Pain ordinaire (plain or basic white bread)
For this recipe, I think instant yeast should be fine, but definitely do not use the self-rising flour with yeast or baking soda already in it that's commonly available here. Wal-Mart sells bread and cake flours. If you can't find them, use plain wheat flour or imported all-purpose flour. I've never been able to find whole wheat, so I substituted ¼ cup wheat germ for ¼ cup of bread flour to make "fake whole wheat." Organic barley can be purchased at Vegetarian Lifestyle, but you'll have to grind it yourself.
Buttermilk isn't sold in China that I know of, but you can make your own. Add a tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar to a cup of milk and let it stand for 5 to 10 minutes.
Yield: 1 loaf
2 tsp dry yeast
1 1/3 cups (325ml) water
3 1/2 cups (500g) unbleached flour, sifted
1 1/2 tsp salt
1. Sprinkle the yeast into 1/2 cup (125ml) of the water in a bowl. Leave for 5 minutes; stir to dissolve. Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the dissolved yeast.
2. Use a wooden spoon to draw enough of the flour into the dissolved yeast to form a soft paste. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and let the paste "sponge" until frothy, loose, and slightly expanded, about 20 minutes.
3. Pour about half of the remaining water into the center of the well. Mix in the flour from the sides of the well. Stir in the reserved water, as needed, to form a firm, moist dough.
4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead until smooth, shiny, and elastic, about 10 minutes.
5. Put the dough into a clean bowl and cover with a dish towel. Let rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Punch down, then let rest for 10 minutes.
6. Shape the dough into a long loaf, about 14 inches (35cm) in length. Place the shaped loaf on a floured baking sheet and cover with a dish towel. Proof until doubled in size, about 45 minutes. Preheat the oven.
7. Cut five diagonal slashes, each about 1/4 inch (5mm) deep, across the top of the loaf. Bake for 45 minutes, until golden and hollow sounding when tapped underneath. Cool on a wire rack.
For a more rustic flavor, substitute 3/4 cup (100g) of whole wheat, rye, or barley flour for the same amount of unbleached flour. For an extra tender crumb, replace 3/4 cup (175ml) water with the same amount of yogurt or buttermilk and use it to add to well in step 3. (I think the plain-flavored yogurts sold here should be fine, although they will make the bread a bit sweet. I haven't tried it yet.)
Sichuanese native and Chengdu resident Annie blogs about her adventures in cooking vegetarian meals, adapting recipes from around the world. Recently she has translated some of her favorite posts into English for GoChengdoo readers to enjoy. The original, Chinese-language version of this post can be viewed here. Photo by Annie Chen.