Bread is one of my top-5 loves in life. I can’t even quite explain it, but there’s something about it. Flaky, soft, fluffy, dense, crusty, sweet, salty – bread can be just about anything you need it to be. It’s the perfect lover. Four lines in, and I’ve already reached my hyperbole quota. Anyway, bread is good but it’s hard to make. Chapati is not.
Chapati has only two required ingredients: water and flour. Most people are going to put a bit of salt in there, though, so now we have three ingredients. No big deal. Oh wait. I’m going to throw a wrinkle in this: atta flour. This is the great thing about Toronto – we have access to authentic ingredients. Some of them are even available quite readily. I don’t think people take advantage of this fact often enough, but then, I came from a small town where getting Indian food was never an option, let alone an idea. Honestly, some Torontonians just don’t realize how good they’ve had it with all the amazing culinary ideas and supplies brought to the city via immigrant communities. Back to the point, though: atta flour. Atta flour is the main flour used for many Indian flatbreads. It’s whole wheat, made from hard wheat, and is high in protein and fibre (lots of bran). So it’s healthy. Better yet, the stone-grinding process used to make it generally imparts a subtle roasted sweetness to the flour, so it’s got a flavour of it’s own. Tasty.
The problem is, where to get it?
I purchased a medium-sized package of Golden Temple-brand (under the umbrella of Robin Hood, actually) atta flour at Loblaws at St. Clair and Bathurst. That store has a relatively well-stocked international section though; other Loblaws may not have it. Whenever you’re looking for Indian ingredients though, Gerrard St. will never let you down. My favourite store there is B.J. Supermarket. In addition to regular-sized bags, they have extremely large bags of the same Golden Temple-brand atta flour (like 2 feet high). Probably because in actual South Asian homes, they go through a lot more of this flour that I ever would.
You could substitute whole-wheat flour for atta, I suppose, but why, when you don’t have to?
- 2 cups of atta flour
- 1 tsp salt
- approximately 1 cup lukewarm water (less, if you’re using white flour)
- ghee, for brushing the breads (optional, I usually don’t bother)
Serve with: curries, kebab, chutnies, etc
What you will need: measuring cups and spoons, medium-sized mixing bowl, rolling pin, large non-stick frying pan or skillet, spatula
- Measure the flour and salt into the mixing bowl.
- Mix the flour and salt together as evenly as you can. Use a fork, or stir and sift the flour through your fingers if you’re feeling hardcore.
- Pour in the water.
- Using your fingers, gently move the flour through the water. It will naturally absorb the water, so you don’t have to smash it in there. Once most of the water is absorbed, start working the rest of the flour into the wet parts of the dough. You may need a little more water to do this, you can never really be too sure. You can sum up this whole step with: mix flour and water into a dough.
- Here’s the part where you let the dough stand for at least 30 minutes (preferably overnight, in the fridge). You don’t really have to, but I’ll let science explain why you might. Once you add water to flour, there’s a reaction between parts of the flour that forms gluten. Gluten makes your bread stretchy. If you let it sit for 30 minutes or longer, you’re allowing this reaction to happen for longer, which will make your dough elastic and much easier to roll out thin. You could let the dough sit for hours, even.
- What a nerd-out that step was. Lame.
- Put your non-stick pan or skillet on your burner and heat it up to medium-high heat (about 6 on my dial).
- While it’s heating up, separate the dough into 8 roughly-equal pieces.
- Roll each piece between your hands to make a smooth ball. This is like kindergarten, except this time you won’t be punished for eating the dough.
- On a clean part of your countertop, lightly dust the surface with flour and roll the ball in it. Then use a rolling pin to roll out the dough into a disc about 5-7 inches wide (depends on the size of the ball, really) and as thin as you can (maybe about 1/3 cm if possible) adding flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to the counter.
- That’s a chapati. Now toss it on the hot pan. No oil required.
- Let it cook for about 10-15 seconds. The colour will change slightly, and small bubbles will start to form on the surface. Then flip the disc onto the other side.
- Once the disc is flipped, using your spatula, press the edges of the chapati down lightly. What you’re trying to do here is force the air from the air bubbles towards the center. This will cause the chapati to inflate with hot air. If your chapati does not inflate, that’s ok too. It will pretty much taste the same, it will just be more dense.
- Keep checking the side of the chapati that’s touching the pan. If there’s brown toasted circles marking it, the chapati is done on that side. Flip it over and cook the other side a bit more if you’d like.
- Your chapati is done when: both sides have browned crispy parts (but not black or burnt). The disc itself should still be soft and flexible. Remove them to a plate or basket.
- If you’d like, brush the finished chapati with ghee. Not a lot, just enough to lightly glaze the bread. If you don’t have a pastry brush (which you probably don’t) melt the ghee first, and then use a spoon to move the ghee around the surface of the bread.
- Repeat the rolling and cooking process for the rest of the dough balls.
- Enjoy fresh bread.
Fresh chapatis. Delicious. Enjoy them right away with vegetable or legume curries. Or with meat.
Edit: This is a photograph I took of an inflated chapati. The more I make chapati at home, the more I realize that an overnight wait for the gluten to react makes a huge difference in how thin you can roll out your chapati. I’ve also found that letting white flour (as opposed to atta flour) sit overnight makes the dough almost too soft, so stick to atta flour if you can. If using white flour, let it sit for only an hour or two at most.
The trick to getting chapati to inflate seems to be using the spatula to press down on the edges of the chapati (which sears the dough in those spots you press down on) to seal the edges. This, I think, keeps the air bubbles from leaking out the otherwise soft edges, and forces the air pockets to move towards the center. If all goes well, you can push these bubbles to connect with other bubbles, forming larger and larger air pockets (until the entire chapati is one giant balloon of hot air). Then you have what I’m showing in the photo, a perfect chapati. Don’t think I make it look easy; I’m lucky if I can get 50% of my chapatis to inflate like this, but I’m getting better every time.