XICHUAN PEPPER BREAD
(from Xichuan, China)
These breads are a Xichuan breakfast specialty. There is usually a choice between ''sweet'' and ''salty''; the sweet version is made the same way as the savory version, but crude brown cane sugar is substituted for the basic seasoning of Xichuan peppercorns and finely chopped scallions. The savory breads are sometimes made elaborate with chopped pork, a variation that is also very good.
Before making these breads, try to find good fresh pepper, with a strong fragrant aroma; a Chinese grocery is a better bet than a spice store.
The dough is made with both boiling water (which cooks the starches in the flour and makes a very soft dough) and cold water (which yields a stronger dough). The mix produces a soft, pliable dough, which is also elastic enough to take rolling out.
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon peanut oil
1 teaspoon Xichuan peppercorns, dry-roasted and finely ground
1 cup finely chopped scallions (white and tender green parts) or 1 cup finely chopped garlic chives
You will need a food processor, a rolling pin, and one or two heavy skillets at least 8 inches in diameter.
Place the flour, baking powder, and salt in a food processor and pulse to mix well. With the motor running, pour the boiling water in a thin stream through the feed tube, then add the cold water and process until the mixture forms a ball. Process for 1 minute longer, then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead briefly, then cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 15 minutes.
Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Working with one piece at a time, leaving the others covered, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a circle 8 inches in diameter. Spread 1/2 teaspoon of the oil over the top of the bread, then sprinkle on 1/8 teaspoon of the Xichuan pepper. Spread 2 tablespoons of the chopped scallions or garlic chives evenly over the bread.
Then, roll the bread up like a jelly roll, as tightly as possible. Anchoring one end of the resulting tube on your work surface, coil the bread as tightly as possible, and pinch the other end against the coil to make a smooth round. Flatten gently with the palm of your hand.
Roll the bread out again gently with a rolling pin until it is about 1/4-inch thick and 6 inches across. (Do not worry if the odd piece of scallion or garlic chive leaks out; you can patch any small holes in the dough.)
Before you begin rolling out and filling a second bread, place a heavy skillet over medium heat. When the skillet is hot, rub it thoroughly with a lightly oiled cloth or paper towel. Lower the heat to medium-low and place the first bread in the skillet. Cook for 3 minutes, or until the bottom is flecked with light-brown spots. Turn over and cook for 3 minutes longer, or until both sides are flecked with light brown. Transfer the bread to a rack to cool slightly, then wrap in a towel to keep soft.
Meanwhile, continue rolling out and shaping the remaining breads while the first one bakes, then cook them in the same manner. If you are feeling comfortable about cooking times, heat another skillet so that you can have two breads cooking at once. Serve warm. Makes 8 round breads, about 7 inches across and 1/4-inch thick.