During my vacation in February I tried several kinds of steamed buns in Taipei. Since then I’ve developed an interest in Chinese steamed buns. These hot, soft and airy buns are just too good whether stuffed or plain! When we order steamed buns at the dim sum restaurant, my kids (and myself) always get very excited and would exclaim “wahhh…” the moment the lid of the bamboo steamer is opened.
When I was back to Toronto I started experimenting with the dough. I relied on my instinct and previous experience on bread making and made my first batch of steamed buns. And crap… it was a nasty disaster! Most of the buns looked like an old man with wrinkled skin and bumps all over (thinking back I believe I have over proofed my dough. Also the water was dripping back on the buns during steaming). Being indignant, I started to look up chinese dim sum cookbooks and search on the internet for help. An interesting finding was that many recipes use both baking powder and yeast. Well, wasn’t the dough puffed up by the yeast already? Why was baking powder ever required? I was puzzled and confused as a lot of the recipes and blogs I read gave no explanation to the usage of baking powder. Later that week I finally found the answer in Mrs. Jiang Xianzhu’s cookbook.
In the book Chinese Dim Sum 2 Mrs. Jiang wrote that after the initial rise the dough rises rapidly and contains lots of air bubbles. When contacted with cool air upon steaming, the bread will collapse easily. Kneading baking powder into the dough after the initial rise helps stabilize the dough. I don’t want to add baking powder to my dough (I’ve seen many recipes without it anyways). After some trial and error I have come up with my own way. In order to prevent the dough from having too much air bubbles, the first rise is omitted (which will speed things up too). After kneading is completed I move directly to divide and shape the dough after a short resting period. I also make sure my dough is not fully proofed as in bread making (in which the indentation remains when the side of the dough is lightly touched with fingertip). The dough will be ready for steaming if it is about 1.5 times its original size and when pressed, the indentation will spring back very slowly. Last thing is to start off with cold water when steaming. This will allow the dough to rise slowly and steadily. So far these combined strategies all result in soft and puffy buns with a very smooth outer skin.
I am providing two steaming methods below: one with stovetop and the other with steam oven. I prefer my steam oven simply because of efficiency. After filing the water tank I could proof then steam my buns with the touch of a button. The only downside is that the oven space is limited whereas bamboo or stainless steel steamers are stackable.
Bear-Shaped Chinese Steamed Buns (Mantou)
144 g all purpose flour
90 – 100 g milk, room temperature
15 g granulated sugar (I used organic cane sugar)
1/2 tsp active dry yeast
7 g grapeseed oil
6 g (1 Tbsp) dutch-processed cocoa powder
Black food color gel or bamboo charcoal powder as needed
細砂糖 15克 (EC用有機蔗糖)
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and yeast (according to King Arthur Flour, it is no longer necessary to dissolve active dry yeast in warm water before using due to the much gentler modern manufacturing process). Make a well in the center then pour in the milk and oil. Stir with a pair of chopsticks or a spatula until a shaggy dough forms. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 10 minutes. During this resting period autolyse will happen. Flour is hydrated and the dough will be less sticky to handle. Kneading time will become shorter.
麵粉、糖、酵母放入攪拌盆中拌勻(King Arthur Flour提及由於現代生產酵母技術已更溫和，因此活性乾酵母現巳不需溶解活化已可直接使用)，中開一穴加入牛奶和油，用筷子或膠刮拌至剛成糰，蓋上保鮮紙靜置10分鐘，此時麵糰會產生水合作用，麵粉吸水後揉搓時麵糰會變得較不黏手，時間也會縮短。
Scrape dough onto a floured working surface and knead until dough is smooth. Reserve 5 g of dough as the white dough. Knead cocoa powder into the remaining dough until it is smooth and elastic. Cut out 5 g and make the black dough by kneading in bamboo charcoal powder or black food coloring (it is easier to turn dough into black from brown than from white). Cover all doughs with plastic wrap and rest for 5 minutes.
Divide brown dough into 5 45-g and 10 3-g pieces. Divide white dough into 5 equal pieces.
To form the bear’s head, shape the bigger brown dough into a ball and place with seam side down on a piece of parchment paper square. To make the ears, roll two smaller brown doughs into a sausage. Fold each log in half then flatten the ends. Slide the flattened side under the bear’s head and attach with some water.
Shape the white dough into an olive and flatten to an oval with fingers. Attach the disc on the middle of the bear’s head with some water. Roll black dough into balls of various size to make the nose and eyes. Take a small piece of black dough and roll into string and make the mouth. Attach all shapes to the head with water.
Arrange all shaped doughs onto the steaming plate, spacing them out evenly.
Steaming on the stove top: place steaming plate into the pot then fIll with some warm water. Cover with lid then let rest for 30 minutes until dough is puffy (about 1.5 times its original size). Bring water to a boil then reduce to medium and steam for 15 minutes. Steaming with steam oven: place steaming plate into the steam oven. Fill water tank with water and use the proofing function to proof the buns for 30 minutes until puffy (about 1.5 times its original size). Steam at 210℉/100℃ for 18 minutes.
Turn off heat or switch off oven. Let rest for 5 minutes before removing the buns (this will prevent dramatic temperature change which causes shrinkage and wrinkled skin). Serve hot or warm.
These were another styles that I made. I was trying to make one of the Line Friends characters but it looked more like a frowning bear. My younger son referred them as “the bread with a sad face”.
這些饅頭依Line Friends的小熊造型而作，可是小熊好像很不快樂似的，小兒子稱它們為「sad face 包包」。
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