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News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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cookingbyheart's picture
cookingbyheart

Vishwani Agrawal teaches his daughter, Chitra, to make traditional North Indian flatbread known as chapati or roti.

http://vimeo.com/30384978

It was a treat to spend the day with Chitra and her dad while we shot this piece and learned from a master. Chitra’s father, Vishwani, shares his method of making chapati, also known as roti, a flat bread most commonly prepared in northern India. Vishwani grew up in Allahabad, one of India’s oldest cities, where he learned to prepare chapatis by watching his mother and then as time went on, by refining his own technique. On the shoot, Vishwani told us about leaving home for college, which is when he first began making chapati. Later, when he met his wife, Prathima, he continued to make chapati. Prathima is from south India, where rice is more commonly served as a staple. To this day, Vishwani remains the primary chapati-maker of the house. And since Vishwani and Prathima make chapatis weekly, they’ve become masters. It seems like making any kind of bread dough takes some experimentation to get it right.

When I asked Vishwani about the importance of passing down the tradition, I was excited by his response. He pointed out that traditions are not a one way street. They aren’t blindly passed on and can’t be forced onto the next generation, but rather they are actively accepted, practiced and kept alive by the younger generation. It’s refreshing to hear a different perspective and to consider that we are not just vessels but we are active participants in creating new traditions and keeping old traditions alive. Vishwani can teach what he knows, but it’s up to Chitra to keep it going, if she so chooses. As he tells Chitra, he teaches procedure, technique is what you figure out on your own.

Vishwani and Prathima reside in Alabama, where they both work in the Computer and Electrical Engineering Department at Auburn University.
Chapati

Ingredients (makes 6 rotis)
1 cup of flour
~1/2 cup lukewarm water
extra flour for rolling

Method
Sift the flour into a bowl and slowly add water while kneading until you get to a dough that is soft, smooth and pliable. The longer you knead the dough the better but 5 minutes of heavy kneading will do.

Take the dough ball and cover with a damp cloth for a minimum of 30 minutes (you can also make the dough and put in your fridge for making another day).

Divide the dough into 6 dough balls or loee and roll them in flour.

Flatten each each dough ball with your palm and roll out to a 6 inch diameter, using extra flour so it does not stick.

Heat an iron skillet on medium heat. When it is hot (water drops should sizzle immediately), place roti on.

Let it cook and when you start to see bubbles form in many places, flip it over and cook until the other side does the same.

Over a medium flame, with flat tongs or chimta place the roti until it blows up or browns on both sides. (If you are cooking on an electric stove, you can press the roti in different places with a cloth to make it blow up a bit right on the skillet)

With the tongs, hit the roti against a surface to shake off any excess flour.

Butter one side with ghee and place in an airtight container lined with paper towel.

Music: Boss City by Wes Montgomery; Evelyn by Dabrye; Pacific Theme by Broken Social Scene; Cause=Time by Broken Social Scene; Little Chin by Tommy Guererro

Vishwani and Chitra, thank you for sharing. Franny & John, Thank you for letting us take over your apt for the day! Sintalentos, thank you for your musical consultation. Michael Legume, thanks for the audio equip. Paul, you’re the best.

Terrell's picture
Terrell

Greetings, bakers!


It's been a pretty good week in Portland. After months of being out of work, I have two jobs, seem to be on track for a third and I'm pretty sure at least one of those will continue post-Christmas. I know it's just seasonal work, but I'm really feeling like this Portland experiment has just taken a decided turn for the better. To celebrate, I decided to do a sweet bread this week. Thumbing through the Point of Departure, the bread book I've been baking my way through, I came across a recipe for a Cardamom Braid. That fit the sweet bread criteria and seemed appropriate for the seasonal nature of the new job. My brother married a woman who is half Swedish and cardamom braid is mandatory at their Christmas morning celebrations. She won't open a present until the braid is sliced and ready to eat. It's always delicious so I decided to see how close this recipe would be to theirs. Turns out, it's not quite the same. Lydia's version is flatter and sweeter, probably uses a softer dough and more sugar. I also seem to remember a bright yellow color, possibly saffron, that this one doesn't have. And my crust was way browner, partly my fault from letting it bake a few minutes too long, but also inherent in the recipe. Hers is barely golden and very soft, definitely not the crispy crust I got. On the other hand, the taste of my loaf was excellent, slightly sweet with a spicy cardamom flavor. I also liked the moist, chewy texture. I'm thinking next time a lower oven temperature, a slightly softer dough and brushing with something other than milk might get me exactly what I want.


Cardamom Braid from The Better Homes and Gardens Homemade Bread Cook Book

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

  • 1 package active dry yeast

  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

  • 3/4 cup milk

  • 1/3 cup sugar

  • 1/4 cup butter

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

  • 1 3/4 to 2 cups all purpose flour (I substituted white whole wheat flour here with excellent results)

  • small amounts of milk and sugar for brushing and sprinkling


In a large bowl combine one cup of all-purpose flour, the yeast and the cardamom. In a small saucepan heat the milk, sugar, butter and salt until warm, stirring frequently to melt the butter. Add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients. Add the egg. Beat the mixture well for several minutes. Stir in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough. (I used almost all of the two cups but I think I will back that off slightly next time.) Turn out onto a floured surface and knead till smooth, about 5 or 6 minutes. Place in greased bowl, turning once to coat and let rise, covered, until double, about an hour and a half.


Braided    Risen


When double, punch down and divide in thirds. Let rest while you prepare a pan. I use two nested jelly roll pans lined with parchment paper but you can grease if you prefer. Roll each third into a 16-inch rope and place about one inch apart on prepared pan. Braid loosely, pinching the ends together and tucking them under. Cover and let rise until double, about 45 minutes.


Preheat oven to 375. (Next time, I'll try it at 325, I think.) Brush with milk and sprinkle with a tablespoon of sugar. (I plan to look for some decorative sugar for this step.) Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. (I got distracted and let it go almost 30 which was too long.) Remove from baking sheet and cool on wire rack.


Baked


I'm looking forward to making this for Christmas morning with the great-nephews. I think it will be a hit. Any of you Scandahoovians out there want to give me tips for making this perfect?


 Sliced

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