Most of us may know flatbreads as being a simple flat wheat based dishes. Flatbreads tend to be relatively simple, flour, some salt, maybe a leavening agent such as baking soda or yeast and that’s about it. Chapati and pita breads are both examples of these simple varieties. But just like ‘normal’ breads can be easy (think whole wheat bread) or super complex (what about these croissants), the same goes up for flatbreads. The flatbread of this post, the so called paratha, is quite a complex flatbread, but oh so delicious!
This is a flatbread you can just keep on eating. It eats well with any type of curry, or other saucy dish. It has its roots in Trinidad, and thus eats well with foods from there, but honestly, mix and match it up! Paratha might be more cumbersome to make, but in return you get a flaky, rich and delicisouly tasting flatbread that will still taste good a few days later.
The similarities between paratha & croissants
The trick of making good croissants is to make a dough with plenty of layers of butter / dough / butter, etc. You can see all those layers in a final croissant. This is because the fat in the butter will melt in the oven. The fat has prevented all the dough layers to stick together during the making process and now during baking the butter will melt and the layers will separate. This creates the special croissant texture.
The French weren’t the only ones who noticed this. This Trinidad paratha actually uses a very similar process to create a rich, but airy structure. Just like for croissants a dough is made which barely contains any fat. Next, the dough is rolled out in a large circle. This circle is then coated in a thin layer of melted ghee (clarified butter) instead of solid butter. Once the ghee is spread on, instead of folding the dough (as is done for croissants), the dough is rolled, creating a large number of layers.
Once the dough has been rolled up to create these layers it will be rolled out again in a flat circle. This circle will then have all those layers of fat and dough. Again, the fat prevents the layers for sticking to each other. During baking the fats all melt and get absorbed in the dough, creating a rich layered flatbread.
The tricks for making good paratha
Paratha requires some practice to get right, but there are a few tips that will help you get there.
1. Take your time
Once the paratha has been rolled with all the layers of food it is best to leave the dough balls sit for a while before rolling them out. Ideally, you’d store them in a closed container in the fridge over night. But storing them for at least one hour (covered or in a container) will also help.
During the wait the dough will literally ‘relax’, especially the gluten. The gluten proteins will reorient and lose their tension. As a result, the dough will be a lot softer and easier to stretch after the rest (this is the same reason it can be beneficial to rest a fresh pasta dough). Since the dough has had a chance to rest you’re less likely to break the layered structure during rolling, instead, you can probably roll it out a lot thinner a lot more easily.
2. Practice rolling the dough
Even though rolling the dough to create those layers isn’t complicated by itself, practice does make it considerably better. The trick to rolling a good dough is to roll it tightly and to try and roll as many layers in as possible. The method we describe in the recipe below works as follows:
- Roll the dough in a circle, cover with a thin layer of melted ghee and sprinkle lightly with some flour.
- Take the blunt side of a knife and make a cut in the dough from the center to the outside.
- Take on the sides on the cut and start rolling the dough tightly (see graphic representation above) until you end up with a cone.
- Tightly tuck away the last strip on the bottom of the cone you’ve made and now press down the top of the cone in the center. This will leave you with a slightly off round ball of dough which won’t split or open up again.
3. Beat it
Yes, literally, beat it. While baking a paratha you want those layers to separate. However, the layer of ghee might not be the exact same thickness everywhere and a spot might have been missed. Therefore the layers need a little help separating. Once the paratha is slightly cooked on both sides this is done by using two spatulas and pushing the sides of the paratha inside. This is done for all sides, continuously moving until the paratha is cooked. The layers have now separated well.
Trinidadian paratha is not easy to make on your first go, especially if you’ve never seen anyone make it before. The recipe below has been slightly adjusted from Ria’s kitchen. I would adivse visiting her blog if you’re looking for extra photos on the different steps!
- 330g flour
- ¾ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt (if you're not used to salty breads, use ¼ tsp)
- ¾ tsp sugar
- 225ml water (don't add all at once, it will depend on the flour used how much you need exactly)
- ghee (clarified butter) or oil
- Mix the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Add the water gradually to make a dough. The dough will be pretty wet and slightly sticky, it will stretch out easily. Do not knead the dough too much, just until it comes together in a nice ball.
- Leave to rest for at least 15 minutes to relax the gluten.
- Split the dough into 4 separate balls (the number of balls will depend on the size of your pan, the large the pan).
- Roll out the dough in flat circles. It will be sticky, so use ample flour.
- Cover the dough with a thin layer of ghee, make sure to spread it out evenly.
- Lightly dust the top with a little flour.
- Now make a cut from the center of the dough circle to the outside and start rolling the dough from that cut in a circle to the other side of the cut (see link for photos below). You should make a little round pyramid. Now push the pointy top inside to tighten and dust with some flour.
- Leave to rest for another 15-30 minutes, even better would be at least an hour or overnight in the fridge. A longer resting period makes it a lot easier to roll out the dough.
- Heat a flat baking surface on a medium heat.
- Roll out the balls of dough and bake on the flat surface on a medium heat. Coat the top with a thin layer of ghee (clarified butter) or oil. When the top starts getting drier, turn the dough around. Cover the top with a thin layer of oil.
- Once the dough starts cooking take two spatulas and loosen the paratha. Due to all the rolling you should have made layers of dough with fat in between, try to loosen these.
- You want the different layers to separate, so crinkly and beat until you see them coming apart. The paratha is ready once it has turned slightly brown and has loose structure.
Did you know? That in Trinidad paratha roti is also called ‘buss up shut’ roti?