I must have made breads in the hundreds, but have not made naan. I watched the PBS video of Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid in Baking with Julia when the bakers just kneaded the dough for over 10 minutes. No mixers. No shortcuts. I felt odd that, as a baker, I’ve never kneaded the dough by hand for that long. What could be missing are the tactile change of the dough in my hands, the feel of gluten development and the meditative quality of kneading the dough, as part of my breadmaking experience. It’s time to rectify that. Time for some heavy kneading.
(Kneading dough by hand can also be invaluable learning and sensory experience for young children to play and to create something with, like play dough. I can’t think of a more wholesome teachable moment than showing how flour is transformed into food that can sustain a village.)
I can imagine, the way this flatbread is made, must have been around for centuries in central Asia — in the community tandoors throughout the land. The mixing, kneading and rising of the dough follow the standard technique. However, the shaping technique is totally unfamiliar to me. The breads are stretched out lengthwise after the dough is divided. With ten wet fingers, heavily soaked with water, you pummel the fingertips on one side of the bread. The dough becomes very extendable. You stretch out the bread by pulling your hands apart into a long snowshoe shape and then drape it over both arms. (I stretched out the dough as long as my baking stone can accommodate. It took me a few trials to get a hang of it.) It’s time to toss them on the preheated baking stone in a 500°F oven. They are baked until browned, about six minutes.
What you get is a rustic bread with dimples shaped by the fingerprints, from north to south. This gives the bread an undulating appearance. Part crispy and part chewy. This Persian naan uses old-world shaping techniques which are new to me. It is exciting to learn and, somehow, connect in the realm of timeless, nomadic and communal baking method. I feel more like an authentic baker for turning out authentic naan bread at home.