Crisp Pulled Flatbread

Roti Canai (Malaysia) or Roti Paratha (Singapore)

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Buttery, crisp-edged, yet possessed of distinctive elasticity and chew, this Malaysian descendant of Paratha bread from southern India takes some time to prepare, but is a fun project that’s well worth the commitment. It’s invariably served with a meat or vegetable curry stew for dipping although my nephews Hunter and Garrett like dipping into granulated sugar. This same dough can be stuffed with all sorts of fillings.

For simple versions an egg is cracked in center, then some add sliced chilies and onion, and a very common version is called Murtabak when a dry curry is used a hearty filling, making it a complete meal. When fillings like eggs or lentil puree are folded in, they are stretched as for plain roti, and then topped with a flavorful mixture, folded in from all four sides, and then transferred to griddle. The Thais use a similar dough to create a sweet snack with sliced bananas drizzled with condensed milk.

It takes some practice to master the stretching, pulling and folding that gives this bread its signature texture. Before you make this dish for the first time, try to watch the video at www.southeastasianflavors.com to see me make it for you! A standing mixer can be used to eliminate some of the work of hand-mixing the dough. Use the “hook” attachment for best results.

Timing Note: This dough needs at least six hours to rest but can be made the day before.

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Ingredients

  • cups lb. / 580 g.) All purpose flour
  • tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. Granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup Ghee, room temperature (divided use)
  • 1 lg. Egg, beaten
  • ¾ cup Whole milk
  • ½ cup Water

Method

  1. Make the dough: Use you hands and a bowl or better yet a heavy-duty stand mixer with a paddle attachment: Combine flour, salt, sugar and ¼ cup of the ghee. Rub together with fingertips (or run on low with dough hook) until mixture clumps. Add egg, milk, and water. Using one hand, mix until a cohesive dough forms. (Continue to mix with paddle until a smooth elastic dough is formed. Knead into a smooth, soft, elastic dough, about 8 to 10 minutes. It should be a bit sticky, but not wet. Cut into eight equal pieces, about 4 oz. each (113 g.). Form into smooth balls. Coat each ball with one teaspoon of ghee (yes... that much), slathering them well. Arrange in a single layer on a plate, cover lightly, and allow them to rest at room temperature for at least 6 hours (The dough can be made a day ahead up to this point, and kept in the refrigerator).

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  2. Prepare your workspace: If the dough was prepared the day ahead, let come to a warm room temperature (Malaysia is tropical). So if your kitchen is cold, place the dough in warm area, or you can even microwave it for 10 second intervals. Warm dough is more elastic and easier to work with. Clean a 2-inch × 2-inch (.6 m. × .6 m.) surface, and coat it with a 12-inch circle (30 cm) of ghee (about 2 Tbsp.. Coat hands liberally with ghee.
  3. Stretch the dough into a sheet: Put 1 tsp. of ghee in center of the buttered work area; arrange one dough ball in the center. Press with your buttered palm to flatten dough into a 6-inch disk, less than ¼ inch (0.6 cm.) thick, slightly thinner around edges. Choose a method, Traditional or Simplified, for stretching the dough:

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Traditional Dough Stretching Method

Practice This Technique with Cloth Napkin First

  1. Place four fingers of your right hand underneath dough and your thumb on top, at the 5 o’clock position. Place four fingers of left hand on top of dough at 8 o’clock
  2. Throw dough by moving right hand toward your left side, and then slapping it back onto table in one quick motion. Each time, as the dough sticks to the table, pull it back to stretch it further. The dough gets thinner as it’s tossed and pulled. Repeat this until it become thin as possible without too many holes (a few are okay).
  3. Systematically move your hands clockwise around dough perimeter each time you throw dough, allowing the disc to slowly rotate in your hands. This ensures an even stretch from all sides.
  4. Make sure most of dough is paper thin by systematically moving around dough perimeter lifting thicker edges, pull outwards to thin and gently pressing against table to adhere.

My Simplified, Foolproof Dough Stretching Methods

  1. In this method, the dough never leaves the table. Instead, you pull and stretch it from the center outwards. Make sure most of dough is paper thin by moving around dough perimeter with your fingertips and thumbs, lifting thicker edges, pulling outwards to thin, and gently pressing against table to adhere.
  2. Systematically, slowly, work your way around the perimeter of dough circle pulling outwards to thin the dough. For the first few rounds, pull 3 to 4 inches (about 8 to 10 cm.) each time, making it thinner and thinner. As it gets thinner, it will be obvious where the thicker parts of the dough are. Focus on those areas. Keep going until you achieve a paper thin sheet. It should reach about 2 feet in diameter. Use the tips of your fingers to smooth those inevitably thicker parts paper thin.

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