CHEWY LAYERED ROTI + KICKASS DIP

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” …WHOPPING 90% HYDRATION…
SPRUNG LIBERATED OUT OF THE FOUNTAIN OF SECRET DOUGHS “

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ALTHOUGH extremely rare, there are recipes that seem theoretically impossible at first, but somehow just come smooth-sailing under the first trial.  They make recipe-developers feel invincible even just temporarily, like the lighthouse of success glowing just over the foreseeable shore.  Handshakes with Batali and cold beers with Tony Bourdain, book-signing with fan-blown hair and the next dinner party, Ina Garten is bringing her cake.  These occasions embolden even the blindest of self-confidence.  But then, then there’s the opposite of such.

I call them, the kitchen nemesis… or for times, my baby kitchen unicorns.  It’s a tormented, twisted love-and-hate relationship, with an adored food-item that hides a secret so beyond your grasps that failures of making it has been haunting you for years… even decades.  The recipe of which you have ventured high and low for – with or without the luck of finding any at all – that in the very end, all greatly disappointed, again, and again.  A lover, who’s not completely yours.

For the past 2 decades, my nemesis… my baby unicorn… has been but one thing.

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A bread with the ultimate combination of chewy, and layers.  More specifically, as in the stretchiest, stringy-est, almost translucently tissued unleavened bread with oily separated textures of crispiness and chewiness.  Some call it this, some call it that.  You’re all just talking about my unicorn.

If this sounds at all familiar, it’s probably because I broadcasted the slay of my kitchen nemesis a few months back… well, that wasn’t true.  Don’t get me wrong, the layered scallion flat breads were wonderful.  Soft, crispy and flaky with beautiful layers throughout.  But see the thing is, layering on its own, if at all, is just the horse-part of the unicorn.  The real bitch, as we all know, is the fucking horn.

And when it comes to unleavened breads, that horn my friend, is chewy.

Right, anybody could tell me that it’s about the dough.  Of course, as a given, that it’s about the dough.  Like any mystical creature experts could describe everything about their subjects, down to its diet and paw sizes, everything except for its actual whereabouts – the recipe of  “the dough” has remained ever-so-elusively, as a myth.

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Until a few months ago, at the turn of a page inside a local Beijing market, I found its trails.

There are stalls inside the market making fresh Chinese breads, buns and noodles (where I got these from), among which are giant round sheets of common lao-bing (Chinese unleavened bread) piled high behind the shop window.  In one innocent and accidental purchase, I was stunned at how closely it resembles the perfect, unleavened bread of my dream.  Soft, slightly oily, stretchy and irresistibly chewy with almost translucent tissues that are intricately layered.  For the past 6 months… 6 months!, I’ve been stalking… loitering… subtly probing… flat-out harassing the ma’am behind the window, hoping for the formula of my unicorn-dough, with no prevail.  Only helpful, but inconclusive clues like “bread flour”… “dough without oil”… and a final, alerted silence.

So finally, I tried a different approach.  Last week, I bought myself a hunk of completely raw dough.

I studied the shit out of that dough.  I studied it like my college admission depended on it.  I studied it from all possible perspectives just to make sure that I didn’t miss any part of the truth, say which can only be revealed if being stared fiercely at a 180º angle within 2″ proximity for over 30 seconds…  And those effort did not go wasted.  Discoveries were made.  For one, the dough was wet.  Very, very wet.  It was more “lava” than a “dough”, almost formless, and it had an incredibly mesmerising, glossy shine.  Like silk.  Silky lava.  It resembles nothing that any recipes I’ve ever found would ever get me.  So un-dough-like that I thought to myself, this has got to be wrong.  This glassy glob is somehow going to hold itself together and translate into bread?  But I did see, with my own two eyes, that it was yanked straight out of the mother-tub… so be it.

I replicated the dough, eye to eye, by adjusting the moisture level as I went.  I knew the dough has to be soft – indicates the use of warm water, but extremely elastic and stretchy – meaning a prolonged and stern kneading.  And under a cloud of flickering dust of flour, the final truth – a whopping 90+% ratio of water to flour by weight – sprung liberated out of the fountain of secret doughs!  Almost identical, hers and mine, glossy silky and smooth.  I could see it moving promisingly through the mist, but does it have goddamn horn?  Armed with prediction for failure, I pressed on.  I used just enough flour needed to work with this dough, rolled it and brushed it with clarified butter, then curled it up and rolled it out again.  With the last blessing of clarified butter on the surface, I sent it into my blazing oven with all my skepticism.

The next following moment I believe, in kitchen history, is called BOOYA!

I don’t have to describe it to you again, because I already did.  It was exactly that: stringy, oily, chewy and layered un-yeasted bread, well with the bonus of crispy flakes.  20 years of searching, kitchen unicorn and I, touched.  And if you must name my unicorn, I’m calling it “roti” today, purely because of the dip that goes with it.  Oh, the dip.  The dip that is seriously ass-kicking, a smooth puree of curried cannellini beans swirling in a red sea of cayenne and cumin olive oil.  It’s unjust to cast it under the bright lights of my glorious dough-day.  After all, what’s a roti without its dip?

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Makes:  Three 8″ round roti

The ratio between flour and water in this dough, is 1 part flour : 0.9 part water by weight.  So that’s a “90% hydration”, sometimes up to 95%, which means 100 grams of flour will need 90 grams ~ 95 grams of water.  Very, very wet.  The roti-dough absorbs all this water in 2 stages, which somehow increases the amount of water the flour can absorb, and the smoothness/shine of the overall texture.  I’ve tried my best to provide the measurement in volume, but it’s highly recommended that you measure by weight.  Because of the super-wetness, I’m not sure if this can be done by hand.  Perhaps mixing the dough vigorously with the back of a wooden spoon would work.

Ingredients:

  • Chewy layered roti:
    • 300 grams (appox 2 1/3 cup + 1 tsp) of unbleached bread flour 
    • 4 grams (3/4 tsp) of salt + more for sprinkling later
    • 240 grams (1 cup + 1/2 tsp) of warm/hot water, 130ºF/55ºC
    • Another 30 grams (2 tbsp) of water
    • 113 grams (1 stick/8 tbsp) of clarified butter (here’s how to), warmed
    • Semolina or all-purpose flour for dusting
  • Curried cannellini bean dip:
    • 1 small red onion, finely sliced
    • 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
    • 1/4 cup of olive oil
    • 3 tbsp of tomato paste
    • 1 1/2 tsp of curry powder
    • 1 tsp of ground cumin
    • 1 tsp of salt
    • 1/2 tsp of freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 can (400 grams) of cannellini beans
    • 1/4 cup of plain yogurt
    • 1 ~ 2 tsp of potato starch, or cornstarch
    • Cayenne spice oil:
      • 1/4 cup of olive oil
      • 1 tsp of ground cayenne pepper
      • 1/2 tsp of ground cumin
      • 1/4 tsp of freshly ground black pepper

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To make the chewy layered roti:  Combine bread flour and salt in a stand-mixer with a dough-hook.  Microwave the water (a little bit more than you’ll need just to be safe) on high for 1 min.  The water shouldn’t burn your finger, but should be too warm to leave your fingers in comfortably for more than a few sec, around 130ºF/55ºC.  Measure 240 grams of this water into the stand-mixer and mix on low first for a couple min.  The dough would look “dry” in the very beginning, then extremely wet and sticky once the flour/water are completely blended.  Increase to high-speed and beat the dough for another 6 ~ 7 min, scraping down the sides once in between.  At the end of which, the dough should be able to pull away from the bowl when machine’s running, but sticks right back once the machine stops.

Now we add the remaining 30 grams/2 tbsp of water.  One tbsp first and knead on high for 1 ~ 2 min until the dough pulls away cleanly from the bowl again, then add the next tbsp and repeat.  Check the texture of the dough, which should be extremely shiny, smooth and elastic, like lava-silk with small pockets of air within.  The dough should run to the side when the bowl’s tilted.  Suspend it high in the air, and it should droop down and stretch slowly without breaking.  If it breaks/tears easily or seems grainy in texture, it’s too dry.  Add another tbsp of water.  If it doesn’t pull away cleanly from the mixer-bowl, it’s too wet.  Add a couple tbsp of flour.  Cover the bowl with plastic-wrap.  Let sit for 1 ~ 2 hours (meanwhile make the dip).

Preheat the oven on 450ºF/230ºC, with a pizza-stone or a flat cast-iron skillet on middle-upper rack.

Lightly flour the working surface, then with well-oiled hands, divide the dough into 3 equal portions.  Lightly flour 1 portion, form into a ball, then gently and slowly roll it out into 1/4″ ~ 1/8″ thick circle (keep the bottom floured or it’ll stick).  Brush the top evenly with clarified butter and sprinkle with a bit of salt, then roll it into a log and curl it up like a snail.  With the seam/curl-side facing sideway (smooth side up), shape it back into a ball by gently tucking the dough underneath itself with your hands (see pic).  Lightly flour the dough again, then gently/slowly roll it out into 1/4″ thick disk (thicker roti will be stringy and chewy, whereas thinner roti will be crispy and flaky).  Brush a sheet of parchment with clarified butter and transfer the dough on top.  Brush the dough again with clarified butter.

Switch the oven on top-broiler, and move the parchment with the roti on top of the pizza-stone or cast-iron skillet.  Bake until golden browned and puffed, approx 5 ~ 6 min.  Repeat with the rest of the dough.

To make the curried cannellini dip:  Cook sliced red onion, chopped garlic, olive oil, tomato paste, curry powder, ground cumin, salt and black pepper in a pot over medium heat.  Once the onion is very soft, drain the canned cannellin very well and add to the mixture.  Cook for a couple min more, then transfer the mixture to a blender.  Add 1/4 cup of plain yogurt and 1 tsp of potato starch (or cornstarch), then blend until smoothly pureed.  Add 1 more tsp of potato starch if the mixture needs to be thickened further.  Transfer to a large bowl.

Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil with ground cayenne pepper, ground cumin and black pepper, and let it sizzle for 15 seconds.  Swirl the spiced oil into the cannellini puree, and serve with layered roti.

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53 Comments

  • molly yeh says:

    sweet cheeses girl, this looks insane.

  • David says:

    Good stuff this. Producing real, authentic prata or roti canai (pronounced ‘chah-nai’) is more about mastering the “flap technique”. It takes some practice but is far from impossible. It produces the flaky, layered, chewiness that we all crave. They also use a super hydrated dough and enough oil to grease up an elephant, but the results speak for themselves.

    • David, oh this is certainly not a “authentic” roti making technique I’m sure… In fact I was a little worried about calling it roti, and after some research I thought, hm, close enough… Sorry, haaa

  • holy cannoli! flaky, chewy…if my body tolerated gluten i would be wholeheartedly eating this right now. but since that dip and i get along, it’s getting made! cayenne spice oil…simply, YES! these photos are super beautiful as always :)

  • Agos says:

    Yuuum… This looks so good. It reminds me of the pizza bread we have here, except I never knew how to make it. I think I’ll have to give this a try :)

  • Ashlae says:

    I WANT TO EAT ALL OF THIS.

  • cher says:

    Love the rhythm of your writing, great post.

  • I don’t even care that it’s weird…I want to lather my body in that dip. Sweet goodness!

  • cynthia says:

    Hooooooooo man. It breaks my heart that this can’t be made by hand! All those chewy layers are utter perfection. I’m also totally amazed that you recreated this just by LOOKING at a dough. And you say you’re not a baker?! I beg to differ. This is awesome, Mandy — thanks for sharing as always!!!

  • Tieghan says:

    INSANE!! Such beautiful photos and an amazing recipe!

  • Story says:

    This reminds me of a onionless cong you bing, for sure. So fabulous. The dip, well, I might just make it and not share. Congrats on finding and taming the unicorn dough.

  • Melissa says:

    You are slowly killing me….F me that looks amazing!

  • You know I am a fan of impossible recipes!

    This is clearly an example of your culinary Genius Mandy. I think I am in love with this roti…

  • steph says:

    I have bread flour in my pantry! Is it wrong that I want to touch this magical kitchen unicorn too?

  • abby says:

    i’m drooling

  • bajroz says:

    I LOVE your photos!

  • Jo says:

    YOUR PERSISTENCE MAKES YOU A GENIUS!!! Going to try this on the weekend!!!!!

  • Jasmine says:

    Looks amazing! So do you bake the roti with the parchment paper between the pizza stone and the roti? Just want to make sure I understand your directions correctly.

    • JASMINE: yes, the parchment is kind of an easier way of transferring the dough to the oven, and also it allows easy application of clarified butter on the bottom of the roti (so I don’t have to brush one side, flip, and brush the other side).

  • Vanessa Sherwood says:

    You crack me up

  • Erika says:

    Mandy.. Girl.. this is just incredible.. way to beat that kitchen nemesis ass..

  • Oh good lord this looks so freakin’ tasty! Whyyy can’t I be eating it right this second?! Those layers! That dip! Ahhhh!

  • I need this in my life. SO BADLY!!

  • Vanessa Sherwood says:

    Do you have a feature on your blog to just print the recipe by any chance? Thanks!

    • Vanessa, I used to but someone told me it just printed the entire page with pictures, all 30+ pages of it, so I took the button out. A better way may be to print from your browser, selecting only the page you want to print. I might install a plugin in the future for that…

      • Vanessa Sherwood says:

        Ok thanks. I just dropped $60 on Amazon ordering sichuan peppercorns, sesame paste and some other items thanks to you…haha- thanks for the inspirations!

  • eva says:

    What a great post. I gonna have to give this one a try.

  • Vicky says:

    This looks amazing! I was in India recently and have been craving this type of bread since then :) Unfortunately, I don’t have a stand mixer. Do you think it’s possible to make this with some elbow grease or is the hydration level going to make it impossible?

    • VICKY: I’m certain that if your arm is strong enough, that this can be made with hands. I tried kneading a smaller portion (1/2) with a large fork or something (cuz I didn’t want it sticking to my hand). It’s tiring but in the end, I did get good gluten-action going on.

  • IG says:

    you destroy me

  • CAITLIN says:

    THESE PICTURES ARE SO BADASS! I WANT TO EAT THIS RIGHT NOW. EVEN IF I’M NOT MENTALLY PREPARED FOR THE ROTI, I’LL DO DAT DIP!

  • Susan G says:

    Ooh – I love this. This is very close to an indian flat bread that was once taught to me by my indian friend, I never had a recipe, and she taught it to me like this: Pour in a bit of flour depending on how many people are there. Add a pinch of salt, then pour in warm water until it looks like this. Then knead it till it feels like this, and roll it, then cook over the flame, right on the gas cooker, until it pops up like a balloon, put it on the ever growing pile of them, it then flattens back down and is smothered it in ghee. It’s pretty special stuff… but there was no folding or baking like yours! Mine is very ‘rustic’ and seems to get a whole lotta love at dinner parties. I tell them it’s a authentic indian recipe, which I guess is technically true, but the process is more basic than I let on. I’m going to try yours next.

    • SUSAN: I haven’t tried cooking it on stove but that would be a good alternative. And next time I’m gonna brush mine afterwards with butter, too! Extra butter…

      • Ghee is nice too. Indians usually use ghee more than butter. Although canai with a lot of ghee is usually a prata, I think.

        • FARAH: I’ve always thought ghee is sort of like clarified butter?… Oh man, this Indian cuisine thingy is too profound and complex.

          • Yes it is, although there’s a distinct smell and taste that sets it aside dramatically from regular butter. I don’t know what it is but it’s there. Once you smell the fragrance of melted ghee, you can’t forget it. You should try it! I’ve been wetting my toes too with Indian cuisine but I have a sort of advantage of growing around a lot of Indian food as well.

      • Susan G says:

        Sounds good – let me know how yours goes, and I’ll tell you how I go with this amazing layered goodness too!

  • Gosh, this post just made me crave for roti and I just had it last week. That curried dip too. Kudos on making me hungry for a staple I already have!

  • My mouth is watering. this looks beyond INSANE!!!111!1!!!!

  • Aaaand… I definitely want this.

  • Barbara Allen says:

    Lot’s of compliments for you but no bananas as they say. You have many recipes that look wonderful but also difficult. Not a natural baker I thought though I would take up the challenge. I thought my dough looked pretty much like yours but when it came to working with it it was like working with bubble gum. Stuck to everything. Also, I don’t have the right oven and equipment. But after much struggling and more flour I managed to make one that showed future possibilities. My supportive husband liked it and loves the hummus. I’d like to hear from some others who have actually tried it.

    • BARBARA: the dough is indeed VERY sticky. That’s why you well-oil your hands to divide the portions (which will leave a thin layer of oil on the dough as well), then you flour the dough and surface as needed as you roll it out. I hope you have better luck with it next time :)

  • Great detective work and brilliant move to buy the raw dough! Love the cannellini bean dip recipe idea also – keep up the great posts!

  • laurie says:

    Just made this dip and it is freakin’ AWESOME! Spicy, creamy and flavor, flavor, flavor. I know I’ll be making a lot of this.

  • Jo says:

    I finally got around to trying this today. The dough was perfect, exactly as your picture and as described. I struggled just like Barbara (above), working it was so difficult, I tried to roll it but it kept shrinking back, and I oiled and floured everything. All three doughs I just couldn’t manage to roll it out smoothly like your pics.. Am I not using enough flour?

    • Jo, there are two things that causes this problem. First, the water used WASN’T HOT enough to destroy some of the gluten, and therefore the dough has gotten too tough. Second, there is NOT ENOUGH HYDRATION, meaning the dough isn’t wet enough. I know this SOUNDS CRAZY, that the dough already looks super sticky and wet, but just another 5 % (1 tbsp of water) will make a BIG DIFFERENCE in how easily the dough can be rolled out. Every types of flour has different water absorbency-level, so your bread flour may need more or less water than mine. The dough shouldn’t be able to “stand up” when it’s sitting in the bowl. Don’t be afraid of the sticky dough (it can sense it). Oil your hands and the dough well, and flour it generously as you go. It also took me a couple of time to get the hang of it.

      I’ve tested this dough like 5 times, and if the dough is shrinking back a little bit, just let it rest for another 10 min (even though it shouldn’t shrink back too much). I hope you have better luck next time!

  • Lynna says:

    Is roti the same as those Chinese scallion pancakes? I mean, this sure looks like them, minus the scallions! But, gawdd, these look amazinggg.

    LOLL. I can`t believe you just bought raw dough to study.

    • LYNNA: Traditional rotis are prepared differently (as a commenter mentioned the “flapping technique”), but in terms of dough, I think it’s quite similar. I’ve done a chinese scallion pancake post before, but I think I like this version better.

  • I think I speak for everyone when I say – could you please home deliver a crate-load to my place right now? #TIA And your photos are so amazing – very inspirational for us fellow bloggers.

  • I still can’t get this dip out of my mind.

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