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Baking naans in my tandoor

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My search for the way to bake the very best naans in my home gas-heated tandoor.

Naans are one of the very best bread you can serve your guest with a meal. I've been to some of the best bakeries in France and tasted the freshly baked bread in some of the top gastronomic restaurants in Europe, and that still holds true. You can achieve similar results at home. The problem is, you need a tandoor or a baker's oven. With a regular oven you won't get to the right temperature and the bottom of the naan will not get crunchy. In a tandoor they cook only during 2-7 minutes and are crunchy all round.

Naan dough recipe
Naan dough contains yoghurt and yeast, which makes for a slightly acidic taste and a leavened bread. My recipe is adapted from the excellent article on Il Forno, but here we'll use a real tandoor.

In a huge stainless bowl break an egg and beat it

Mix liquid, non sweetened yoghurt. I use about a cup and a half. The amount of yoghurt will determine how much flour and dough you will get.

Mix well using a whip. Add 1.5 cup of lukewarm water for each cup of yoghurt.

Add some dry yeast or a cube of fresh yeast. Baking powder is not so good but on the other hand yeast can have an overwhelming taste if you let it rise too long.

You can put a pinch of sugar to help feed the yeast.

Leave it for about 15 minutes so that the yeast can start multiplying, then add a tablespoon of fine salt for each cup of yoghurt. The salt will delay the rising, so you could add it with the flour later as well.

Mix well until you get a smooth mixture.

Use white flour with good gluten. The quantity will depend on the weather and the size of your cup, but generally I end up using one kilogram of flour per cup of yoghurt. Sieve it in the bowl.

Start with half a kilogram or so, mix it in, then add some more.


Stop adding the flour when you have a non-sticky dough. Knead well for at least 10 minutes. Cover with a slightly wet towl and let it rise in a warm place until it doubles, about 2 hours usually. Make sure the dough does not rise too much or the bread won't be good. If your dough is too soft, the exterios half of each naan will fall off the tandoor's walls.

After it has risen a cut in your dough should reveal the following structure:


Heat the tandoor up and wait until it reaches at least 400F. Flour the working surface and your hands. Cut a piece of dough the size of an apple and spread it with your hands until it covers your entire hand. Wet the top a little, then sprinkle aromatic seeds and press to fix them.

Put the naans ready to bake on a kitchen towel so that they don't stick.

Put a naan on a large kitchen glove, seeded face down. With the opposite hand, take a little water in by dipping your fingers in a bowl and wet the naan's back. Put your gloved hand in the tandoor and stick the naan firmly against the inside wall. Check that the naan is well stuck, press again if not. I can put at least 7 in my tandoor, some are easier to place than others depening on the angle.

The tandoor walls are extremely hot and the air even hotter. The naans will bake in a few minutes. Here they are only 3 minutes after the preceding picture:

Remove the naans using a pair of bread seekhs. The pointed one sticks the naan in the middle while the flat seekh goes between the naan and the tandoor to remove it. If the naan is stuck, leave it a little bit longer, then try again.

bread seekhs naan

If the naan falls, here is the result after a couple minutes down the beast's belly:

Key success/failure factors are:

  • Use yeast, not baking powder
  • Find a flour with a lot of gluten
  • Knead well or use a machine
  • A dough too soft will have naans fall off the walls of your tandoor
  • Cook in the hottest tandoor you can, at least 500F
  • Stop the raising when the dough has doubled. If you wait too long the naans will be like small Zeppelins and they won't taste so good.

The Little Seeds on the Crust
You can use several types of seeds to add to the taste of your naan. Just wet a little the side opposite the one you'll stick on the tandoor walls and spray the seeds, then pass a hand on them to make them stick. My favorites:

  • Nigella Seeds or 'black onion seeds' can be found in Indian shops and give a greate, unique Indian taste to your naans.
  • Black poppy seeds are easy to find and are my favorite, they give a very delicate taste and also go well with a sweet filling
  • White poppy seeds are not so great
  • Sesame seeds are great for any naans and easy to find

Fillings
You can incorporate a small layer of filling in your naan to make it even more interesting. Just make sure the naan will not separate in two in the tandoor because the filling split it. Here are some I have tried.

  • Fresh Cheese. The best results I got are with a full fat industrial fresh cheese called 'La Vache qui rit', but you can definitely try with many other cheeses.
  • Blue Cheese. Keep clear of super strong cheeses like Roquefort and use a lighter blue cheese like Fourme d'Ambert. Ideal with a sweet potato soup!
  • Pesto. Please do not used canned pesto but make your own using fresh basil, pine nuts, crushed garlic, salt, grated peccorino and a very small amount of oil and water. You need to make a very dry pesto or the naan will split in two. Great results!
Published 08/09/2006
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If you do this recipe at home please let me know how it worked for you by submitting a comment or send me a picture if you can. Thanks!



20 Comments

  • #1
  • Comment by parshu.naryanan
  • on: 25/04/2007
I've eaten regualr Indian stuffed naan - with mincemeat, with paneer, with spiced Cauliflower, browned onions and spiced potato mash - but thick pesto? Just brilliant!
  • #2
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 27/04/2007
Thanks Parshu, the pesto naan really works well! I hear a very successful Indian restaurant in Washington offers Naan provencale with fresh herbs. It's such a great bread, with a simple fresh seasoning or filling you can't go wrong.
  • #3
  • Comment by joe bob
  • on: 27/09/2007
I worked a catering gig with some Indian cooks. They used a 50 gallon oil drum with a fire in the middle. The slapped on and peeled off the naan by hand.An Indian chef friend of mine says he can always tell an experienced tandoor cook - no hair on his arms.
  • #4
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 28/09/2007
Joe your friend is definitely right, tandoor chefs soon grow hairless forearms. That's for those who still have their forearms though.
  • #5
  • Comment by Sumaya
  • on: 09/08/2008
Enjoyed your article,I am from Durban in South Africa and need a commercial tandoor oven for the use of chicken tikka and naans.
please let me know if you can assist in any way
many thanx
Sumaya
  • #6
  • Comment by Colleen
  • on: 23/08/2008
Just wondering where I could buy a tandoor like yours.  IT is for indoor use, right?
  • #7
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 25/08/2008
Colleen, my tandoor is indeed for indor use, just look for the Clay Oven Company on Google, they have a website and are located in the UK.
  • #8
  • Comment by Wes
  • on: 11/01/2009
I have been researching tandoors, and yours is the first where I was told one needs gloves.  I wondered about sticking my bare hand in a 400 degf oven.  Thanks.  I may have to use a pizza stone for now, but would love to acquire a tandoor.
  • FX's answer→ Wes, Indian chefs never use gloves but if you are like myself a weekend tandoorist, they are an absolute must. Really nasty burns are waiting for you in that hellish pit!

  • #10
  • Comment by Asim
  • on: 10/08/2009
Hi . I tried it making Naan in my clay pot tandoor but the bread get stick with the pot & I am unable to take it off. What should I put on the clay pot (Oil) or something so it 'll get easily off.  Thanks
  • FX's answer→ Asim, all you need to do is make your naan dough less wet and don't rub it with too much additional water on the naans before baking. Then don't hesitate to leave them for a minute more or so until they are reallly crispy, and they'll come off easily. Good luck!

  • #12
  • Comment by Mohammed
  • on: 13/09/2009
Hi there, your naans look lovely. I have recently bought a tandoor but everytime i try to make some naans when i come to the stage of taking them of they seem to stick on the tandoor. i have tried cooking it longer and shorter but they still seem to stick is there any advice you can give me please email me on mdsalim7864@gmail.com thanks. By the way the tandoor is a proper one similat to yours.
  • FX's answer→ Mohammed, congratulations on buying a tandoor! Everybody has sticky naans when you start. The trick is simple, first try to leave them longer in the tandoors, longer than you think is needed. Eventually the naan will dry enough for you to remove the naan with no sticking. Please try leaving them a minute longer and see how it goes. Second, you must try to make the dough with a bit less liquid or just not wet them too much when sticking them inside your tandoor. At first I put way too much water because I feared they would otherwise fall down the tandoor, but in fact you don't need very much water.

  • #14
  • Comment by Toby
  • on: 05/10/2009
Hi - I love bread but because it is so soft and chewy and light - yet you describe it as crisp?! Is it softened by being covered so it is steamed, after being cooked, or is it a completely different type? Thanks
  • FX's answer→ Well Toby there are thousands of bread types in the world, as soft, chewy or crispy as you like. When it comes to naans, if you leave them a bit longer in the tandoor, they'll be crispy all right.

  • #16
  • Comment by durriya
  • on: 04/02/2010
hi i love baking and i try to make all kinds ot rotis (indian bread)the naan u made look great i saw this naan tandoor i wish i had one
if u can help me in this matter i would be really abliged
thanks
durriya
  • #17
  • Comment by veerinder singh
  • on: 22/02/2010
hi
thanks for the many tips you have on offer.  I have recently bought a tandoor but when you turn the gas on the starter button seems jammed and does not ignite.  I remember when we bought it that a friend of mine (who is now in india) started the tandoor by turning the gas knob and lighting it from inside with some burning newspaper. can you tell me this techniqiue please.
  • FX's answer→ Be careful with your tandoor, if it fills with gas and you try to light it manually, it might explode.

  • #19
  • Comment by reeja kamath
  • on: 18/08/2010
very well presented. can i make naan in a wood fired oven just like pizza with a
small fire by the side? thanks a lot.
  • #20
  • Comment by DeanLo
  • on: 17/01/2011
Hey, FX. I've seen Indian chefs use some kind of dome pillow or smooth block of wood to stick the bread onto the walls. They also use a wetter dough and also roll out the dough thinner so it sticks better to the walls of the tandoor. You should try that to prevent making extra charcoal!

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