All of cooking is a little miracle. Every time a stew develops just the right depth of flavor or your mashed potatoes come out smooth and creamy is a little sign of all the forces of science and will contriving to make your meal as delicious as possible.
Still, some dishes are more miraculous than others. Maybe it’s just some residual childlike glee at the spectacle of certain culinary tricks, but there are still everyday feats of kitchen legerdemain that leave me a little agog.
Custard, to this day, amazes me with the way it slowly and languidly coalesces into thickness; the coming-together of mayonnaise might as well be the parting of the Red Sea. But perhaps one of my favourite things to see is the puff of a flatbread cooking. It could be a properly shaped pita, a phulka ballooning up on an open flame, or even a tortilla on a comal. But the most impressive of all for me is a bhatura. Maybe it’s because, unlike so many of these other breads, a bhatura comes to you still fully inflated, almost football-sized. You have to gingerly poke it to let out the steam, making sure not to burn yourself.
As much as I love the spectacle (and the taste) of those Leviathan specimens that you find at many restaurants, I find that it’s usually best to enjoy those massive dinner plate-sized bhature when you're dining out. Making them involves using a truly terrifying quantity of oil and can be an unwieldy proposition in a home kitchen. The ones I have here are certainly smaller, but no less delicious for it!
I’m particularly fond of this recipe because it replicates the tender, structured crumb of the bhature that I grew up with, is rich and flaky, and also, if you follow the instructions, yields a bhatura that puffs up without fail. Frying the bhature does take a little bit of practice, but it’s a trick that yields wonderful results and is actually very easy to master.
Different recipes rely on different blends of flours, or use leavening agents like baking soda or baking powder. I wanted a version that was as simple as I could make it while still yielding consistently delicious bhature. I’ve used a mixture of unbleached bread flour (I like the King Arthur Brand, but use what you’re comfortable with) and fine semolina flour. The stronger bread flour gives the bhatura a lovely structure while the semolina makes it tender and gives it a wonderfully nutty flavor. And rather than adding any chemical leavening, I add a good amount of natural yoghurt and leave the dough out to ferment for a couple of hours. How long will depend on both your yoghurt and on the temperature of your kitchen. Experiment and see what works for you.
A Note on Frying: While it’s most common to fry these in some kind of vegetable oil, I’ve also mentioned in the recipe that you can fry them in ghee. This is obviously an extravagance and will produce an incredibly rich bhatura, and is a trick best saved for only the most special occasions. It also goes without saying that while deep frying can be a lot of fun (and delicious), it can also be dangerous. Be extremely careful not to leave your hot oil unattended, make sure you’re monitoring its temperature as you’re frying, and make sure that there are no children near the stove while you're cooking.
Makes fourteen to sixteen palm-sized bhature
2 cups unbleached bread flour
½ cup fine semolina flour
6 tbsp cultured yoghurt
½ tsp salt
Cool, filtered water as needed
Canola oil or ghee for frying
In a medium bowl, combine the flours, salt, and the yoghurt, using your hands to blend them into a rough, shaggy mixture.
Adding a little water at a time, continue to mix the dough until most of the flour has been combined but there are still some scraps and bits of dry flour at the bottom of the bowl.
Tip the dough and remaining flour onto a clean counter and knead well.
Continue to knead for 5-6 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. The dough should be quite stiff, so if you find that it is at all tacky, add a little more flour and knead some more.
Cover the dough with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place for 3-4 hours.
The dough will not rise but it will look plump when it’s ready to use and will smell sweet and slightly fermented.
Pinch off walnut-sized pieces of the dough and roll them into smooth balls. While you’re working on each ball keep the others under a sheet of plastic to keep them from drying out.
Flatten each ball slightly into a thick puck with the heel of your hand. Dip both sides into a bowl of semolina flour. Using a small rolling pin or belan, roll each ball into an oval about 6 inches long and 4 inches across and of a uniform thickness. Dust occasionally with semolina flour if the dough sticks to the pin or your rolling surface.
When you’re still getting the hang of it, you can roll out all your bhature before you fry them. Set them aside, making sure that they are not overlapping or they will stick to each other.
Line a tray with paper towels and heat 2 inches of canola oil or ghee to 320°F.
Dust any extra semolina flour off one of the bhature and gently slide it into the hot oil. The oil will immediately begin to bubble up around it.
Using a slotted spoon, gently tap the bhatura to keep it submerged under the hot oil. When the bhatura puffs up it will start as a puny little bubble in one corner of the bhatura. Use your slotted spoon to press down on the bubble, forcing the air into the other parts of the bhatura and causing it to puff up.
This step happens quickly, and it can be a little hard to get it just right, but with a little practice you’ll soon get the hang of it. When one side of the bhatura is a light golden brown, it should automatically flip itself over. If not, tip it over gently with your slotted spoon. The frying shouldn’t take longer than 30 or 40 seconds a side. It’s also important to remember that the bhature will continue to darken ever so slightly once you’ve taken them out of the oil, and overfrying them will result in a crackly, hard bhatura, not the tender, flaky bread that you’re looking for.