Bao Chika Wow

Two years ago I had the grand ambition to bake 12 different types of bread – ranging from relatively simple bread like Challah, to naturally fermented breads like Chickpea Loaf. I got about half way and then got busy with life and my little challenge got forgotten about.

But I’m back! Since picking up Elizabeth David’s book on English Yeast and Bread cookery I have been inspired to get back into it. No time limit this time though.

One of the breads I had on my list was Mantou.

Mantou are Chinese steamed buns. They are light and fluffy and very easy to make. The only downside is that I didn’t have a big enough steamer, so I had to cook them in batches which took ages.

Mantou is the name for the plain bun. When filled with sweet or savoury ingredients, they are known as Bao (note the pun in the title of this blogpost) which are also very delicious and make great snacks.

The buns themselves are pretty unassuming. They’re very plain but that’s the point of them. You use them to carry meats and other flavourful ingredients.

Despite their simplicity, they have a long history. Mantou/Bao have been mentioned in texts as early as the Warring States period in China which means that they are over 2000 years old.

They also play a starring role in Chinese folklore and are mentioned in the Romance of Three Kingdoms story:

According to Ming Dynasty scholar Lang Ying, the original name for mantou was barbarian’s head. During the Three Kingdom Period, barbarians used human heads to worship gods.

Chancellor Zhuge Liang went on a battle to suppress the Southern barbarians and won. On his way back, he and his army had to cross the Lu River, which had big, stormy waves. The locals told them that using human heads as a sacrifice was the only way to cross the river.

Zhuge Liang couldn’t bear to kill innocent people, so instead he ordered his soldiers to kill some of their animals and put beef and lamb into flour dough in the shape of a head and steam them, and then throw them into the river as fake heads. Since they were fake heads to fool the river god, they got the name Cheat Heads. Others say they represented barbarian’s heads, so they were called Barbarian’s Heads.

Thus, mantou were born from the good thoughts of Zhuge Liang. The mantou he made at that time were in fact modern-day meat buns.

These are my attempt at Mantou. They were very simple to make but I accidentally put them in the steaming the wrong way so they don’t have the same look that steamed buns in a Chinese supermarket would have. I used a recipe from the Guardian and make the accompanying pork belly to go with it. It was delicious! I would recommend making a whole heap of mantou and freezing them. That way you can then use a few of them each time with different fillings.

Have you tried home-made steam buns before? Do you have any tasty filling suggestions?

 

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Golden Syrup and Brown Sugar Cinnamon Sticky Buns

I know I’ve already posted about sticky buns before, but they are one of my favourite recipes and they are especially delicious to eat on a cold winter’s day with a hot drink.

The sticky buns that my family usually make have a toffee and walnut base, but lately, I’ve been experimenting with different sticky elements. Last time I used a caramel sauce and this time I decided to give golden syrup a go. Both were equally delicious. A+ would recommend.

One thing to I will remember for next time is to increase the stickiness element. Sticky buns, of course, need to be sticky. It really does means you have to be generous with the sticky element even though it increases the likelihood of sticky hands and really sticky cake tins.

Bake these in a cake tin to get a pretty design when you pull them out of the oven and flip upside down.

 

Golden Syrup and Brown Sugar Cinnamon Sticky Buns

Ingredients

Yeasted coffee cake dough

1 package active dry yeast
¼ cup warm water
½ cup flour (cake flour if possible)
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour (bread flour if possible)
65g butter, cut into chunks and left to soften

Glaze

¼ cup golden syrup
¼ cup butter, melted
¼ cup brown sugar, packed
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Method

Yeasted coffee cake dough

Mix yeast and warm water together and leave for 5 minutes until dissolved. Add cake flour, sugar, salt, eggs, milk and vanilla and mix until smooth. Add bread flour and mix for one minute until dough comes together. Tip onto a floured surface and knead for around 10 minutes. The dough should be smooth and elastic. At this point add the butter.

I found the easiest way to do this is to stretch the dough out and add around ¼ of the butter you have and then fold the dough in half and stretch it out again. Add another ¼ of the butter and repeat. The dough will be very sticky and you’ll feel like it’s not working, but you need to persist! Keep kneading it and the butter will eventually incorporate itself into the dough.

Shape into a ball and place in a buttered bowl. Keep dough in warm place for an hour or so until it has doubled in size.

If you want to make really flavoursome dough, Joy recommends you leave it for 1 ½ hours, punch it down after that and then let rise again for 4 – 12 hours. Punch it down again and then refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Glaze

Once your dough is ready, roll it out onto a 12 x 9 inch rectangle. Mix cinnamon, brown sugar and butter together and brush over dough. Carefully roll the dough as if you were making a chocolate log. Cut crosswise into 6 – 8 slices.

Grease a cake tin. At the bottom, carefully pour the golden syrup so it lines the base. Place buns on top of golden syrup and pack them in carefully so they fill the tin completely. Place in a 180° preheated oven and cook for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes. Invert the pan onto a hot sheet or plate. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Plum Jam and Raisin Swirl Bread

Mystery ingredient time!

Today’s mystery ingredient is the delicious Anathoth Plum Jam. I originally planned to create a Louise Cake Tart using the jam but I lacked a loose bottom tart tin so I thought I might save that recipe for when I eventually get around to buying some new tart tins.

Instead I decided to have a go at creating a bread swirl. I’ve seen bread swirls a lot on Pinterest and they look very intricate and detailed even though they appear to very easy create and very pretty to look at. In saying that however, Pinterest is known for having pins which are not an accurate representation of what would happen if you actually followed the instructions. There are many BuzzFeed articles which document attempts by Pinterest users to recreate ideas they have seen on the social networking site and the spectacular failures that result.

I can safely say that bread swirls are not one of these Pinterest fails. I was pleasantly surprised with how easy it was to make this swirl. I would also recommend playing around with the filling. I used plum jam and raisins, but you could use a whole range of different things – fresh fruit, spices, caramel, chocolate or even something savoury like cheese.

I used the recipe from Joy the Baker as part of her Baking Bootcamp, but I think any enriched dough would work fine. Instead of berries and cinnamon I used jam and raisins.

I also learnt two things when making this bread which I would like to share.

When I first pulled it out of the oven, the centre of this bread was a little undercooked and I had to put it back into the oven for ten more minutes. This happened because:

Once I had threaded the dough I didn’t let the it prove in the cake tin.

If I had done so, the dough would have more air bubbles. This would have created a lighter, airier dough and would have been less dense in the centre thus ensuring a consistent bake.

My oven is hotter than what the temperature reads.

I believe that this is the main reason. Because it was too hot, the bread cooked too fast on the outside. Cover the bread in foil and keep cooking if you find yourself in this situation.

 

Russian Bagels (Bubliki)

Making bubliki is my March bread challenge. I use the word ‘bread’ here loosely as bubliki aren’t really considered bread. They’re more of a half bread, half pastry that you eat with tea or coffee. They have a really scone like texture – dense but quite soft. The difference between them and scones is that Bubliki are sweeter due to the sugar, butter and eggs added.

A wee bit of history

The bublik has its origins in the Pale of Settlement. This was the:

territory within the borders of czarist Russia wherein the residence of Jews was legally authorized. Limits for the area in which Jewish settlement was permissible in Russia came into being when Russia was confronted with the necessity of adjusting to a Jewish element within its borders, from which Jews had been excluded since the end of the 15th century.

Bubliki popularity emerged in the 1920s, under Soviet Russia’s New Economic Policy (NEP), which permitted a certain degree of private enterprise. According to Darra Goldstein:

A new breed of Soviet citizen, the wily entrepreneur, emerged, wheedling the public to buy wares of often dubious quality. Many less sophisticated sellers also took to the streets in an attempt to peddle their goods, and for a while the cities were once again full of all manner of colour hawkers.

One of the most popular products of this era was the bublik, sold hot from portable ovens and immortalized in a contemporary song, “Bublichiki,” in which a young girl bewails her father’s drunkenness and the fact that she must eke out her livelihood selling buns on the street

References to bubliki can also be found in Russian and Ukrainian cultural history. According the page on wikipedia:

A common Russian and Ukrainian phrase is “a hole from a bublik” (Russian: Дырка от бу́блика, Ukrainian: Ді́рка з (від) бу́блика) – which means “absolutely nothing” or “worthless”. Examples:

I worked so hard, and what did I get for it? A hole from a bublik,

He is not worth a hole from a bublik.

Our attempt 

For starters, our bubliki were not worthless! To mix things up a bit I made these with my friend Analiese (who also happens to have a very witty and hilarious fashion and makeup blog) at her house and we ate these for brunch.

They were pretty easy to make, but they didn’t make as many as we thought. Instead of yielding 12, we only made six in the end.

The most entertaining part was when we had to boil the dough in the vanilla milk. It reminded me of watching hot doughnuts being made at food trucks. There is something quite entrancing about dropping dough into hot liquid and then eagerly waiting for it to rise to the surface.

I would recommend eating these with cream cheese and salmon as we did. The slightly sourness of the cream cheese along with the oiliness of the salmon went quite well with the sweet bagels. A few salty capers would have also been delicious.  We also tried it with feijoa and vanilla jam. This was nice, but it was almost too sweet.

Bubliki (Russian bagels or sweet boiled buns) 

I found the recipe for bubliki in Darra Goldstein’s A Taste of Russia: A Cookbook of Russian Hospitality. She notes that her recipe is a less common version.

We did make a few small changes to the recipe. We reduced the number of eggs because Analiese has an egg allergy. We also added a bit of water to the dough. When we initially made it, the dough was very dry and needed a bit of liquid to get it to a point that we were then able to shape it.

Ingredients

¼ cup butter, softened
½ cup caster sugar
2 egg yolks
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 ½ cup flour
¼ cup water
4 cups milk
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

Method

Cream the butter and the sugar. Beat in the egg yolks. Stir in the baking powder, salt, nutmeg, and enough flour to make a firm dough. If dough is too crumbly, add a bit of water to get it into a wetter texture. Divide the dough into six pieces. Shape each piece into a ring around two inches in diameter.

In a deep pot bring the milk and vanilla to boil. Drop in the rings of dough, a few at a time, and cook them in the boiling milk until they rise to the surface. This should take around one minute.

With a slotted spoon, transfer the rings to a baking tray. At this point you could brush them with an egg yolk, or butter.

Cook in a preheated (160˚ C oven) and bake the bubliki until they are puffed and brown. Around 30 minutes. Transfer to racks and cool.

Yield: Six buns