Perfect is a funny word isn’t it? It’s the epitome of success, if something is ‘perfect’ it is without flaw, not a stain to it’s name, there is no higher accolade than perfect. It’s a surprisingly tricky job to not find a flaw in something though and so often it comes down to personal taste. The term perfect is even more tricky when applied to food. Is there such thing as a perfect avocado? I’ve never found one and I’ve been eating avocados waaaay before people started mashing them on toast. Is there a food without flaw? I don’t think so.
However, Felicity Cloake, the wonderful, amusing, talented Felicity Cloake writes one of my favourite columns for The Guardian online (go on, tut at me for reading The Guardian. I don’t care), “How to cook the perfect….” I enjoy the reading of it, she breaks all the things she makes down into smaller bite sized nuggets of how to make it, does her research into how different people make said delectable treat and comes to a conclusion. Everything always looks brilliant but I’ve never really tried to make one. Until now *insert dramatic music here*.
Now, I love Indian food. I love northern Indian thick saucy curries to southern Indian fishy delights, I love Paneer in all it’s glory and could eat bhajis for days. Above all though, above everything I love naan. Naan bread for me is comfort food in the extreme: fluffy, slightly doughy but crispy in places with the gorgeous oniony tang of nigella seeds (no, no, not Nigella wearing lacy underwear kind of nigella).
However, I’ve watched enough documentaries about Indian cuisine to know that it ‘aint easy to make naan, it’s something that requires a recipe passed down through the generations, full of secrets and magic and most importantly: a tandoor oven. A magical contraption that you stick the naans to the wall of and you fish them out with a long stick. Firstly, I don’t have one of these and secondly I should definitely never be trusted with a large stick. I would cause way too much damage. So when the hero that is Felicity Cloake wrote a recipe for how to create the ‘Perfect Naan Bread’ I was intrigued. How would she weave such wizardry without a tandoor oven. The answer: She doesn’t.
Read about my adventures below:
1.5 tsp fast-action yeast
1 tsp sugar
150ml warm water
300g strong white bread flour, plus extra to dust
1 tsp salt
5 tbsp natural yoghurt
2 tbsp melted ghee or butter, plus extra to brush
A little vegetable oil, to grease
1 tsp nigella (black onion), sesame or poppy seeds (optional)
- Put the yeast, sugar and two tablespoons of warm water in a bowl and stir well. Leave until it begins to froth.
Now this seems relatively simple. Unless your brain is on about 12 other things and you do it wrong. Three times. When you don’t notice the fact it says 2 tablespoons of water and you only notice the 150ml of warm water. Why isn’t my yeast frothing and activating like it should!?!?!? Oh yea. Idiot
- Put the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine.
Whisk Felicity? Really. Does whisking flour seem like a good idea to you? Let me tell you. It’s not
- Stir the yoghurt into the yeast mixture
You sir, are disgusting
- Make a well in the middle of the flour and pour it in, plus the melted ghee. Mix, then gradually stir in the water to make a soft, sticky mixture that is just firm enough to call a dough, but not at all dry.
Whoa, whoa, whoa Felicity. We didn’t specify it had to be ghee!!! I only have butter. Am I already setting myself up for an unsatisfactory product?
- Tip out on a lightly floured surface and knead for about five minutes until smooth and a little less sticky, then put in a large, lightly oiled bowl and turn to coat. Cover and leave in a draught-free place (the airing cupboard, or an unlit oven) until doubled in size: roughly 90–120 minutes.
I blame Mother for not teaching me how to knead properly. I’ve never really done it. Neither of us have warm hands (we have warm hearts you see) so I’ve never had a need to knead! Is this less sticky!? It’s no longer coating my hands in dough so I’m going to vote yes
- Tip the dough back out onto the lightly floured surface and knock the air out, then divide into eight balls
This is assuming you have a giant surface to be able to pour said dough back out onto. You can barely swing a cat in my kitchen (i’ve never understood why you’d want to do this anyway) so involved an insane amount of cleaning as you go. Annoying
- Meanwhile, heat a non-stick frying pan over a very high heat for five minutes and put the oven on low. Prepare the melted ghee and any seeds to garnish.
Crap. Forgot to melt more butter
- Flatten one of the balls and prod or roll it into a flat circle, slightly thicker around the edge. Pick it up by the top to stretch it slightly into a teardrop shape, then put it in the hot pan. When it starts to bubble, turn it over and cook until the other side is browned in patches. Turn it back over and cook until there are no doughy bits remaining.
Prodding anything will never make it into a circle. I can’t remember the last time I stared at anything this intently, don’t burn, please don’t burn
These are the tiniest naans I’ve ever seen
- Brush with melted ghee and sprinkle with seeds, if using, and put in the oven to keep warm while you make the other breads
YOU SAID IT COULD BE BUTTER FELICITY. How much butter is too much butter? I’m not good at portion control when it comes to butter. Having to explain to housemate that nigella seeds aren’t actually named after Nigella Lawson is amusing.
All in all whilst these naan breads tasted a lot better than I thought they would do which is great, however, were they the most perfect naan breads I’ve ever eaten, no. No Felicity they weren’t, however, I will still read your column at every opportunity possible.