ cup of the warm water in a cup or glass and stir in the yeast.

Place the milk in a saucepan and heat to lukewarm, about 100°F. Add the remaining cups warm water and transfer to a large heavy bowl. Stir in the yeast mixture. Stir in 2 cups of the flour, stirring always in the same direction. Sprinkle on the salt, then continue adding flour ½ cup at a time until you have a soft dough. Generously flour a work surface, turn the dough out onto the floured surface, and knead for 4 to 5 minutes, incorporating just enough flour to prevent the dough from sticking (it is important to have a dough that is soft and not too tight).

Rinse out your bowl and wipe it dry, then lightly oil with a little melted butter or vegetable oil and place the dough in it. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand for about 3 hours, to rise until more than doubled in volume. If you want to serve warm breads with a meal, leave the risen dough until 1 to 1½ hours before you wish to serve them. The dough can be kept waiting for as long as 6 hours if kept in a relatively cool place, not more than 70°F.

When you are ready to proceed, place a rack in the upper third of your oven and place a baking stone or quarry tiles on it, leaving ½ inch or more between the oven walls and the tiles to allow air to circulate. Preheat the oven to 500°F.

Pull the dough away from the sides of the bowl and transfer it to a lightly floured surface. Use a sharp knife or dough scraper to cut the dough in half. Place half back in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap while you shape the first four breads.

Cut the dough in half and then in half again. Shape each piece into a round ball, using both hands to round it and smooth it. Place the balls at the side or toward the back of a floured surface, and brush each one with melted butter, then cover them with plastic wrap and let stand for 20 minutes. Just before beginning to shape and bake these four breads, repeat with the second half of the dough.

Dust one end of a peel, or the back of a baking sheet that you will use as a peel, very lightly with flour or semolina or cornmeal. Place one risen ball of dough on your work surface and press and push it out with your fingertips to a round about 6 to 7 inches in diameter (do not turn it over). Set it aside and repeat with a second ball of dough. Go back to the first and push it out with your fingertips to a larger oval, nearly 9 inches by 8 inches; you can also pick it up, drape it on the back of your hands, and stretch it gently by pulling your hands apart slightly.

Place the bread near the end of the peel (or baking sheet) and pull on the edge of the bread nearest the end of the peel to make a more pointed oval or teardrop shape. If you wish, sprinkle 8 to 10 nigella seeds or a scant ½ teaspoon sesame seeds over the top. Transfer the bread onto the hot baking stone or tiles, as close to one side of the oven as possible. Close the oven door quickly, then repeat with the second bread, laying it beside the first.

Bake for 5 to 6 minutes, or until there are light golden spots on the top of the breads. Use a long-handled spatula or your peel to remove the breads from the oven. The breads will have a golden bottom crust and a rippled top surface with golden spots on it. If you want an extra taste of butter, brush the breads again with melted butter just as they come out of the oven. Repeat with the remaining two risen balls of dough.

Stack the baked breads and wrap them in a cotton cloth to stay warm and soft while you bake the remaining four breads. Serve warm or at room temperature. (The breads will stay warm for almost an hour after baking.)