Making chapati – And why they puff up

Chapati, or roti, are a really nice and easy to make flatbread! It’s for sure one of my favorite carbs with a meal. They’re not hard to make, require only two ingredients (three if you want to be a little more fancy) and at the same time are complex enough to devote a whole post on the topic: they puff up when baking them!

Roti is a type of flat bread, originating India but nowadays it is eaten in large parts of the world (e.g. the Caribean). There are lots of variations and you can make them as complicated as you’d like. I prefer a very simple version, I believe the ‘official’ name for this version is chapati, but we just call them roti. When looking for the ‘real’ name I noticed there are loads of different rotis and different cultures/countries/families tend to all call them slightly different. For this post, I’ll refer to chapati & roti, using them interchangeably.

How to make chapati?

Making roti isn’t complicated from a recipe perspective, but does require some practice to get just right all the time. Here’s a simple recipe I use. However, take care that the amount of water you need greatly depends on the type of flour you have available. Some flours absorb more water and become stiffer with the same amount of water than other flours do. When making the dough you are looking to make flexible balls of doughs that do not fall apart, do not stick to your fingers and can be kneaded around.

Making chapati - And why they puff up
Recipe type: flatbread
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 2-3 chapatis
Ingredients
  • 130g flour (preferably sieved whole meal flour, or atta)
  • 130g water
Instructions
  1. Mix the water and flour together until it forms a consistent dough. Leave some water behind to allow for adjustments as you go.
  2. Once you have formed a nice smooth dough, knead the dough for a few minutes until it forms a nice consistent balls and is well mixed.
  3. Pre-heat a flat pan on a medium-high stove.
  4. Split the dough in 2-3 balls (depending on the size of your pan) and roll them out one by one to a few centimeter thickness. Once rolled out, place the dough on the pan and bake until the top starts drying out. Flip over, the bottom should not have turned brown yet, but have lightened in colour.
  5. Keep on the heat and flip over a few more times until both sides have turned a slight brown. After the first or second flip it should start puffing up. If not, don't worry, it will still taste good. Do not leave the chapati on for so long that it becomes crunchy. It's best when it is still slightly soft.
  6. Take of the chapati, cover with some ghee (clarified butter) and store in a clean towel until all are finished. That why it will soften slightly and stay sufficiently warm.

What happens when baking chapati?

As you can see on the photos above, the chapati lightens in colour and swells up during baking (if you’ve done the previous steps well, there’s no easy way to explain this in writing, it’s best to do a few times and you’ll get a hang of when to flip the chapati and how to knead it to get the best puff).

There are only a few ingredients in chapati so the processes occuring during baking aren’t that complicated. In the first stage of baking, the outer layer of the dough is cooked. Moisture evaporates and starch gelatinizes (a process we’ve seen before when baking bread).

When flipping over the other side of the chapati starts cooking. Because the now upper layer is already slightly cooked, moisture that is evaporating cannot escape from the chapati as easily any more. Instead, the moisture will be caught inside and due to the high heat, it will start evaporating. This evaporated moisture will sit in between the two cooked layers and cause the two to puff away from each other!

The best way to store roti/chapati

Homemade chapati cannot be stored for very long. It will not spoil though, but it will become tougher and drier. So how to make sure you can still enjoy your chapati even if you don’t eat it immediately?

If you plan on eating your chapati within an hour or so after making, just wrap it in a towel and leave until you’ll eat it.

If you’ll only eat it a few hours later, it’s best to place the towel inside a plastic bag or a closed box. That way you’ll prevent the moisture from escaping and the chapati will stay moist.

Then, if there are some chapati left after your meal, store the remaining chapati in a closed pack to prevent moisture from escaping. The roti will however age quite fast. Flatbreads are quite susceptible to ageing since they have barely any ingredients that help prevent this.

Chapati ages in a very similar way as freshly baked bread. But since chapati is so flat the ageing process goes a lot faster than for a large loaf of bread! We discussed how that worked in a previous post on the ageing of bread.

Sources

Most of this information is all from own experience. But if you’d like to see chapati making in real life, have a look at this YouTube video:

2 Comments

    • Hi Franck, thanks for coming by again :-)!
      I’ve tried doing it on the stovetop directly, but I find it’s a lot harder. Mine tend to burn before they puff if I put then directly on the stovetop. I now use a tava (concave flat Indian style pan), however, I’ve made them using regular frying pans as well and that works just as fine.

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