Sheermal

Sheermal
Enjoy this saffron flatbread on its own with tea or coffee, or, as is tradition, as an accompaniment for kebabs.Thomas Payne

Enjoy this saffron flatbread on its own with tea or coffee, or, as is tradition, as an accompaniment for kebabs. This is more of a ‘bazaari’ (marketplace) sheermal, something you’d find piled high, ready for sale by the dozen. The cardamom can be swapped out for 2 tablespoons chironji (cuddapah almond). Add ¼ teaspoon kewra extract (or substitute rosewater), if desired.

Where most Indian cooks use starter culture to leaven their dough, this recipe turns to the convenience of yeast and is cooked in a pan rather than a tandoor. (A tawa is a flat, round, steel pan used to cook bread in India and is readily available online). Bazaari versions use high heat to get golden crusts (and make them commercially viable), but cooking low-and-slow mimics the heat of the tandoor.

Equipment

Sheermal
Enjoy this saffron flatbread on its own with tea or coffee, or, as is tradition, as an accompaniment for kebabs.
Yield: serves 14
Time: 5 hours, 35 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1½ cups plus 2 Tbsp. whole milk, divided, slightly warmed
  • Pinch of saffron threads
  • 2½ cups (12 oz.) all-purpose flour
  • 2¼ (1 packet) dry instant yeast
  • ½ kosher salt
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 freshly ground cardamom pods (optional)
  • ¾ cup ghee or unsalted butter, at room temperature

Instructions

  1. In a small bowl, stir together 2 tablespoons milk and the saffron; set aside at room temperature until the liquid turns a deep yellow-orange, 25–30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, add the flour, yeast, and salt; stir to combine. In a small pot over medium heat, add the remaining 1½ cups milk, sugar, and cardamom, if using. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves (do not boil). Remove from the heat, then add the ghee or butter; set aside to melt in the residual heat, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the milk-ghee mixture, a few tablespoons at a time, to the flour mixture, stirring constantly until a soft, shaggy dough forms. Set the remaining milk-ghee mixture aside. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, cover, and set aside in a warm place until gassy and nearly doubled in volume, about 2 hours.
  4. Meanwhile, add the saffron-milk mixture to the remaining milk-ghee mixture, cover, and refrigerate.
  5. Uncover the dough and give it a few more quick kneads in the bowl to deflate and tighten. Cover and set aside again until the dough is puffed and nearly doubled in volume, about 1 hour more.
  6. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using your hands, stretch the dough out into an even rectangle without completely deflating it, then use a bench scraper or chef’s knife to divide the rectangle into fourteen 1½-ounce pieces. Gently roll each piece into a round, then transfer to a large baking sheet, cover, and set aside until the dough has relaxed, 20–30 minutes more.
  7. Meanwhile, heat a large tawa, cast-iron skillet, or nonstick skillet over medium-low. Retrieve the reserved milk mixture from the fridge and heat over medium-low, stirring occasionally to melt the ghee. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.
  8. Using your hands, stretch each piece of dough into 3½-inch rounds (do not use a rolling pin, as it will deflate the dough). When the tawa or skillet is hot, cook the sheermal in batches: place 4 or 5 pieces in the skillet, brush the surface of each liberally with the milk mixture, and cook, covered, until golden brown on one side, 2–4 minutes. Uncover, flip, brush again with the milk mixture, and continue cooking, covered, until cooked through, 2–4 minutes more. Remove from the heat and keep warm as you cook the remaining sheermal. Serve warm or at room temperature.