This week’s baking assignment from Tuesdays with Dorrie was naan – that lovely leavened bread that’s best used to sop up a creamy chicken korma from the local Indian restaurant. As I was reading through the recipe for the first time, I realized it’s very similar to the pizza dough we make all the time for our caterings and cooking parties. (Check out the naan recipe at this week’s host blogs: Always Add More Butter and Of Cabbage & King Cakes.) They both have flour, yeast and water..how different could they be? Well, it turns out there are a couple of key differences in cooking technique that resulted in a clear verdict: we prefer the pizza dough. Here’s how it went down in the kitchen:
The naan dough was easy enough to make. We did the overnight-rise-in-the-fridge option and that resulted in a supple dough. Our toppings were some caraway seeds and sliced scallion. The recipe suggested having a large quarry tile or pizza stone in the oven — we didn’t have either so we used the second option, the back of a baking sheet, as a cooking surface. Here’s where we ran into trouble. Even at 500 degrees, the oven just wasn’t hot enough to cook the naan quickly and encourage any browning. And since there was no oil on or in the dough, the end result, while tasty, was a very pale dough without the color and texture we expected from naan. In the end we were left sheepishly muttering that the Trader Joe’s frozen naan was so much better…why even go through this effort (gasp!). But it’s no wonder! Traditional naan is made in a firey-hot tandoori oven and the dough it slapped against the side of the oven wall, creating a blackened, blistered bread that is crunchy in some parts and soft in others and full of flavor. So this naan, while somewhat pleasant and chewy, left a lot to be desired.
Then we made our favorite pizza dough just to see what the difference in flavor and texture would be in a side-by-side tasting (and because we are always looking for an excuse to make pizza). The pizza won hands-down. First, there’s the addition of olive oil in the dough and on the outside of the dough — that helps with the texture and taste. The dough takes on some of that grassy olive oil flavor throughout. And when it’s baked in the same 500 degree oven it gets browned thanks to the olive oil. Of course, once we had pizza dough made, we couldn’t help but start topping it with all kinds of goodies….mozzarella, tomatoes, ricotta, figs….
In the end, despite our distractions with pizza toppings, we decided that we preferred the taste and texture of the pizza dough. So the next time we want some naan to eat alongside an Indian-inspired meal, we’ll use this dough recipe, brush it with some olive oil, sprinkle with the caraway seeds and a bit of onion and bake until crispy. Although chances are pretty good we’ll get distracted with toppings again……
Basic Pizza Dough
makes about 1 1/2 pounds (NOTE: This dough is easily doubled or tripled and can be used to make pizzas OR pressed into a baking sheet, topped with caramelized onions and baked up as the most delicious focaccia bread.)
3 tsp dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water (just warm to the touch)
2 tbl honey
5 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tbl salt
3 tbl olive oil
Combine the yeast, water and honey in the bowl of a standing mixer. Stir and let sit for 5 minutes.
Add the flour, salt and oil and stir. Beat with a dough-hook attachment for 10 minutes on medium, adding a bit more flour as needed, until elastic and smooth and not sticking to the sides of the bowl.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a clean towel and let sit in a warm spot for 1 hour to rise (it will at least double in size).
Now the dough is ready to use. If making pizza, cut the dough in half or thirds and press gently into a circle/oblong shape — then place on a baking sheet or onto a pizza peel. Top with your favorite toppings and slide into a 500 degree oven to bake for 10-12 minutes. If making focaccia bread, dump the dough onto an oiled 11×17-inch baking sheet and press to fill the pan. Let rise for another 45 minutes (it will fill out the pan as it rises). Top with caramelized onions (or your favorite toppings) and bake in a 375 degree oven for 25 minutes or until golden.
OR, wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 2 days or freeze for up to a month. Be sure to let come to room temperature for 1-2 hours before using.