So, you have a few flatbread recipes from pita to Moroccan batbout passing by Egyptian eish, or that Levantine bread (called Arabic bread) and even Indian Naan.
You may have tried and failed to have that signature airy pocket which shows that you nailed the recipe. If this is your case, this post is for you.
My homemade garlic naans
I have to confess that I’ve been there too but I passed that stage a while ago.
I know some people who can’t get their flatbreads to puff and have that pillowy form before it collapses (yes it does, but it’s important to have in the first place).
Most of the flatbreads need a trapped steam inside which will split them from within and form 2 distinct layers within a pillow-shaped bread.
Even if the bread will still taste good without that balloon-effect but the puffing is still important for its general texture.
Puffing mini Moroccan batboot being pan-fried
These are the points to follow in order to make flatbread that puffs
1/ Follow the recipe you are given
If the recipe calls for resting and/or proofing, make sure you respect that step.
2/ Manipulate the rolled flatbread delicately avoiding the use of any sharp tool that might damage it or a sticky surface that might “pinch” it.
A rolled and shaped flatbread should NOT stick!
Once a flatbread has been rolled, it should not stick onto anything: A flatbread sticking to a work surface or a baking sheet means that it will have holes. This is fatal as it lets the precious steam developed by hight heat escape once the bread is being baked or fried.
It’s start when you roll the dough to shape the flatbread. Make sure you have greased your hands as well as the work surface (check Mexican tortillas). Some recipes call for flour-dusting so that is also an option.
This is another moment where most of the flatbreads tend to stick to the surface especially in the case of yeasted ones.
After you shape the bread, you need to transfer it to another surface for resting or proofing. Ideally, cover it with kitchen towel and dust it with flour then cover the bread again with another towel .
Shaping Naans over an oiled work surface
3/ Keep the rolled flatbreads covered so they don’t form a crust.
A crust will break or tear once the bread is cooking, it’s like starting a card game with the wrong set of cards.
4/ Before pan-frying or baking the bread, heat the pan or the baking tool (oven, stone..) before bringing the flatbread
If the flatbread is to be pan-fried or stone-baked, make sure the surface has been preheated and greased whenever the recipe calls for that. If you are baking the flatbread, the oven as well as the baking stone should be hot.
Naan hitting the hot pan and starts bubbling right away
5/ If the bread is going to be baked, do not move it from the stone or the baking sheet until you are sure the bottom has been baked and sealed or you will tear it.
Transfer the flatbread to the frying/baking surface delicately: nails are flatbreads’ enemies, so is the spatula with sharp corners..
Also, baking implies that you don’t move the bread until it forms a crust and do not tear. It’s more difficult to pan-fry than to bake but sometimes the first option is what’s required.
My Indian Naans in the oven
6/ Pan-fry the surfaces evenly
There is an acceptable method of pan-frying flatbread but there is an even better method. So why settle for less?
Some airy pockets are better than others..Actually, some airy pocket are just wrong! How?
If the bread is pan-fried, follow this method to have an evenly cooked surface.
Sometimes, big uneven bubbles complicate the pan-frying process. In picture 6, it’s becoming difficult to pan-fry the bottom side while in picture 7, I avoided this problem from happening
When you flip the flatbread to cook the other side, do it delicately, using your fingers or a flat spatula with a round front-corners. I personally use a cheap one (2 £ worth) which has been discoloured with curries.
The moment you see bubbles starting to form, delicately flip the bread, basically this happens after 20 seconds of contact with a heat surface.
Flip a few times every 20-30 seconds while adjusting the heat of the pan in case it gets fuming hot.
Once the dough starts puffing it’s time to flip it for the first time. Do not wait until the craters get bigger
is to flip it constantly and not wait for one surface to colour then flip!
If we analyse the 3 pictures above, here is what we see:
Left: the air is so far under control, the crust at the bottom is just forming and it’s time to flip.
Bottom right: uneven pockets of air which may not necessary come together, making some unwanted craters instead of a pillowy puff.
Up right: I’m pushing the air around by applying a pressure and helping it finding its way to the edges as well
In summary, It’s highly advisable to pan-fry one side of the flatbread for a few seconds just to seal it (not to completely cook it). Once you see some air bubbles forming, flip the bread for a few seconds. Do it about 3 times for each side and you should have 2 wonderful flat sides. While some breads are even better with that, Moroccan batbout should ideally be pan-fried evenly.
I love burned spots over a Naan. In this case, uneven baking is the perfect method.
7/ I followed all previous step but still no major puffing happening
It might take about 2 minutes before you see that pillow we are all after. But you can help it finding its way by gently pushing one side on the other.If you see a big bubble forming, it’s even better, push it delicately and it will spread all its hot air all around.
I’m pressing delicately to spread the steam faster and all around.
Somehow, this method allows the upper side to split and you miraculously see it puffing!
My batbout on the right looks like a pillow. I’m just finishing off the edges.
So, when is your next batch of flatbreads?Share your pictures on the facebook page (click on the Facebook icon to join us if you haven’t done so yet).
Nada Kiffa is an Expert in Moroccan cooking and her recipes are coming from a lineage of Moroccan home and professional cooks.
Cooking classes and posted articles are inspired by her family life in Morocco and elsewhere. You will learn what makes a dish Moroccan before learning how to execute it. You will also learn how to work around recipes and cut corners without missing on the flavour.
View all posts by Nada