Most flatbreads are daily staple foods. They’re easy and quick to make, often without the need for an oven. This of an Indian chapati or a Greek pita bread. But just like you can make complicated breads such as croissants and cinnamon rolls, you can also make a special flatbread.
In India, they might fill their flatbreads with delicious fillings such as spiced peas, paneer or coconut. In Trinidad and Tobago, they make a deceivingly simple but luxurious flatbread, Buss Up Shut, or paratha roti. This flatbread gets is deliciousness from plenty of ghee (butterfat) rolled in layers throughout. It’s a lot more work to make than those ‘simple’ flatbreads, but well worth the effort. Once you start eating you can’t stop.
The similarities between paratha roti & croissants
Paratha roti and croissants don’t look similar at all, do they? But, they have more in common than you might think. The have a crucial step in common which is crucial for their final texture.
The secret to making good croissants is to layer your dough with several layers of butter, just as you do for puff pastry. By folding a dough that encases a slab of butter several times, you create several layers of butter and dough. Once you bake the croissant in the oven, the butter melts, creating space between all those layers, creating a flaky croissant.
This technique of folding in fat is not just used in croissants. It’s used in many other foods and the paratha roti is one of them! Instead of folding in solid butter, you use liquid ghee (butterfat) to create the layers. Instead of folding it a lot of time, you use a smart rolling technique that results in the exact same thing: layers of dough separated by layers of fat. By rolling out the laminated dough, you’re spreading the layers through the whole bread. Once you’ve cooked it, your paratha roti will be flaky, just like a croissant (but thinner of course)!
Tips for making flaky paratha roti
As is the case for croissants, making a good paratha roti requires practice. Once you understand though that your main goal is to create those layers within the dough, it does become a lot easier.
1. Take your time
You start a paratha roti by making a flexible wheat flour, salt and water dough. Next, you’ll have to roll the dough into a flat circle.
As is the case for any flatbread that involves rolling, it is well worth your time to not try to roll out that dough immediately after you made it. When you were making a dough, you’ve put a lot of tension on the gluten (the protein) in the wheat flour. If you try to roll your dough immediately it will try to pull back almost immediately. However, if you leave the dough to rest (at least 15 minutes, but an hour, or two works even better) this gluten gets a chance to relax again. They reorient themselves and lose their tension. As a result, it is a lot easier to roll and stretch the dough after this rest (it’s the same reason why it can be beneficial to rest a fresh pasta dough).
Keep in mind that this wait also applies for the second time you have to roll your paratha roti! The gluten will again need to relax. Even waiting a few minutes can make your lift a lot easier!
2. Layering the dough
Once you’ve made the dough and left it to rest, the most crucial next step is to layer the fats in between the dough. Paratha roti uses ghee with is almost 100% fat (as opposed to butter which also contains water). Trinidad’s climate is a lot warmer than that of France. Using cold butter would have been very impractical. It’s why paratha roti contains melted or at least softened ghee. Using the softened ghee also allows you to create thin layers of fat from the get go, no need to fold the dough to flatten the slab of butter.
A good way to roll your dough while creating all these layers is shown above. You spread the ghee on top of the round flat dough. By making a straight cut from the center you can start rolling the dough into a cone. The orange area in the image illustrates a rolled up piece of dough. By continuing to roll, you end up with a cone. You can easily create over 10 layers of ghee throughout the cone.
3. Beat it
Since the layers of fat are a little thin, they can use some help. The dough can sometimes still slightly stick together. It is why during cooking, you crinkle and compress the flat bread to help the layers loosen up.
- 330g flour
- 3/4 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3/4 tsp sugar
- 180-220ml water (don't add all at once, it will depend on the flour used how much you need exactly)
- Ghee (or clarified butter) - slightly melted or softened to make it easy to spread out over the dough surface
- Flour for rolling
- Mix the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Add the water gradually to make a dough. The dough will be slightly sticky and very flexible. However, after some gentle kneading it should come clean off your hands. Knead the dough together until it comes together in a nice ball, don't knead it any further.
- Leave to rest for at least 15 minutes to relax the gluten.
- Split the dough into 4 separate balls to make 4 paratha roti with a diameter of about 22cm each. Adjust the number of portions based on your pan size.
- Roll out the dough in flat circles. It will be slightly 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 (this makes it easier to roll).
- 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 image in the post). You will end up with a cone. Ensure that the bottom doesn't have fat sticking out, stretch the outer layer of dough to cover the inner layers. Now push the pointy top of the cone inside to tighten and dust with some flour. Pushing it into the middle helps create all those dough layers!
- Leave to rest for another 15-30 minutes, even better would be at least an hour. A longer resting period makes it easier to roll out the dough.
- Heat a flat baking surface on a medium heat (e.g. using a tawa).
- 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 (or clarified butter). When the top starts getting drier, turn the dough around. Again, cover the topside with a thin layer of ghee.
- Towards the end, when the dough starts to be cooked through, take two spatulas and loosen the paratha by inwards pushing on the sides of the paratha. Due to all the rolling you should have made layers of dough with fat in between. By 'beating' the paratha and folding it together you help all the layers get loose and flaky.
- You want the different layers to separate, so crinkle and beat until you see them coming apart. The paratha is ready once it has turned slightly brown and a loosened up structure.