Wednesday, March 20, 2019

moving out of my comfort zone

My friend Charles gave me a recipe for naan. I followed it as well as I could, so if you assess my work with your professional baker's eyes and see problems, assume the fault is completely mine. What follows are mostly pictures of bread-making—my first-ever attempt at making real bread and not merely baking something from a kit. There are, however, some non-bread-related pictures in this photo essay, so please bear with me.

I began by making the dough. The original recipe was for four flatbreads; I had to multiply the ingredients by 2.5 to create ten pieces of naan. The amount of dough didn't seem to be all that much, even after the multiplication. Below is the dough after it came together:

Next up, we see the dough proofing. Or as they say in England, proving.

First distraction from the bread: fresh-made chimichurri. It was too tangy at first; the 3:2 oil/vinegar ratio (seen in several recipes) struck me as way too potent, so I added a tiny bit of sugar plus a lot more oil, making for a roughly 2:1 oil/vinegar ratio. I think this change was a vast improvement. The sauce also included fresh garlic, chili flakes, some salt and pepper, and of course the basil, cilantro, and parsley that give the sauce its soul. I'll be taste-testing the sauce Wednesday afternoon to see whether it goes with beef. If yes, then no problem. If not, then the sauce will need tweaking. I think it ought to be fine.

Chimi me, baby:

A closeup of the larger chimi container:

I'm bizarrely proud of my smoky baked beans with thick-cut bacon and hot dogs:

And here's my cole slaw. I seem to be moving away from the mayo-based version:

Freezer pic below. Barely visible under all that frost (right side) are the "patties" or "steaks" of gyro meat, now frozen solid. I've decided that I'll slice the meat while it's frozen (just as I did when making andouille for gumbo), then pan-fry it directly, thus skipping the baking step. A lot of fat will render from the pan-frying, and that will serve to keep the meat moist when I store it for transport. Also visible, below, are some frozen, pre-cooked chicken breasts (far left) and a package of Mexican chorizo (center, the red sausages) that Costco is currently selling. Couldn't say no to chorizo, which my buddy Tom got me hooked on years ago. Voilà:

Back to bread-making. Keep in mind I'm making naan flatbreads. Below, I've divided about 770 grams of proofed dough into 77-ish-gram dough balls. Each ball will be rolled out into a tortilla-like flatbread. As you see—and it's not often that a man can say this—I've got ten balls.

Note: the dough didn't really rise, despite the presence of yeast. I assume this is because I'm not currently heating my apartment, so it's cool at my place. Next time, I'll encourage rising by placing the proofing bowl in a larger bowl of lukewarm water.

Charles's instructions didn't say whether to roll the balls out on a floured surface, so I assumed that flouring would be necessary, especially given how sticky the dough was. So I floured my rolling pin, floured the surface of my Costco foldable table, with its worrisomely rough and dough-snagging surface, and patted a tiny bit more flour onto each dough ball as I rolled it. Below is the very first flatbread I've ever made in my life:

It's a bit of an abortion, really, as were the other nine. I didn't roll the balls out into consistent shapes—partly because of lack of experience, and partly because, well, I didn't want to. I was experimenting, you see. Most professionally made naan comes out looking fairly oval—but an uneven oval, like an egg, with a fat end and a slightly "sharper" end. My flatbreads ended up ranging from circular tortillas to the sort of long naan they sell at Everest, the Indo-Nepali resto in downtown Seoul.

Here's a stack of rolled-out naan:

And a closer look:

I decided to cook on my griddle, the one I had bought while I was in the States last August. That pan has seen a hell of a lot of use since I brought it back to Seoul. I still chafe when I ponder why it's so difficult to find exactly that sort of pan here. Korea is the goddamn land of cheol-pan, so you'd think they'd sell a cheol-pan shaped like my griddle. But no. Ah, well... a rant for another time. Below, some slight bubbling:

I think I was a bit too timid with the heat. I did eventually crank the heat up so as to cook the flatbreads more aggressively, but the one below came out with only a slight suntan, and if you look carefully, you can see it's puffing up like a pita:

Thus do I begin placing the cooked naan into a tray:

Some major bubblage:

The freaky, long, Everest-style naan:

The stack grows:

Finally, below, a shot of one sacrificial flatbread to test for edibility/palatability. This bread is dressed up in French butter and has been lightly dusted with garlic powder. While this isn't the best naan I've ever had, there was a sense of accomplishment at having finally made some bread, and the bread did turn out to be edible. The fact that the naan never rose may have worked in my favor since I'm planning to use this bread for gyros, and the Greek pita normally associated with gyros is flat, a bit thick, and rather pliable—all qualities of my batch of bread. Per Charles's advice, I've stuck the naan in my freezer to store it since, apparently, refrigeration is the quick way to ruin bread. (Charles mentioned this, and when he did, I suddenly remembered watching a Martha Stewart video that said the same thing.)

So I bagged up and froze nine little flatbreads. I'll thaw them Thursday night, and will maybe finish them off Friday with some garlic butter. Getting the timing right while preparing what are, essentially, two completely different and separate meals has been somewhat stressful, but I think it's all going to work out. I wonder how real caterers deal with the differing prep times and prep methods and storage demands of the foods they deliver. (Maybe that's why so many caterers specialize in easy things like cold sandwiches.)


Charles said...

Well done! They at least look like pretty good flatbreads!

I should probably preface my comments with a caveat: I was only vaguely trying to produce a true naan with this recipe. This is naan-ish, perhaps (or more likely pure naan-sense). This recipe probably doesn't have as much butter/fat as you might get at an Indian restaurant, for one. But I was basically just trying to produce a flatbread that I would be happy with.

You said that the dough didn't really rise. That sounds like an issue that needs some diagnosis.

1) How long did you knead the dough for? I have absolutely no recollection of what sort of instructions I included with the recipe (although, judging by your comments, "insufficient" appears to be the answer), but you probably needed to knead it more than you did--the dough still looks a little bit rough on the surface. A properly kneaded (yeast) dough should be smooth and even. (Also, you should end up with a clean bowl at the end. Moving the dough around the bowl as it forms should help to pick up all those bits that ended up left over.)

2) How long did you let the dough ferment for the rise? I would recommend at least an hour, or longer depending on the ambient temperature. (Incidentally, "proofing" or "proving" refers to the final ferment before baking, after the shaping of the loaf. Prior to that you just have the "rise" or "ferment" (which is a more general term for the whole process). This recipe does not actually proof.)

3) What exactly was the ambient temperature in your apartment? You said it was cool, but unless it was very cool, that shouldn't have had too much of an effect on a dough that was properly kneaded and left for a sufficient amount of time.

4) Are you sure the yeast is viable? What kind of yeast did you use? If you want to test your yeast, add some to a little warm water and sugar and let it stand for a bit.

Those are the possible issues that I can think of, listed in suspected order of probability. Just based on the photos, #1 seems a likely culprit, but it could also have been a combination of that and #2. This is all the fault of my faulty directions, no doubt.

Oh, also, if you want more evenly shaped flatbread (and, to be honest, it's not easy to make perfectly shaped breads), you'll want to make sure that your balls are very smooth and even. You want to sort of cup them with both hands and pull down as you rotate them, making a smooth and even skin over the surface of the balls.

(Once you've done that, make sure to wash your hands before you start working on the dough again.)

Kevin Kim said...


Yeah, lack of kneading is probably the culprit. I don't think your instructions were insufficient; I just need more practice.

The yeast came from a new bottle, so it shouldn't be dead: 70 g, Sungjin Instant Dry Yeast, blue label. I let the yeast sit in a warm bath of milk, butter, and sugar for about five minutes. As for the ferment, I did the whole hour, per your instructions.

>>you'll want to make sure that your balls are very smooth and even<<

You had to bring grooming into this.

Anonymous said...

After I initially commented I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments
are added- checkbox and now each time a comment is added I recieve four emails with the exact same comment.
There has to be a means you are able to remove me from that service?
Thanks a lot!

Kevin Kim said...


I don't think I published your comment last time, so I don't understand why you'd be receiving notifications.

To be clear, I didn't publish your comment because my comments policy—which sits right above the comments window, and which I encourage you to read if you haven't already—specifically forbids people from leaving anonymous comments. I want people to take responsibility for what they say by at least leaving a consistent screen name instead of going anonymous or engaging in sock puppetry.

I published this comment of yours so that I could communicate my side of things, but this is a one-time-only deal. I won't be publishing any further comments of yours if you insist on continuing to comment anonymously. Please understand that that's been my rule for years, and the rule sits right above the commenting window, where it's clearly visible.

Anyway, more to the point of your complaint: I apologize for the inconvenience that Blogger is causing you, but whatever problem this is, it's out of my control. Blogger is a convenient platform for writing out one's own thoughts, but it's pretty horrible in almost every other way. All I can suggest is that you simply add a filter to your email (this takes about a minute, tops) to direct any further notifications to your trash or spam folder. Again, on behalf of Blogger and its goofy notification system, I apologize. I don't think anyone is commenting on that post anymore, so the notifications ought to peter out on their own.

Charles said...

Yeah, if it is instant dry yeast, it should be fine. That stuff will last forever if it is stored properly (I keep mine in the freezer). Also, if you are using instant dry yeast, you don't need to let it sit in warm water first--that's only for active dry yeast. You can just throw the instant yeast straight in with the rest of the dry ingredients.

Also, smooth balls are very important. Of course I had to bring it into this. Nobody wants balls that aren't smooth.