Layered Dough Fascinates Me
We can get so many different results from a simple combination of flour, water, and fat. Layering the dough multiples the number of results exponentially — from puff pastry recipes, where process of folding butter into dough multiple times (laminating) is long and requires precise timing and temperature, to more quick and forgiving recipes like for this street-food flatbread Parotta from Southern India.
There are many articles and videos about making this flatbread, but most recipes belong to people who make it every day and don’t need to measure ingredients any more. The results on pictures are different — more or less thick, more or less soft, with more or less defined layers. So, where to begin?
Traditional flour for Parotta is maida, chemically bleached low protein (8-10%) wheat flour. Here in the U.S., it can be substituted with cake flour (the same level of protein) or even all-purpose (11%) flour without any problem. There are two types of fat that are suitable for the Parotta recipes: Ghee (clarified butter) and cooking oil. The difference between ghee and clarified butter is milk proteins – ghee keeps them and gives a better taste to everything cooked with it versus clarified butter that is pure milk fat. If the goal is to keep close to traditional recipes, ghee is preferred. Wheat flour, water, and fat are all that is used for making plain Parotta. There is also an enriched variation, when the dough is made with eggs and milk.
The most appealing images of Parotta are with thin, defined, and soft layers that make this flatbread tender. It means we need a soft and stretchy dough with relatively high hydration (water to flour ratio). To stretch the dough until it is almost see-through thin, we need it to be relaxed after every step of forming a flatbread. The easiest way to stretch the dough for beginners is on lightly greased surface with a large rolling pin.
Fat is used to create a thin film on the surface of stretched dough. It protects the dough from over drying when stretched and helps layers to stay defined. To play with flavors, substitute ghee with herb or vegetable flavored oils. Another common way is sprinkling the stretched dough with spice mixes and finely chopped vegetables before folding and layering.
Parrotas are cooked on hot flat tavas. At home we can use cast iron or any other skillets that can be heated evenly and able to keep the heat well. Flat breads are cooked better if flipped often. Cooked Parotta needs to be fluffed to separate layers while still hot.