Chapati/ Chapathi is an essential Indian flat bread/ griddle bread (looks like Tortilla) made with whole wheat flour. This simple and hearty low gluten, low calorie bread is healthy and appeasing. ‘How to make soft chapatis?’ Google and you’ll find umteen recipes, youtube videos and related articles. I have done this several times before mastering the chapati making technique. Most of the recipes seem so simple with few sentences of instruction. I wish it was that easy. It wasn’t for me. After many trial and error preps and producing leathery, shapeless, amoeba like chapathis, I finally figured out what works best for me. And if you ask people who make soft chapathis, they repeat the same method that you tried countless times with no avail. If you are one of those who can make soft rotis (chapatis) by flattening the dough between your palms using just flour and water, don’t bother reading further. This recipe is for ‘Roti Newbies’.
This recipe was requested by a longtime friend and foodie Matilda Radge , Malaysian celeb singer. A graceful and hospitable host on my visit to her place Penang, Malayasia in the year 2000. Posting this basic recipe is a favor returned to Mat. If not for her, I never thought of posting something as simple as this because I thought it was just me with BAD chapati making episodes. For years, I was buying frozen chapathis from the Indian grocers. Cook on the skillet or microwave and there you go, something called as ‘Chapati’ was on your plate for a meal. Easy- peasy, right? It was okay after a tiring graveyard shift. Now with time in hand, my household demands making fresh chapatis at least 4-5 times a week. Frozen ones were not feasible. So, I had no choice but to make soft and fresh chapathis.
Before we proceed, a brief note on Roti, Chapati and Phulkas. These terms are used interchangeably. But, there is a small degree of difference between these Indian flat breads.
- ‘Roti’ is the generic term used for whole wheat flat breads (called as ‘rotti’ in South India and ‘rotli’ in Gujarati). Gluten free flat breads made with millet, corn, maize, rice, buckwheat are also called rotis.
- ‘Chapati’ is unleavened flat bread/roti made with wholewheat flour. It can be thick or thin round disc, about 6 or 7 inches in diameter. This flat bread may or may not be brushed with oil on the sides. East African chapatis are made with white/ AP flour.
- ‘Phulka’ is unleavened as well, but grease free and prepared using just whole wheat flour and water. It is smaller and thinner with no salt added. One side cooked on a skillet and later over naked flame, it puffs up true to it’s name meaning ‘swollen’ or ‘puff up’.
1. Flat circular rolling board with legs made of wood/marble or stainless steel (also called Chakla/ Adni). If you don’t have one, use your kitchen counter top (can be a hassle to clean) or a pastry board.* I used the flat side of a steel plate before owning a steel rolling board.
2. Long cylindrical tapered wooden/ marble/ steel rolling pin (also called Belan/ Latna). It is narrow than the western dough-rolling pins. You even find rolling pins with carvings on. Few of my friends swear that the carved ones produce softer rotis. I use a regular wooden one and sometimes a steel rolling pin. The large dough rolling pin will work just fine.
3. Roti press/ roti fluffer/ wooden datta for pressing chapathi on the griddle. Wooden press protects your fingers from burns as it does not conduct heat. I bought this one from India for Rs.30 (less than a $). Alternately, wad up a clean dish towel to press the chapatis. Take care not to burn your fingers as your hand is at close proximity to the hot surface.
4. Tawa/ Griddle/ Flat skillet. Traditionally, chapati is cooked on a flat or slightly concave cast iron skillet called tawa. Sometimes, it has a wooden handle which makes removal from the stove easy. I use a big non-stick skillet which serves the purpose.
5. Spatula or Turner (also called Palta) made of wood,steel,iron,aluminium for flipping the chapathis
6. A big/ shallow mixing bowl.
7. Cup measure. You can use any cup, but use the same for measuring water for mixing the dough. I use the cup measure (approximately 180 ml) that comes with the electric rice cooker.
2 cup measure Chapati flour/ Atta/ Wholewheat flour * Chapati flour is finely ground wholewheat flour. Wholewheat flour found in the supermarkets have a slightly coarse texture and brownish appearance as the whole berry is milled
approximately 3/4-1 cup measure of Hot water (not boiling water) * Use filtered water. Chlorinated water will interfere with the softening process
2 tablespoons of unflavored Yogurt/ Dahi (Indian yogurt) * I use non-fat greek yogurt
2 teaspoon Oil * I use grapeseed or olive oil
1/4 teaspoon Salt
Oil/ Ghee/ Butter for brushing the chapathi (optional) *As I add oil to the dough, I omit brushing oil on the chapathi. I like ‘sukha’ (dry) rotis. No oil = less calories.
Plain flour for dusting * I use unbleached AP flour.
- Put the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add water to form a crumbly dough. Now add the yogurt to the dough and mix well.
- DO NOT pour all water at a time into the flour. Gradually stir in water and clear off the flour from the sides of the bowl to form a round mass. This gives you control to get the right consistency. As you knead, you can decide whether to add more water or not. You may need more or less water than mentioned above depending on the quality of the wholewheat flour.
- The bran and germ in whole wheat absorb more water than plain white flour. Sticky dough is tacky to handle. If you get a sticky dough, consider greasing your palm with a little oil while kneading before adding more flour.
- If you have a dry dough, be patient and knead further adding a teaspoon of water at a time. Stiff dough gives hard chapathis. As you knead, you’ll realize how soft the dough gets.
- Add oil and mix till all the flour comes together to become a non sticky, kneadable dough. Slightly sticky and pliable dough works well.
Kneading and resting the dough – This step is the heartbeat for making soft chapathis
- When you add water to the wheat flour to form the dough, two proteins (gliadin and glutenin) in wheat flour form gluten (chains of protein). When gluten comes in contact with a liquid, they form long chains. Gluten’s stretchy and chaotic consistency must be developed through mixing and kneading. During kneading, the protein in the wheat becomes elastic and smooth.
- Flour also contains starch that contribute to the consistency of the dough. Starch holds onto water to give structure and volume. It also makes its way through to break up the gluten network, tenderizing it and giving a delicate texture. That’s the logic behind kneading. Phew….too much science
- Knead for about 5 minutes and let it rest for 5 minutes before kneading again. This gives the flour time to absorb water and soften the protein in the whole wheat grain.
- Knead again for another 5-10 minutes till the dough is silky smooth. Press the dough with your fingertip, the dent should bounce back. If not, knead further till you reach the right consistency. I use my hand to knead the dough. You can use a food processor or standmixer for kneading. Apply a few drops of oil to coat the large dough ball.
- Now wrap the dough with a cling flim/ plastic wrap /wet kitchen towel or cover with another small bowl over the dough and set aside for at least 30 mins. Covering the dough traps moisture and does not dry out forming a crust. Rest the dough for an extra hour in cold weather conditions. Warm weather softens the dough quickly. I usually rest the dough for a hour. If short of time, I rest it for at least 30 mins.
- Resting gives time for the yogurt, water and oil to work together to tenderize the dough giving a soft and springy texture.
Rolling the dough
- Now assemble the rolling board, rolling pin, flour for dusting and the rested dough on the work platform (spread a newspaper to reduce the hassle of clearing dry flour that falls on your kitchen countertop)
- Give the rested dough a light knead. Pinch and divide the dough to make almost equal sized balls (as big as a ping pong ball/smaller than a tennis ball)
- Take a dough ball and flatten it in between your palms to make disc. Dredge the ball in the flour reserved for dusting. Press the dough disc using your palm and fingers to flatten it further. Coat the disc generously on both the sides.
- Place the dough disc on the roller board. Keep rest of the dough balls covered while you work on one. You do not want to dry out the other dough balls.
- Using the rolling pin, roll out the dough to make a big round disc. Starting from the middle of the dough disc using circular motion, roll it up and down a couple of times. Turn the disc 2-3 times as you roll to form a round disc . The flat and round shape should guide you to form a roughly round disc. Do not roll from the edges to the center.
- If the side facing the roller board gets sticky, lift the dough disc off the surface and dust some flour on the board. Don’t use too much flour as this will make the chapatis hard when cooked. Continue rolling without flipping the dough disc (re-rolling). The surface in contact with the rolling pin (the skin) should not be flipped. Re-rolling results in uneven thickness and a stiff chapati. Continue rolling till the chapati is thin as you desire. Take care not to tear the chapati.
- Aim for even thickness than a round disc. I stop rolling when it’s thick as a dime and the diameter is about 6 inches. Very thin chapatis do not puff up and become hard on cooking. I still can’t roll out a perfect round disc. That’s alright as along as I get soft ones. Shake off excess flour from the chapati before placing it on the griddle/ skillet.
Cooking/ Baking (Temperature control and the number of flips on the skillet is the key to making perfect chapatis)
- Preheat the griddle/ skillet. Check heat by flicking a drop of water. If it sizzles and evaporates, that is the right temperature. If the skillet is not hot enough, the chapati will stick to the surface. If the skillet is too hot, the chapati browns too quick. I maintain the stove dial between 4-4.5.
- Toss the chapati on to the skillet, skin (surface that is in contact with the rolling pin) facing down without any wrinkles. No need to grease the skillet. Within a few seconds, the surface color changes slightly.
- In about 30 seconds to 1 minute there will be raised steam bubbles/ air pockets on the surface. Using a turner/ spatula lift a corner to see underneath for splotchy brown spots. If done, it’s time for the FIRST flip.
- Flip it over and let the other side cook. Light brown spots are expected. Large ones are indicative of overcooking or burning.
- More steam bubbles will appear as it gets cooked. At this point, you may brush oil on the cooked surface. I tend to brush more oil than I should, when I do it while the chapati is being cooked. If I wish to do so, I dab oil after completely cooking the chapatis (see photos below)
- Now is the time for the SECOND flip. The chapati will start puffing up slowly.
- Now be gentle and lightly press the edges of the chapati. This sears the spots that is pressed and cooks evenly sealing the edges preventing air leak. The steam/ air from the bubbles is propelled towards the center and builds up hot steam inside causing the chapati to puff up. Use the chapati press or wad up a clean dish towel to press the chapati. You may also use an angled turner/ spatula to do this.
- Steam builds up to it’s fullest and puffs up the chapati like a big balloon. This takes less than a minute. It also depends on the thickness and the diameter of the chapati. Sometimes, I don’t press the chapati, yet it puffs. There are times when I press and it may not inflate. Either way, it tastes the same. As long as there are brown spots indicative of a cooked chapati, you’re on the right path. DO NOT press too hard or for too long. That definitely gives card board hard chapatis Experience speaks!
- Time for the THIRD flip to make sure that it is cooked through. If you’re sure that the chapati is cooked well on both the sides, you may skip this step. The chapati should be flexible with brown crispy spots, not burnt black ones. Remove chapati right away from the skillet. Place it on a plate or dish lined with a paper towel.
- Stack up the chapatis one over another. There will be condensation underneath each chapati that is stacked. The paper towel absorbs the water preventing the chapatis from getting soggy. Usually, the bottom ones are softer. Reverse the stack after piling up a few chapathis so that the bottom is in the middle.
- To serve the chapatis immediately, I place them on a plate lined with a kitchen towel and cover with a dish cover. The vent in the dish cover prevents sweating caused by the steam. The chapatis are soft, but not soggy. You may fold each chapati and wrap it all in a kitchen towel to retain the heat which will keep the chapatis soft.
- If serving later, keep them in an insulated casserole lined with a kitchen towel to absorb the condensation. The steam released from the chapatis will keep them soft and hot for at least half an hour. Reverse the stack to avoid the bottom ones becoming soggy from the sweat caused by the steam. We want soft chapatis not soggy ones.
- If you prefer oiled/glazed chapatis, place it on a plate right after removing from the skillet. Dip a spoon in oil/ melted ghee/ butter and dab the back of the spoon over both sides of the chapati. This gives a uniformly oiled/glazed surface just like the ones oiled while cooking on the skillet. The chapatis in the display picture is NOT oiled.
Serve hot soft chapatis with your favorite curry and raita. Enjoy a healthy meal !
For more helpful tips…..click here
A perfect ‘Chapati’ is one when ripped from the edges should have a thin skin and a thick base – soft, flaky and crusty. Chapati making is like a ‘workout regime’ – challenging at first, with experience you attain perfection. You’ll get there….be patient and practice. It’s worth the effort! And thanks for reading this monster post 🙂
Dec 2012 – After months of hands on experience, I can make oil free soft rotis in a jiffy. I take just 15 mins to make a dozen rotis. I stopped using oil and yogurt to make the dough. It’s just flour, water and salt that goes into the making of chapatis. Also upgraded to making flaky phulkas. Will post the recipe soon.