The Best and Most Versatile Naan Recipe

Lately, I’ve been experimenting more with baking breads, which has taught me a thing or two about using yeast and allowed me to draw several parallels about yeast and life -- mainly that both are unpredictable and come with zero guarantees. 

The first time I made the recipe below, it came out fantastic. Each piece had risen to perfection as it sizzled and browned on the cast iron grill. I sprinkled them with a hint of garlic powder, which smelled so good I could hardly wait to grab one, break it in half, watch the steam rise up from the center, and take a bite. The texture was pillowy soft, yet hearty and satisfying. I wanted to eat the whole batch.

A few weeks later, I tried to make naan again, this time with Active Dry yeast because I was out of the Instant Rapid-Rise yeast I had used before. I had a feeling something was awry even before I began -- when I tried proofing the yeast in warm water and it never got frothy. If you’ve never worked with yeast before, proofing it is an important first step, yet it has to be done correctly. The water needs to be just the right temperature; not too hot because it can scald the yeast and kill it, and not too cold because it won’t activate properly. 

In hindsight, the water temperature may have been where I went wrong, or it was the yeast itself. I had just bought it at Whole Foods only a few weeks prior, but who knows how long they had it on the shelf for. Another important characteristic to note about yeast is that it most definitely has a shelf life. 

Whatever the case may be, I decided to forge ahead anyway and hope the yeast would start to activate once I added the rest of the ingredients and waited several hours for it to rise. 

It didn’t.

And this is the part where husbands are incredibly awesome because they earnestly eat all your failed food attempts and tell you they are great even when you both know they could be better. Paul swears the large amounts of garlic powder I doused them in made up for the hockey puck-like texture (my words, not his). But I knew the yeast had failed me and it was frustrating because I had no idea why.

I began experimenting with water temperatures, rising time, kneading, different brands and types of yeast. What I have found is that Instant Rapid Rise yeast does what it is supposed to do about 99 percent of the time. Active Dry yeast, on the other hand, is obnoxiously fickle and high maintenance. It’s like a moody feline that only wants to be pet when it’s in the mood. Instant Rapid Rise yeast is more like a dog -- loyal and eager to please. Most grocery stores don’t carry it, however, but I’m happy to report that Smart & Final always has Instant yeast, both in individual packets and in bulk. But don’t buy it in bulk unless you plan on baking bread for the entire neighborhood because as I mentioned, it does have a shelf life, and once it is opened, you need to use it quickly, or put it in the freezer. 

But enough with all this talk of technique -- let’s bake some naan already! And once you do, note that you can slice it lengthwise and stuff it with all sorts of goodies like a sandwich. My favorite filling as of late is salami, Swiss cheese, and mixed greens dressed in balsamic. For a vegetarian option, try roasting eggplants and red peppers in the oven. Drizzle them in olive oil, salt and pepper, then lay them out on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes at 400 degrees. They taste amazing in a sandwich with avocado, your favorite cheese, and pickled onions.

Lastly, if you choose not to sprinkle garlic powder on the outside of the naan, it can easily work as a quick breakfast topped with jam and washed down with a steaming cup of tea or coffee.

Homemade Naan
(adapted from the recipe on Half Baked Harvest)

1/4 cup hot tap water
1 Tbsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. Instant Rapid Rise Yeast
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 cup milk (warmed in microwave, but NOT to the point of boiling or scalding)
1 cup Greek yogurt
garlic powder (optional for sprinkling on top)

Let the tap water run until it feels really hot and is steaming. Measure out 1/4 cup of it and pour it into a small glass bowl or measuring cup. Add the sugar and stir until it melts. Next, add the yeast and stir until it dissolves, then let it sit for 10 minutes, or until the mixture begins to froth and rise.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda until well combined. 

In a separate bowl, or preferably, the bowl of a Kitchen Aid mixer, combine the warm milk and yogurt, then pour in the yeast mixture using a wooden spoon to blend it all together. 

Next, add the flour mixture and use the dough hook (if using a Kitchen Aid) on medium speed for 6 minutes. (Otherwise, knead on a floured surface for 6 minutes). Remove dough and place it in a well- oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. At this point, you can either let it slow rise in the refrigerator overnight, or let it sit out at room temperature for 1 hour.

Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and divide it into 8 equal parts, rolling each into a ball. Place the balls of dough onto a cookie sheet, cover again with plastic wrap, and allow to rise for another 30 minutes. Once they have doubled in size, they are ready to bake. At that point, you will need to take each ball of dough and stretch it out into a long oval shape, about 6-8 inches long, and 1/4 inch thick.

Get out a cast iron skillet and either spray it with cooking spray, or use melted butter or oil to grease it.  Cook as many pieces of naan as you can fit in the pan at one time on medium/high heat for about 4 minutes per side. You may need to play around with the cooking time, as all stove tops work differently. Treat them as you would pancakes, checking periodically to see if they are browning enough on each side and still cooking fully throughout the middle. 

Sprinkle each side with garlic powder, if you wish.

Dark Chocolate Brownies With Peanut Butter Frosting

Out of all the hundreds of flavor combinations that exist in this world, I would have to say peanut butter and dark chocolate is one of my very favorites. I'm always a sucker for the sweet and salty combo, especially when it's rich and requires a large glass of milk or a scoop of vanilla ice cream to round it out.

Back when I first moved to New York and was subletting a room in Park Slope, Brooklyn, I would walk down 7th Avenue to this adorable coffee shop called the Cocoa Bar. It had an ivy-covered patio where I loved to sit and write, and even better still, they served a decadent, chocolate peanut butter cake that almost defied words. These brownies are the closest I have come to finding any dessert that rivals it.

The recipe is simple, both in terms of preparation and ingredients; yet, the intensity of flavor is like a chocolate lover's dream. I cut out one of the eggs from the original recipe to make the brownies extra fudgey, and I also adapted the frosting by omitting the butter and instead using culinary coconut milk (otherwise known as coconut cream at Trader Joe's). If you only do one thing this week, run to the store, grab a few ingredients, and make these brownies. You'll thank me later.

Dark Chocolate Brownies With Peanut Butter Frosting
(adapted from Ashley Rodriguez's recipe for "Bittersweet Brownies With Salted Peanut Butter Frosting" in the Date Night In cookbook)

3/4 cup unsalted butter
3 ounces unsweetened baker's chocolate ground in the food processor
1/2 tsp. instant coffee powder
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3/4 tsp. kosher salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and line an 8" x 8" baking dish with parchment paper. (If using a large roll of parchment, I like to cut it in half length wise and use the two pieces to create a cross shape that is easy to remove from the pan and doesn't buckle in the corners.)

Place the butter in a medium sauce pan and melt over medium-high heat. Once it has completely melted, turn off the heat and add the unsweetened chocolate that has already been ground up in the food processor, like this:

The butter should be so warm, that it will just melt the chocolate and then you can whisk them together. Next, stir in the espresso powder and vanilla extract. Finally, add the sugar until evenly combined.

Get out a large bowl and beat the eggs with a fork. Once the chocolate mixture has cooled a bit, add a large spoonful of the chocolate batter to the eggs, and whisk it together. This is called tempering your eggs, and it will help raise their temperature so that they won't scramble when you add the rest of the chocolate mixture.

Get out a third bowl and combine the flour, cocoa powder, and kosher salt. Then combine the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients, and pour them into the prepared baking pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle pulls out clean. Let cool to room temperature before frosting.

Peanut Butter Frosting

6 Tbsp. culinary coconut milk (or coconut cream)
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup powdered sugar
Fleur de sel or Maldon sea salt for finishing (see this post for a guide to different salts)

Combine the culinary coconut milk, peanut butter, and powdered sugar in a small bowl and whip with an electric mixer until everything is well combined and the frosting has lightened in color.

Wait until the brownies have fully cooled, and then frost them and top with a few pinches of flaked sea salt.

Spiced Coconut Coffee With Cardamom

I am a perpetual early riser. Every morning, I wake to the shrill beeping of my old school alarm clock and dutifully pry myself out of bed. Even when my head feels foggy and my eyelids beg to stay shut
-- even when my warm bed feels like the coziest place on earth -- I still fight for the will to stand, to pull out my sweat pants and stick one leg after the other inside. One woolly sock over each bare foot.

I then pad my way into the kitchen, open the blinds and search for sunlight. Lately, the mornings have been drenched in a light and misty fog, which I love. It makes for a cozy atmosphere of a different kind, perfect for curling up with a warm cup of coffee and my journal. On most mornings, I simply brew a regular old pot -- nothing fancy. But when I have the time to curl up in my sweats and have a leisurely morning (and, technically when I have left over coconut milk lying around), I'll kick it up a notch and make my favorite warm beverage.  

Of course, everyone's version of "kicking it up a notch" is slightly different. Some may think of adding cinnamon, or chocolate, or Bailey's (although, it's generally not that type of a morning . . ).
For me, it means adding a combination of coconut milk and cardamom, a Middle Eastern seasoning that is slightly floral and sweet. I originally heard of it on an episode of Entertaining With Beth, but have since jazzed the recipe up a bit and made it my own. The cardamom makes the coffee taste spicy in an exotic sort of way, and the coconut milk gives it just the right amount creaminess and added flavor. Try it for yourself and see what you think.

But before you do, here are a few quick tips:

1. When flavoring coffee with spices, such as cinnamon or nutmeg, I always add the spice directly to the grounds so that it can brew and get infused with the flavor, as opposed to trying to mix the spice in after the coffee is finished.

2. Dark brown sugar is coffee's best friend. Don't believe me? Try it tomorrow in place of whatever sweetener you generally use, and it just might change your life.

3. On especially cold days, pre-warm your coffee mug by filling it with water and then microwaving the mug with the water in it for 1-2 minutes. Once your coffee is finished brewing, dump the hot water out and then fill it with coffee. This is a little trick I learned while working in the restaurant industry, and it makes the mug retain its heat for significantly longer.

Spiced Coconut Coffee With Cardamom

(makes 2 cups)

3 Tablespoons ground coffee
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
3 cups water
3 Tablespoons coconut milk (light or regular)
1 Tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar

Combine the coffee grounds and cardamom and add them to whatever coffee-making contraption you fancy (Chemex, French Press, pour-over, etc.). Add the water and follow whatever steps are typically required to brew two cups.

When it's finished brewing, pour the coffee into your pre-warmed mug (see tip #3, above), and then stir in the coconut milk, regular milk, and brown sugar. Add more of any ingredients as necessary to adjust flavor.