A. loves channa-batura, a delicious Indian combination of chickpea curry and bread. This meal, however, cannot be whipped up immediately. Batura is a leavened bread, which means that the dough needs between 8-12 hours to rise. Since we were in a rush, we went out to our local Indian restaurant to enjoy the meal. Much to A.’s dismay, the batura that we were served was burned – instead of its normal golden hued puffy and light appearance. Upon sending it back, we received another that looked exactly like the rejected one with an explanation that “you can’t help the weather,” apparently daring us to complain again! Although we were disappointed, this is a common occurrence with bread that uses leavening agents like yeast.
Yeast, after all, is a living organism. Yeast cells grow and multiply best at 78°F creating bubbles of carbon dioxide that cause dough to rise. The only way to guarantee this steady temperature is by leaving the dough to rise and rest in a bread maker. Without a bread maker, it is still possible to make leavened bread despite the vagaries of weather.
There are also a few other factors that can help in the fermentation process of dough left out at room temperature. Here are a few of the ways to ensure optimal conditions for dough to rise.
Flour – sift to aerate the flour until it is loosely packed.
Yeast – add a ¼ – ½ tsp more if the temperature is going to be below 78°F, and add less if the temperature is higher. Mix yeast with warm water so that the temperature of the mixture is raised when the yeast is added to room temperature flour.
Salt – add less as it hampers yeast cells growth. A ¼ tsp. is plenty (as in the below recipe).
Water – adding more water to the flour mixture is typically good, even though this may cause the dough to be sticky. Yeast cells like moisture. After the dough has doubled in volume / risen, more flour can be added as needed to knead the dough.
Time and patience – do not rush the process. The longer the yeast has to work with flour mixture, the more time for the dough to double in volume.
Batura (Fried Leavened Bread)
Flour – 2 cups, sifted
Dry active yeast – 2 tsp, mixed with 2 tbsp warm water
Oil – 2 tbsp
Yogurt – 1 tbsp
Salt – ¼ tsp
Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl.
Knead and shape into a ball.
Cover with damp cheesecloth or towel.
Keep aside for 12- 14 hours. (This is where the weather comes into play. On a damp, summer day, it took more than 14 hours. Be patient.)
Roll out the dough into 4-inch disks (or into a size that can be submerged in a wok or deep pan with oil) on a lightly floured surface, adding more flour if the dough doesn’t hold shape or warm water if the dough is too dry.
Heat the oil in a small wok or deep frying pan.
Add the flat disk, pushing down the dough lightly with a spatula so that it remains submerged in oil. It will start to rise and once a large bubble has formed, flip the disk over to the other side until it has a golden-brown color. If the dough starts to brown too quickly, lower the heat.
Remove and place on kitchen paper to absorb excess oil.
Note: Serve Batura with chickpea curry or with any dish that has a sauce.
The batter used to make Injera relies on fermentation to rise. My carefully-planned Ethiopian dinner was to be a surprise for N, but when the batter didn’t rise even after 24 hours, I panicked. Trying to eke out warmth from this late spring weather into the batter was futile – the optimum temperature for fermentation is between 75-80°F.
I ended up using the “oven” method to coax both batters (one batch made with dry active yeast and another with air-borne wild yeast) to rise. This endeavor reminded me of some tips to help with fermentation of a batter made with flour, yeast, and salt:
Use a wide stainless steel pan to increase the surface area exposed to air; this helps more of the batter to be exposed to capture both wild yeast from the air and heat to start the fermentation process.
Use non-chlorinated water (chlorine inhibits yeast from fermenting).
Use kosher salt, as iodized salt slows down fermentation.
If the air is not warm enough, heat the oven to 200°F. Once the temperature is reached, turn off the oven. Put the batter in to the warm oven for an hour. This warms the yeast and starts up the fermentation process. Remove the batter from the oven and let the process continue naturally outside. Another method using the oven is to turn the oven light on, and leave the batter in the oven overnight. Remove the batter from the oven and let the process continue on outside.
In cool weather, plan for the meal two days ahead! The ideal temperature for dry yeast is 75°F and for naturally-occurring wild yeast found in the atmosphere is 80-90°F.
Teff flour – 1 cup
Water – 1 cup + 1 tbsp
Kosher salt – ½ tsp
Yeast (instant active dry) – ¾ tsp
Sift the flour
Warm 1 tbsp. of water. Add the yeast to the water. Mix until yeast granules are dissolved.
Add the water and salt to the yeast solution.
Add the liquids to the flour. Mix well.
Keep aside in a warm place, for 24-48 hours. Bubbles on the surface of the batter or cracks that appear on the puffed up surface indicate that the batter is ready.
When ready to cook, add a little water to get the batter to a pouring consistency.
Heat a non-stick skillet.
Using a ladle, drop in 2 tbsp of batter into the middle of the pan or skillet. Using the back of the ladle spread the batter in one continuous motion, working from the center in concentric circles toward the edge of the skillet. When little bubbles appear on the surface of the batter, the injera bread is ready. There is no need to flip the injera over, as the steam causes it to cook through.
Keep the bread stacked. Makes about 6 pancakes.
The batter can also be made without yeast.
N., who is a Nutella fiend, came home for the weekend, and I used the remaining gluten-free teff flour to make Nutella-based cookies. The texture of the cookies is more like bran muffin, which also balanced out the sweetness of Nutella.
Teff Flour and Nutella Cookies
Teff flour –1½ cup
Agave nectar – ½ cup
Nutella – ½ cup
Oil – ½ cup
Cinnamon (or your preference) extract – 1tsp
Preheat the oven to 350F
In a food processor, mix the agave nectar, Nutella, oil and cinnamon extract.
Add the teff flour and combine well.
On a greased cooking sheet (stains the cookie pan), add a tablespoon of the cookie batter. Flatten the batter with the spoon.
Bake for 10-12 minutes. Makes about 10-12 cookies.
Appam is a fermented rice pancake, and like bread made from simple, whole ingredients – flour, water, salt, and yeast. Its spongy texture is similar to injera and it is just as effective in mopping up stews.
Whether the bread or pancake is made from wheat, rice, or teff flour, it is that combination that starts the natural chemical process of fermentation. The gas bubbles that come to the surface are responsible for the sour smelling batter. Chemistry aside, the resulting bread or pancake has a light and airy texture. The unhurried (10-12 hours) fermented batter gives the bread its delicate flavor. While rice and teff flour (used ininjera) are naturally gluten-free, slow fermentation breaks down the gluten proteins more effectively even with wheat and rye flour. This makes the bread easier to digest.
Appam (Rice Pancake)
Rice Flour – 1 cup
Yeast – ¼ tsp
Sugar – 4 tsp
Coconut Milk – 1 cup
Salt – 1 tsp
In a large bowl, mix the yeast with 1 tbsp of water until it dissolves.
Add the sugar, salt, and coconut milk and stir until well mixed.
Add the rice flour and ¼ cup of water to make a batter.
Keep the batter aside in a warm place, about 12-14 hours or overnight.
Just before cooking, add water to the batter as needed, for a pouring consistency.
Heat a small non-stick wok.
Drop 2 tbsp of batter into the center of the wok.
Pick the wok up (with oven gloves) and swirl it gently, letting the batter come up the sides.
Cover with a lid and place it back on the heat. Cook for 4 minutes.
Remove the lid. The pancake should have a crispy brown lacy edge and a spongy center. Repeat for 8-10 pancakes.
Pancakes can also be made on a griddle or the batter can be steamed to a bread-like thickness.