Kenyan Chapati

I’m posting this recipe both to share, and for myself, so I don’t forget the ingredient ratios, or the tips my beautiful mother-in-law, Janet, taught me when we first made this together. Chapati is a traditional flaky Kenyan bread that accompanies any good meal, basic or extravagant. It’s used to sop up stew, to be eaten alongside grilled goat, or even, in our house, to be rolled with peanut butter and jelly. It’s a deliciously flakey bread, sort of a cross between a really good flour tortilla and Indian naan, that seems to get softer after it’s been cooked and sits in the fridge for a day. Full disclosure: it’s time consuming. But, it’s so worth it. The below recipe is an amalgamation of what Janet taught me, this recipe on Big Oven, and my own trials and errors.

Here’s what you need:

3 cups bread flour (or 2 cups bread flour and 1 cup whole wheat bread flour) plus several scoops more during kneading

Additional all purpose flour or bread flour for dusting as you roll

1.5 cups warm water

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons oil, plus another 2 tablespoons oil, plus more oil for brushing and cooking (it’s best to use something neutral, but I only had olive oil and it still tasted great!)

Here’s what you do (note that my recipe is based on using a standing mixer, but you could replicate by hand):

1. Place the three cups of bread flour into the bowl of a standing mixer with the dough hook attached.

2. In a separate bowl, dissolve the sugar, salt, and two tablespoons of oil in the warm water. Stir to combine.

3. Mix the liquid into the flour until combined. Then, turn the standing mixer on to a low speed and allow the dough to knead for about ten minutes. Add additional scoops of flour as you go to make the dough less sticky. You can periodically turn off the mixer and scrape down the dough as needed.

4. Add the next 2 tablespoons of oil to the dough, and continue kneading until the dough is soft, about another 5 minutes. Again, you can periodically turn off the mixer and scrape down the dough as necessary.

5. Cover the dough and allow it to rest for 40 minutes to one hour.

6. After the dough has rested, divide the dough into 10-15 pieces. Dust a flat surface with flour, and do the first step of preparing the chapatis:

Roll the piece of dough into a flat shape. Brush lightly with oil. Then, roll inwards to form a rope-like shape. Finally, roll the rope into a coil-like shape. Press down with your hand. Place the dough on a lightly-oiled baking sheet, cover with a towel, and repeat.

7. Once all the pieces are coiled and pressed, you are ready to do the final roll and cook. First, spray or lightly oil a cast-iron skillet or other heavy, non-stick pan, and warm over high heat for 5 minutes. While the pan is warming, prepare the first chapati. Take a coil, and roll it out flat and round.

8. Turn the heat down to medium-high, and place the chapati in the pan. You are first going to “dry out” each side. Cook the first side for 30 seconds. The chapati will look almost like it’s getting “wet,” and may start to bubble a bit. After 30 seconds, flip the chapati. While the second side is cooking, brush the top lightly with oil. You will probably notice the chapati beginning to puff up even more. After those second 30 seconds are up, flip the chapati again, and cook for 2 minutes, so that the underside is lightly golden. While the chapati is cooking, brush a light layer of oil on the up-side. (Also, roll out your next chapati so you can begin cooking it once this one is done.) Once the 2 minutes are done, flip the chapati, cook another two minutes, and then place on a paper towel lined plate and cover with foil to keep warm. You may have to play with the temperature slightly as you go (turn up a little or down a little) to avoid burning, and you may have to increase or reduce the cooking times slightly.

This sounds like a lot, and has a lot of tips. Here’s how the rhythm looks in simple terms, once the pan is heated:

  • Roll chapati flat
  • Place in pan for 30 seconds
  • Flip, wait another 30 seconds, brushing top with oil while waiting
  • Flip, allow to cook for 2 minutes
  • While cooking, brush oil on top, and roll next chapati
  • Flip, allow to cook for 2 minutes
  • Move cooked chapati to plate and cover with foil
  • Add the next rolled chapati to the pan for 30 seconds and so on …


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