Bun’s the Word for Chinese New Year

Dragon in China

Lóng Nián Kuài Lè Happy Year of the Dragon

(c) M. Medeiros 2010

Monday was Chinese New Year, so I decided that I would cook Chinese food. The Lunar New Year is the most part of the most important festival in the Chinese calendar, Chūn Jié (Spring Festival). Anyone who has Chinatown in a part of their city will know what a great party it is. It started on Monday, and will go on until the 15th day of the Lunar Calendar, when it will end with the  Festival of Lanterns.

The Chinese have a number of traditional foods for their Lunar New Year celebrations. They like to eat noodles, which must remain uncut for longevity. I cheated a bit and decided that the noodles in the Pho would have to do for this. It was eaten for the same meal, so it counts, right?

They also eat chicken, to represent good fortune, and shiitake mushrooms to fulfill wishes. I had some shredded chicken in the fridge that I had stripped from chicken carcasses that I used for stock, and I had to get some shiitake mushrooms for the pho anyway, so I wanted to use these as the basis for my Chinese meal.

I know that I am going on about it a bit, but we were lucky enough to sample some amazing Chinese food in Sydney. Some of which I blogged about, but a lot of which I didn’t. My recent experience led me to recall the vegan yum cha at Bodhi, where the Hom Bao (steamed buns) were incredible.

Hom Bao would also help me hit some more New Year’s Resolutions;  make more asian food, and bake more bread. Given that I coud also use up leftovers, there were really few other options for my first chinese meal of the year.

So, I threw myself right in at the deep end, and decided to make two fillings for Hom Bao, made two ways.  One was meaty, and used the chicken, and the other was vegetarian. It would have been vegan, but vegetarian oyster sauce has milk protein in it apparently. Who knew?

I am not going to lie, these buns are not a trivial undertaking, and involve several techniques. However, the results are really worth it, with a casing of sweet, soft dough, and rich savoury fillings.

Next time, I will make sure that I have some guests to share them with.

Recipe: Hom Bao

Ingredients

For the bun starter:

1 sachet dry active yeast

4 tbsp plain flour

4 tbsp warm (not hot, you need to be able to comfortably put a finger in it) water

1 tsp caster sugar

For the bun dough:

110 ml lukewarm water – if you can’t measure this accurately in a jug, weigh it (110 g)

200 g plain flour

2 tbsp caster sugar

1 tbsp vegetable oil (not one with a strong flavour)

¼ tsp salt

½ tsp baking Powder

For the Chicken Filling:

100 g cooked chicken, shredded

½ small onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

A little vegetable oil for frying

2 spring onions, sliced thinly

1 tbsp soy sauce

½ tsp sugar

For the Mushroom Filling:

½ small onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

A little vegetable oil for frying

2 cm lump root ginger

½ leek

100 g shiitake mushrooms, or mix of shiitake & oyster mushrooms, roughly chopped.

1 tsp chinese five spice powder

1 tbsp vegetarian oyster sauce (or make your own, and you can make it vegan)

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp mirin (rice wine)

Method

Firstly, make the bun starter. Mix together the flour, water & sugar so the sugar starts to dissolve. Sprinkle in the yeast. and mix well.

Bun dough starter

Starter at the very beginning

Set it aside for 30 minutes to allow the yeast to start to work.

Bun dough starter after 30 mins

The starter develops bubbles and will rise a little

Add the rest of the dough ingredients, except for the baking powder, and combine well, until it comes together into a dough.

Bun dough

Dough formed

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, by holding onto the end of the dough with the fingers of one hand, then pushing the top of the dough down and away from you with the other hand. Fold it in half, then make a quarter turn.  Keep repeating the kneading action until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. This should take about 10 minutes. If you over or under knead the dough, it will affect the bread, but it is easy to know when to stop kneading, this will be at the point when a finger jabbed into the dough stays there, and does not disappear.

dough, after first knead

Fingers sticking – good

Then put it into a lightly oiled bowl (a large one). The oil should not be strongly flavoured, but you need it to stop the dough from sticking to the bowl.

Dough ball before rising

Dough balls!

Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel, and place it in a warm place. I use the top of my stairs, which is the warmest place in my flat, due to there being a door at the top of them. You can put it in your warmest room, or an airing cupboard if you have one. Don’t put the bowl directly on a radiator, and keep it out of draughts if you can. Leave it to prove for a few hours (maybe 2-3) until the dough has tripled in size

Dough after proving

Proved, you have large dough balls

While the dough is proving, make the fillings, then set them both aside to go cold.

For the chicken filling, gently sweat the onion and the garlic until translucent. Add the rest of the ingredients, and mix thoroughly. The mixture should not be very liquid, so if it is, slake a little bit of cornflour, and stir it in.

Cicken & Soy Filling

Soy Chicken Lickin’

For the mushroom filling, sweat the onion until translucent. Add the garlic and the ginger and cook until you can smell them.

You will have julienned the leek as part of the preparations. the julienne need to be small.

Julienned leek

Fine cuts

Add these and the mushrooms to the pan, and cook down until the leeks are silken. You will need to stir this so that the leeks don’t burn. The observant may notice that I have sliced my mushrooms instead of chopping them. Don’t do this, it makes the buns harder to stuff. Chopped will be better.

Add the rest of the ingredients and stir well. Again, you don’t want it too liquid, so cook it down if it is runny.

Mushroom Filling

Oyster mushroom filling – much tastier than it looks

When your dough has risen, knock it down (give it a punch until the air goes out of it), then spread it onto a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle evenly with the baking powder, then knead it again for about 5 minutes.

Divide the dough into 2, using a sharp knife. Put one half back into the oiled bowl, and cover it again. Roll the other half into a sausage, then divide it up into 8-12 pieces.

Divide the dough ino bun size

Bun Size Dough Balls

Put any dough that you are not working on back into your bowl and cover it over.

Shape each small dough piece into a round, then flatten with your hands

Flattening the dough

As flat as a Hom Bao

Place about a tablespoon of filling into the centre of the flattened disk.

Buns and filling

Filling

Then draw up the sides of the bun as follows:

Half & pinch

Fold in half over the filling & pinch the dough together

Stretch out sides

Stretch the sides out a bit

Be careful not to stretch the dough too thin,or tear it, because it will split when you cook it.

Pinch together

Pinch the sides together

Then bring the ‘gaps’ to the centre and pinch them all together to form a seal.

Sealed Hom Bao

Sealed Hom Bao

Place, sealed side down, on a 10 cm square of greaseproof paper.

The finished bun

The Finished Bun

Put the bun aside in a warm room, covered with a clean tea towel to prove for a bit more. You should find that you get better as you go along, my last buns were certainly a lot quicker than the first ones.

Repeat until you have finished the dough. You might have a little bit of filling left over, but that’s OK. I used my leftover mushroom mixture up in an omlette, and I intend to have the chicken with a jacket potato.

After about 30 minutes, the buns will have risen a bit more, and should look puffy.

Hom Boa after final proving

Buns – done!

You can then steam the buns over a little water, or brush them with egg wash and bake them in the centre of an oven at 180°C. Either way, they will take about 15-20 minutes, until they are fluffy and hot.

Hom Bao two ways

Hom Bao Two Ways – Golden and Steamed

I split the bao in the front, to show you the filling. Unfortunately, I didn’t capture the steam, but there was a lot.

You cannot freeze the baked bao, but the steamed version freezes beautifully, and they will last a long time. Freeze after steaming, by placing on it’s cooking paper into one of those plastic takeaway cartons. You can fit three or four in each, depending on the size of of your bao.

Steam from frozen, still on the paper. Stick a  knife in to make sure they are warm all the way through before serving.

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