What is Amdo Balep?
These crusty round yeasted loaves take their name from the Amdo region of northeastern Tibet, but are popular also in central Tibet. In both regions, the bakers will sometimes cover the dough in the ashes of fire instead of using an oven or stove. Though we use yeast here, Tibetans will also make this bread with baking powder or a kind of starter. We also mix whole wheat and white flour, though some would use only white flour. Traditionally, in Tibet, the loaves were most likely a kind of whole wheat, as refined wheats did not exist in many places due to a lack of the necessary milling equipment. Our friend Lungtok told us that in his home town in Amdo, the village people would make huge balep on special occasions — so large that two people could hardly lift them! We make two versions of Amdo bread — one that is cooked on the stove top and this one, in which the bread is baked in the oven. For the more traditional stove-top version of this bread, please see our eBook and video series, Tibetan Home Cooking.
One round loaf for 4-6 people
Preparation time: 30 minutes or less, not including the rising time of 3 to 8 hours (depending on how you want to do it.)
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Note: Prepare the dough the night before you want to cook it, or at least 3 hours before you want to cook the bread. We prepare the dough just before bed on the night before we want to cook it, and let it rise overnight, then cook it first thing in the morning for an amazing breakfast :-)
- 1 cup of warm water (between 100 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Additional .5 cup water (out of the tap is fine)
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- ½ teaspoon sugar to activate the yeast
- 1.5 cups whole wheat flour
- 1.5 cups all purpose white flour
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil (any oil without a strong flavor is fine)
- Optional: 4 tablespoons of plain yoghurt, for a browner crust. We use full fat, but you could use whatever you like.
Cooking equipment needed
A heavy covered pot that is safe for the oven. We use a Lodge brand cast-iron Dutch oven like the one pictured a left. Ours has about a 10” diameter, but a bit larger or smaller is fine. (Disclosure: we get a small commission if you buy the pot from Amazon by clicking on the image to the left.) It is helpful if the sides of the pot are as straight up and down as possible, since you will need to turn the bread over while baking it, and if the sides of the pot slope outwards, the shape of the bread makes it hard to fit back in the pot properly. That said, our Dutch oven has slightly sloping sides and it is not ideal, but it works okay :-) Note: We don’t recommend using a steel pot as in our experience, the bread will stick to that.
Prepare the yeast
- Add the yeast and sugar to 1 cup of warm water.
- Let stand for 10 minutes until yeast is quite foamy.
- Or, follow the directions on your yeast package.
- Sometimes, the yeast does not activate and you have to try with some new yeast.
Prepare the dough
- Before you start prepping the dough, spread 1 tablespoon cooking oil around the bottom of your pot, or Dutch oven.
- Combine the whole wheat and white flour and mix well together.
- Pour yeast mixture (which should be about 1 cup) and an additional .5 cup of water (tap water is fine) into a bowl with the combined whole wheat and white flour.
- Optional: Add 4 tablespoons of plain yoghurt, for a browner crust.
- Mix well and knead for about 5 minutes to form a smooth ball of dough.
- Place your dough in your pot, and with your hands, press the dough out into a flattish circle, so that it covers the bottom of the pot. The thickness doesn’t matter very much because the dough will rise.
- Put a lid on the pot and let the dough rise in a warmish place for a minimum of three hours. We prepare it the night before and let it sit overnight. The dough should double in size.
- Once the dough is doubled, or at least 3 hours later, put the pot with the risen dough in the oven.
- Turn the oven on to 425 degrees fahrenheit. You don’t need to preheat the oven.
- Cook the first side for 25 minutes.
- After 25 minutes, turn the bread over. Please be very careful, as the pot will be extremely hot and it is a little awkward to turn it over. You may need to run a knife or spatula around the edges to loosen the crust from the pot if it is stuck. Normally ours does not stick, but if you leave the dough longer than 8 hours or so, it seems to stick. You can also shake the pot to unstick it. You can dump the bread out onto a chopping board or other flat surface, then put it back in the pot with the side that was down now up. You do not need to add any additional oil.
- After turning it over, put the pot back in the oven and cook for 20 more minutes.
Of course your oven may be different so monitor the balep to be sure it’s not burning :-) It should be a nice golden brown when done. Let us know how yours turns out in the comments below.
Total cooking time is 45 minutes at 425 degrees fahrenheit: first side 25 minutes and second side 20 minutes, in our oven. Yours may be a little more or less.
Take it out of the oven and serve. If not serving right away cool on a rack.
Best to eat hot!
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By Lobsang Wangdu