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I recently tried this recipe for Naan bread in an oven, and followed it diligently, but the product that came out did not have that characteristic flavor of Naan. It was more like a pizza bread without topping. Also, it was a bit puffier than the Naan they serve in restaurants, which is of a flat nature.

Is the flavor that you get in an authentic Indian restaurant solely because of the clay oven? What can I do to improve this recipe?

EDIT: Thanks for the answers. I tried the stove top method and although it charred, it did not give that flavor. It was more like overcooked roti :). Which makes me wonder how come roti and nan taste so different (they have similar recipes)
EDIt#2: Some of you have suggested doing this on a bar be que grill. Can nan be done on an open campfire? That would be something!

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You don't have a tandoor oven at home. Cook it on your BBQ grill with some serious heat and light brush of ghee being careful not to burn it badly. It'll cook really fast. –  Chef Flambe Feb 15 '12 at 6:47

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The flavor you want is from the high heat of the clay oven (around 900F, much like a wood-fired pizza oven). Probably nothing you can do to truly replicate it at home, but here are some things to try:

  • Use a pizza stone in the oven, and turn the oven to MAX, as hot as it will go (above 500F). Let it preheat for 45 min at least to get the stone to full heat. Put the dough right on the stone (either by hand - risky but traditional, or with a pizza peel or upside down sheet pan covered in corn meal). The naan will cook much quicker, maybe 3-5 minutes at most. If you can get the oven hot enough, you'll get a little of the "char" that is part of the flavor.
  • After mixing the ingredients, let the dough rest overnight in the fridge. The next day, pull it out, let it warm to room temp and resume the proofing process. That will let more sugars be created from enzymes converting starch to sugar, and will slightly improve browning (part of the flavor you are looking for).

Of course, if you want to get fun, you could look into one of the many tutorials on building a wood-fired oven in your yard. Lots of great baking to be had there, including a more traditional naan bread. For more tips, read up on all the things people do to their home ovens to bake better pizza - they will all apply to clay oven baking as well. Things like hearth inserts, faking out the "cleaning cycle" and other tips are common.

Based on comments and some more thinking, my first recommendation would be a grill - charcoal if you have it, gas if you don't. The procedure would be similar to making grilled pizza (well described in Peter Reinhart's "American Pie"). Using a charcoal grill with hardwood charcoal, a dough that is stiff enough to not immediately slide through the grate on your grill (may mean slightly less water in your dough), and making sure to brush the surface of the dough with oil or ghee before flopping down on the grill, you could probably get even closer to the clay oven. It still isn't the same thing, but you might get more of the smoky charred flavors you seek.

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I've tried using a baking stone at 550F, still doesn't do the trick. You really need the 700F or above clay oven for Indian naan to work. –  FuzzyChef Feb 13 '12 at 3:40
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+1 But I'm skeptical about the 45 minute thing. With my fairly thick stone on the floor of a gas oven, the top surface (i.e. the surface farthest from direct heat) reaches 550+°F in a lot less than 45 minutes. I've read in other places that the stone needs to "soak" in the heat, and I agree that it needs time to heat all the way though, but preheating for 45 minutes seems likely to waste a lot of energy. –  Caleb Feb 13 '12 at 11:41
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It's true that a home oven still can't get to 700F (at least, without dubious "cleaning cycle" hacks), but a stone at 550F will be better than a pan at 400F, as the linked recipe suggests.As for the preheating, I use an infrared thermometer to check the stone temperature - the metal surfaces inside an oven will heat much faster than the stone will, so don't make a good gauge. My low-quality apartment oven takes at least 45 min. A better oven may take less time. –  Sam Ley Feb 13 '12 at 16:45
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I've been making naan at home for years and the grill is really the only way to go. I use a gas grill at max (preheat) and heavy grates that hold a lot of heat in them. Preheat for about 15 minutes should be sufficient in most grills. Minimize the amount of time you have the lid open when you lay them down, straight on the grid. Turn as soon as they start to set up (it will take practice with your specific grill to get this smoothly correct every time) and brush the first side with butter. It goes really fast, so I don't do this until the rest of dinner is actually on the table. –  renegade Feb 13 '12 at 20:19
    
Rubbish! 45 minutes in just silly. Have you used a thermometer to actually measure your oven temperature? A pizza stone just holds some heat, and releases it slowly, it does not increase the heat, that is a factor of the ovens heat source, and insulation level. This is nothing like a tandor clay oven, it will never be hot enough. The naan bread is mostly cooked by radiant heat and some surface heat. Renagade has a good answer –  TFD Feb 15 '12 at 19:50

Your essential problem is heat. Like pizza and many other flat breads, its best done HOT. Instead of the oven, try a cast iron pan on high on the stove. My pan on an electric stove will easily reach over 800F. Do it just for a minute or two and flip. Its not quite the same as an 800-900 F oven, but works.

A user below suggests a cast iron (un-enameled) Dutch Oven on the oven for good results!

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I get a more naan-like flavor at home by 1) Upping the yoghurt content to replace about 3/4 the water. 2) Pan frying the flattened dough balls as if they were tortillas. –  Wayfaring Stranger Feb 13 '12 at 18:09
    
@Wayfaring - Yup, high heat on the stove works. Its the same reason Kenji at the Food Lab recommends the stove and cast iron for Neopolitan pizza. –  rfusca Feb 13 '12 at 18:21
    
Matter of fact, I've made Naan based pizzas. They're pretty tasty. –  Wayfaring Stranger Feb 13 '12 at 18:26
    
@Wayfaring - I have too :) –  rfusca Feb 13 '12 at 18:54
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I used a dutch oven on a gas stove with the lid on for results I'm more than happy with. Don't use expensive ceramic dutch ovens though, I found charring the naan wasn't appreciated by the pot. –  jontyc Feb 14 '12 at 12:10

The closest I have come to the perfect naan with an oven is:

1: Pre-heat (after brushing very lightly with cooking oil) a flat, large pan (I use one of indian design, probably designed for chapatties) to as high as it will go. When the brushed oil starts smoking it's ready. If the oil pools, you've used too much.

2: Put the shaped naan on then immediately reduce the heat to a lower-medium, otherwise the bottom cooks too quickly & burns.

3: After about a minute I flip it over, so the bubbles in the top side of the dough go dark brown, but most of the dough on the top remains only semi-cooked.

4: Flip back over, then cook for a few seconds under a very hot grill.

5: Brush with ghee, and that gives it a lovely golden colour, plus that char-grilled flavour!

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