Leavened breads are not indigenous to India and are not commonly made in Indian homes. Like China, baking never caught on in India, probably due to the scarcity of fuel. Baking is still viewed as an exotic skill and very few Indian recipes call for baking. Ovens are very uncommon in Indian homes. The only oven used is the Tandoor, the open pit clay oven invented in central Asia. Traditional tandoor is a pain to set up, light up and operate. I prefer to use the tabletop electric tandoor which is very convenient and can cook almost everthing a tandoor can.
Any thick bread needs to be leavened, so that it remains soft when baked. Leavening is the process of filling up the dough with a gas. This gas is normally generated by yeast or by baking powder. When dough is kneaded with yeast, you can actually watch it puff up like a balloon in a couple of hours. Baking powder works differently. On heating, it generates carbon di oxide, which inflates the dough from the inside like a balloon. Yeast requires a few hours to work and fill up the dough with gas. So the dough is rested for 3-5 hours before baking. Baking powder works instantly and so breads made with baking powder can be baked rightaway.
Flavouring (Column 2)
Most leavened Indian breads are cooked in a tandoor, though some like the Bhatura are deep fried. All breads listed here are designed to be cooked on an electric Tandoor. If you don’t have an electric tandoor, you can cook these in a preheated oven at its highest heat setting, in a skillet, on a grill or on the walls of a sturdy vessel. They’d taste different, but they’ll certainly be edible !
The Base (Column 1)
Kulcha is very similar to a Naan, but is usually leavened with baking powder and yogurt instead of yeast. Kulchas are often stuffed with a variety of fillings. It is normally shaped as a round disc unlike the teardrop shaped Naan.
· Tandoori roti is a thick , round roti made from wholewheat flour. It is generally leavened by wild yeast by letting the dough sit for a few hours before baking. Baking powder is now used widely in Tandoori rotis.
· The Bati is a unique bread, designed to last. It was the staple travel food of the Rajput warriors and Marwari traders. Tomato sized balls of whole wheat dough are roasted over hot coals and are eaten dipped in ghee. (They can also be cooked in an electric tandoor). Smaller Batis can be cooked without leavening. They may also be cooked in boiling water first and then baked.
· The most popular leavened bread in Asia, the teardrop shaped Naan, was cooked in central Asia long before it found its way into India. Naan is a staple food in countries like Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan & Tajikistan. That is why Naan is not a Hindi word. It is a pan asian word which means bread in all these languages- Persian, Urdu, Uzbek, Uyghur and Burmese. Sesame seeds / onion seeds / cilantro / garlic slivers are occasionally patted on the surface just before baking.
· When you knead Nan dough with semolina, you get a less chewy and more crumbly version of the Naan- the Khasta Naan.
· Rogani Naan is a richer version of Naan kneaded with milk and ghee.
· Khameeri roti is just a Tandoori roti leavened with yeast instead of baking powder. In some regions these are deep fried.
· Sheermal is an orange coloured, saffron flavoured, sweet version of the Naan. Some versions of sheermal use eggs.
· Taftan is a unique bread made from leavened rice flour. Rice flour is not easy to work with and needs quite a bit of practice to knead and shape. Use of some all purpose flour makes it easier to knead and shape.
Column 2 lists various flavourings from 0 to 9, which can be kneaded along with the dough. Most traditional flatbreads stop at 0 and do not use extra flavouring. The flavouring choices are numerous and you can create your signature dish by choosing your favourite flavouring for your bread.
Stuffing (Column 3)
A variety of stuffings listed in column 3 can be used to stuff the dough. Stuffings from 1 to 5 are easy to work with. Others take a bit of practice to master.
Have fun in cooking up your own combinations of new flatbreads !And that's another entry for Srivalli’s Roti Mela