Unexpected Origins...

Over winter break my boyfriend came to visit me for a few days in Los Angeles and while we were catching up about what we'd been doing over the holiday (him visiting family and skiing across the majority of eastern Europe; me laying on the couch, watching endless seasons of Top Chef Allstars, and going for the occasional jog) I casually mentioned that I'd begun to dabble in bread making. Most recently I'd taken on naan bread and it, to quote myself at the time, "Came out pretty fucking incredible."

I explained how I liked the speed with which you could make it once the dough rose, how the naan bread cooked right there in front of you on the cast iron skillet and came out the perfect combination of chewy and crunchy all at the same time. He looked at me for a minute before responding, "Well we should make some when we're back in Providence."

Now, we'd cooked together before. He lives off-campus and theoretically this means that he has a kitchen. In actuality, he has a room he shares with four other 22-year-old boys that has a refrigerator in it and numerous surfaces that are either actively sticky or crusted over with unnamable substances. I still consider myself a culinary master for the time I pulled together a gourmet tuna melt out of canned tuna, Greek yogurt, grated Babybel cheese wheels, and an unexpected jalapeno.

"Sure," I replied smiling, "we could totally do that." I thought this was the end of our hypothetically romantic bread endeavors, but he would have naan of it.

So It Begins

I spent my first night back in Providence at his place and the next morning while we were making avocado toast for breakfast he nudged me, “Hey, let’s make naan bread this week.” I reminded him we’d need at least two hours for the dough to rise and we settled on Friday. I got the flour and dry active yeast, and he got his counter tops clean enough to put things we later wanted to eat on.

It was Friday evening and we were ready to strike. We started kneading (on remarkably clean counters) at 5:45 p.m. and by 6 p.m. we had a smooth ball of beige dough nested neatly in a silver bowl covered with plastic wrap. I took a Sharpie and drew a circle around its outline so we could see when it had doubled and put it in the microwave so it could prove.

“You do know you can’t microwave a metal bowl,” he said quizzically. Of course I knew this. “Putting the dough in a smaller space like a microwave gives it a more controlled temperature that lets it rise evenly.” Jesus, I’d been watching too much of the Great British Bake Off.

Hungry Calamity

By the time 8 o’clock rolled around we were hungry. Really hungry. We rushed to the microwave, opened it, and, lo and behold, the dough had not risen. Not even a little.

A hunch told me we had mixed the yeast in water that was too hot and killed all of the microbes. Or maybe it was too cold outside and the yeast couldn’t bloom. Does yeast even bloom? It didn’t matter. The disappointment was swift and brutal.

Luckily, we knew how to rally so we gathered our defenses and marched down to Pa’Karang Thai for green curry and “crispy pad thai." We later agreed someone at Pa’Karang should really change the wording from "crispy" to “crunchy” pad thai because neither of us were expecting fully hardened, deep fried short worms of egg flour covered in pad thai sauce. This was not as satisfying as a piece of naan bread, but it was pretty good. Since we were out we decided to head to a 9:15 p.m. screening of Phantom Thread at the local Cable Car Cinema.


By the time we got back to his house a party was in full swing celebrating the squash team’s crushing loss 4 to 5. The rooms were bursting, the floors steaming from spilt beer, and the once-brilliant counters were now overflowing with crushed Red Solo cups and half-empty jugs of Crystal Palace. We made the rounds and after a little while retreated to his bedroom. By 1 a.m. the house was silent and, after engaging in various bedroom activities, we were hungry again and both wondering the same thing… “Do you think the naan’s still there?”

Miraculously, it was.

Victory At Last

Not only was the naan still there, but there was more of it. Three times more to be exact. It was a gift from the partying gods. As if somehow the combination of body heat and beer had coaxed the yeast into activation. Not a gift from the party gods was the fact that the kitchen was trashed. But we’d already come so far and this hurdle seemed small with the promise of fresh, steaming bread only minutes away.

On a lime-sized cutting board I sliced the dough into eight even pieces and using a hot sauce bottle rolled three of them out into thin sheets. We heated some olive oil in a pan.

There is a certain kind of alchemy that occurs when raw dough hits a sizzling surface. First it smokes around the edges, brief wafts of yeasty steam billowing into the air, and then it starts to bubble. Just tiny little bubbles at first that whisper to you when it’s time to flip. You have to listen carefully because the bubbles are quiet and it’s easy for the dough to tip over the edge towards burnt in a few inattentive seconds. After this first flip, the magic happens. The whole interior of the sheet balloons upwards and outwards in a bloom of golden brown glory.

“Wow,” I whispered. Steaming naan bread in hand he turned towards me, “Did you say something?”

No, not really. I just don’t think I’ll ever get over the wonder of making something exist that didn’t before.

Foolproof Naan Bread Recipe:


- 1 cup warm (not boiling!) water

- 2 teaspoons of dry active yeast

- 2 ½ cups of all-purpose flour (plus a little extra for rolling)

- 2 teaspoons salt

- 1 ½ teaspoons olive oil


- 1 large mixing bowl

- Rolling pin (or any kind of glass bottle, wrapped in cling wrap if unwashed)

- Skillet (cast iron is fancy, any shallow stovetop pan is usable)

- Bread Knife (but truly any sharp cutting utensil will do)


1. Form the Naan Dough: Mix the water and yeast and let it sit until the yeast is dissolved (about 5 minutes). Add 2 ½ cups of flour, salt, and olive oil. Stir with one hand until loose dough is formed. The dough should be “shaggy,” somewhat wet, and gloppy.

2. Knead the Dough: Sprinkle a little flour onto your work surface (preferably a clean one) and knead the dough for 8 minutes (this is a good arm workout!) until it has an elastic texture and the surface is smooth.

3. Let the Naan Rise: Clean and dry your mixing bowl. Coat the inside with a little olive oil and then place your dough inside, coating it with the olive oil that has stuck to the side of the bowl. Cover the bowl in plastic wrap and using a black Sharpie trace the outline of the naan onto the wrap… this will help you see when the dough has doubled in size (typically this takes 2 hours).

4. Divide the Naan: Once your naan has doubled in size, gently punch down the dough and put it back on your work surface. Using your bread knife, divide the dough into 8 equal parts and gently flatten each piece into a ½ to ¼ inch thick disk. Cover the pieces with plastic wrap or put them in an air-tight container until you are ready to bake them.

5. Shape the Naan: Coat “rolling pin” with flour to prevent clinging and roll your pieces out, one at a time, until they are about 1/8 of an inch thick. These shapes do not need to be uniform (not all naan is the same) as long as they are roughly the same thinness.

6. Bake the Naan: Warm your skillet over medium-high heat until it sizzles when splashed with water. Drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil in the pan. Lay rolled-out naan on the skillet and cook for 30 seconds, until small bubbles start to form. Flip the naan and cook it for 1 ½ minutes until larger bubbles appear and the underside begins to look a crisp golden brown (small black spots are okay.) Flip the bread back over and finish for another 30 seconds on the first side.


Ideally, this Naan is enjoyed hot and fresh out of the pan. However, it can keep for 3-4 days in an airtight container. 

Want More Bread?

A Guide To Bread Making, As Told By A Frat Star

How To Make Homemade Bagels

10 Steps to Baking the Perfect Loaf of Bread Every Time