How to Avoid a Glaring Failure of Epic Proportions

I’m not talking about the very recent rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, although I could be.

There’s an old adage: ignorance is bliss. Operating on that assumption, I set about making my first ever batch of naan, that fluffy, flavorful accompaniment to an Indian meal.

My expectation for favorable results was understandably optimistic because this time I had all the ingredients. No substitutes. Cooking in a skillet on top of the range was listed as an option. The stars were aligned.

I stirred the yeast into lukewarm water with a tablespoon of sugar. It frothed perfectly. I thoroughly blended yogurt, oil, and salt into the flour until crumbly then slowly added the yeast mixture. The directions said to knead the sticky dough for ten minutes and it would become elastic.

I kneaded.

If too stiff, add more water.

I added more water.

And kneaded.

After ten minutes the dough, in my humble estimation, was more like concrete than elastic. But I covered it with a damp paper towel and set the timer for two hours after which, according to the recipe, it would have doubled in size.

The waiting was productive. I finished The President is Missing, co-authored by James Patterson and Bill Clinton. I don’t usually read thrillers since I find life quite thrilling enough as it is, thank you. But it was on my shelf and once started I was hooked.

The timer buzzed.

I peeked under the paper towel at a lump that hadn’t changed one iota in size. Maybe the dough was too stiff. Should I add more water and give it another two hours?

I took a quick peek at the next series of directions. Form dough into balls the size of lemons. Pat flat on a floured surface and bake until brown spots appear. Flip and bake the other side. I decided if I could create a patty that would hold together while transferring from counter to pan, I’d proceed.

I scooped out a lemon-sized lump and sprinkled the countertop with flour. In spite of it’s density, the dough responded well to my patting. The pan was hot. I plopped the unbaked disc into the skillet and hovered over it waiting for pillowy bubbles to appear.

That didn’t happen.

After about four minutes the underside had browned. I flipped it. Four more minutes and it was done. But instead of the hoped-for pliable, bread-like consistency, my naan appeared to be the close cousin of a saltine cracker. I broke off a piece for a taste test to determine the fate of the remaining dough.

The flavor wasn’t bad, a bit like the Norwegian flatbread of my youth. I patted and baked the rest of the lemon lumps and had a fine meal of red lentil stew with my crispy naan.

But what, oh what, had gone so terribly wrong? I’d followed the recipe to the letter. I had all the right ingredients. Or did I?

A question lit up like neon in my brain. Does yeast need gluten to rise? I Googled it and what do you know: gluten captures carbon dioxide given off by yeast – which makes the dough rise. My first ever order of banana flour had been delivered the day before. It simply hadn’t occurred to me to question the use of that gluten-free substance in my naan experiment. No wonder I’d had a solid lump of banana-flour concrete that refused to budge.

Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is ignorance, and it can be the difference between success and failure.

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