A Chapati Chapter

As long as I can remember, I’ve gone through food phases. If you’ve eaten with me in person for any length of time, chances are good that you’ll get a glimpse of my latest favorite food.

And this year is no exception. I am officially in food-love with a round, brown, flat bread and labeling the first three months of this year a Chapati Chapter. I have had so much fun making these little flatbreads of India.

The fact that I’m making these regularly is a bit of a breakthrough. I am an artist; I affiliate with those who love to cook. I am not a scientist or a baker, so baking is a stretch for me! This baking attempt has proven to be nearly effortless and overwhelmingly successful. The entire process is fun.

I’ve made so many batches that I must share it with you!

Chapati (yields 16 flatbreads)

2 cups of whole wheat flour (plus more for dusting)*
1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cups of water
3 tablespoons oil (olive oil works great)

*The whole wheat flour could be a blend of 50% white (or bread) flour and 50% whole wheat. Unlike other 100% whole wheat breads, this one doesn’t taste like cardboard. So, in this case, I recommend 100% whole wheat flour.

Other Tools

Large mixing bowl (a food processor works, though lugging it out is a bit excessive considering how fast and easy it is to use your hands)
Flour sifter (optional, but makes the flatbreads the perfect consistency)
Measuring spoons and cups
A flat surface for rolling flatbreads
A rolling pin (a large drinking glass or the exterior of a wine bottle or thermos works if you don’t own a pin)
Cast iron skillet, griddle or other pan

My amazing and beautiful grandmother gave me her flour sifter last year. If this thing could talk. It’s an “old-fashioned” sifter that has a measuring cup right on the side. It just so happens that when the sifter is full, it’s exactly two cups. Perfecto.

Ahem. Let’s rap! Shake it. Don’t break it. Took your momma nine months to make it!

Okay, let’s add our teaspoon of salt to the sifted flour.

And a half teaspoon of baking powder…

In goes the three-quarters of a cup of water…

And the three tablespoons of oil (I’m using olive oil).

Now that we’ve got all of the ingredients in the bowl, we can get our hands dirty! Basically, we’re looking for a big ball here. I once watched a man from India make the Chapati, and he used a counter-clockwise motion with one hand to form the ball while using the other hand to turn the bowl. In a under a minute, you should discover a ball of dough. This ball is a natural at picking up most of the sticky bits of dough from the edges of the bowl. If the dough seems too sticky (once the ball is formed), add a tiny bit of flour.

Next, I let the ball rest for fifteen minutes. (I’ve left it for just over an hour before and it’s still great.)

After the ball has rested, I grabbed my rolling pin and I lightly floured a rolling surface.

Now, how shall we get sixteen balls from one giant ball? I will start making the sixteen balls through a process of dividing the dough into two.

Next, I take each ball and tear it in half. Resulting in four balls… (you get the idea).

Eight balls.

Sixteen balls.

I’m transporting my flatbreads-to-be to a plate, so I can clear off my floured surface. It’s much easier to roll out these little beauties one at a time!

Perfect. So I’ve got one of the sixteen on the lightly floured surface. I’ve also floured my rolling pin. These little flat breads become quite thin, so they can easily stick to a rolling pin. If you have a problematic little ball of dough, just smash it back into a ball, re-flour the rolling pin and the board and start again. These are very forgiving!

I’m rolling the ball into a long oval shape. Technically, as long as they fit on your cooking surface, the flatbreads can be in any shape. I’d love to see a Chapati in the shape of a cactus! I wonder if they have cactus in India.

I’m turning the flatbread so I can make my oval a bit wider.

Great. Now I’m patting it slightly to remove any excess flour. When I first started making these, the excess flour on the flatbreads would smoke and set off the smoke detecter. This little step keeps away the beep.

I preheated my cast iron on high heat and I’ve added 1-2 flatbreads per surface. You don’t need any additional oil or anything! They go straight in!

Once you see adequate bubbles (this takes anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute), flip the flat bread and let it cook for another 30 seconds or until you’re satisfied with the level of brown.

I have two surfaces, so I cook them four at a time.

If we don’t eat them all at once, I reheat the chapati over my gas flame on the stove. (The microwave, toaster oven or cast iron will reheat the chapati initially but the little flatbreads will become cool, brittle and hard in a matter of minutes.) I use a wire rack that sits about 6 inches high above the stovetop and place my chapati on the rack. Next, I turn the burner on to medium high until one side is lightly charred. Then, I flip the chapati with metal tongs. The charring usually takes about thirty seconds per side.

While we’re talking about flames, this is a great little bread to earmark if you’re into camping. If you pack the tools before your trip, these are ton of fun to make and eat with a cast iron over a campfire.

These brown, round flatbreads are like a blank linen canvas. Chapati is so easy to make, and the mixing and rolling is great fun for adults and kids alike. I love making a batch for the week, so I can eat them in the mornings with my eggs. They’re also great for a quick accompaniment to soup, curry or a salad.

A big thank you to Mark for helping me take the photographs while my hands were preoccupied!

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  • Divya

    Congratulations on your chapati making effort. Chapati becomes softer with less flour. Trick is to knead it till there are no bits stuck to the bowl. Moisten the lid and close. Knead again for a min before rolling chapatis. And you dust chapatis as you go as opposed to Western breads where you dust the surface before you roll.

  • Divya

    More flour is the reason why your breads become hard after a while