Well, it’s been a whole year since I made bao, and this time I had special bun flour (that’s actually what it says on the label) to try, to see if that would give an even better result than last time (see my sweet bean filled buns here… no I don’t want to rephrase that…). I had bought a tin of sweet bean paste from Japan Centre rather than getting in a big mess making my own again, too, so the operation should have been pretty smooth. Sadly, it wasn’t really. The cold and rainy weather conspired against the buns rising, for one thing, and steaming them in batches was a right pain – I have three bamboo steamers that I can stack up, but you do have to switch the top and bottom one round to evenly cook everything. I tell you, I got really sick of hearing the oven timer going off.
So the first thing to do was mix some yeast and sugar in with some hand-hot water. The yeast granules did a very cool thing when I tipped them into the water; some sank straight to the bottom and some stayed on top, but then changed their minds and swam down to be with the others. I tried to get photos but it was very tricksy – here’s the best one.
It looked a lot cooler in real life.
Once I’d stirred up the yeast, sugar and water, I added it to the special flour, which contained calcium and a few other ingredients – anti-caking agents and things, probably. I kneaded it into a dough and left for 20 minutes, as instructed on the packaging, then rolled out. I split the dough in two so I could do one lot of buns with sweet bean paste, and one lot of plain flower buns. Once I had half the dough rolled into what the packet described as a flat-long shape (I love translated recipes), I opened the tin of sweet bean paste. It was thinner than I expected – very different to the paste I’ve made myself or tried in things from the Chinese bakery. Still, it tasted good so I went with it.
I spread the paste across the dough, then rolled it like a swiss roll. The consistency of the paste did make this part quite messy, and I had to re-roll every spiral individually to tighten and reshape them, but they looked quite cool once they were done. Again, real life was better – the photos look a bit gory…
I let them rise for about 40 minutes, in front of the oven, then steamed the spirals for about 15 minutes, at which time they looked like this:
They were alright in the end – very chewy and with a hint of yeast, which I blame on the fact that they weren’t the right temperature for the yeast to react and use itself all up before being cooked. Still, it’s something a bit different for people to try, and seasonal what with it having been Chinese New Year last week.
Sadly, the plain flower buns came out too bland to serve up, and I lost the will to do anything with them so they went totally to waste. They look so beautiful though, and they felt like delicate marshmallows before I put them in to steam, really soft and kind of fragile. Next time I’ll know to add more sugar to the dough, or to be ready to try to fill them like doughnuts. Look how cute they are though! I rolled up the plain dough tightly, then sliced into rounds. Then I took chopsticks and pressed in on opposite edges to make a kind of figure eight shape, then pushed in on the top and bottom to give these pretty flowers. The finished texture was still a little too chewy and yeasty to be really good – I should really have put them in a big tupperware, sealed it and left it in a basin of hot water, to aid the rising – that’s what I usually do with yeast baking, as I’ve never lived somewhere that has a suitably warm area for proving dough. I think that’s more to do with living in Scotland than any indictment on the (many) flats I’ve lived in.
That is the end of my tale of bao woe. Sniff. I miss those flower buns.