Monday, January 27, 2014

Chinese Steamed Buns (Mantou) 饅頭

After having enjoyed quite a few potato dinner rolls and other baked goods the past few months, I had a craving for a lighter roll and steamed buns or mantou seemed like the perfect solution. Mantou are unfilled, so you really get to appreciate the flavor of the bun itself. While I can pretty easily get mantou in my area, they don't always compare to the light, fluffy, coconut-scented mantou of my childhood and the only bakery that comes closest to that memory is a bit of a trek away. So, I decided to try making my own and now after a few tries, I think these are pretty darn good.

The recipe is adapted from a Chinese cookbook that my mom bought many years ago and other sources. The recipe should be pretty easily adapted to make other variations of mantou such as matcha and chocolate. I'll have another post when I try those out. So far, I've made them plain and with coconut milk. While both are great, I just have a place in my heart for coconut-flavored things and what's even better about making my own is that I can make them as coconutty as I want. The plain version of these can be used to make other types of buns such as barbecue pork buns or flower rolls and I've done that in the past, but I haven't tried it out recently.

Coconut milk mantou
Mantou made with milk
While these buns are pretty fluffy, they may not be quite as fluffy as steamed buns you'll find outside which could be made using a sponge starter method. I'm also going to try that method soon. I've used a lower protein all-purpose flour here rather than a Chinese flour specifically for steamed buns as well as organic unbleached sugar, so the buns are not super white. I might try using cake flour to see how they come out, but I'm quite happy with the recipe as it is. If you like your buns a little less sweet, take out some of the sugar though I personally think mantou need to have a slight sweetness to taste right.

It's important that your dough doesn't sit out rising for too long and also to give it enough time to rise. The time your dough needs may be more or less than the times I've included here, so just keep an eye on it and go on to the next step when it has risen to the right size.

Recipe adapted from The Food of China by Deh-Ta Hsiung and Nina Simonds
Makes 24 buns

5 1/2 cups (700 g) all purpose flour, plus more for kneading and shaping
2 cups milk, whole or reduced fat or coconut milk
6 tbsp (75 g) granulated sugar
3 tsp (13 g) active dry yeast
3 tbsp (45 g) coconut oil or vegetable oil
3 tsp (12 g) baking powder

Sift the flour into a large bowl. Reserve about half a cup of the flour on the side. In a small saucepan, add the sugar and coconut oil to the milk and heat over medium until the sugar is dissolved and the coconut oil has melted. Let cool to 110-115 deg F.

Sprinkle the yeast over the milk and let sit for 5-10 minutes until foamy. Gradually pour the milk mixture into the sifted flour and stir with a wooden spoon until the dough starts to come together.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes adding in the remaining half cup of flour as needed. Use a little more flour if your dough is very sticky. The dough should be smooth and able to be handled, but still sticky.

Place dough in an oiled bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place for about 2 hours until at least doubled in size. After the dough has doubled, turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Flatten the dough slightly into a rectangle. Sprinkle the baking powder over the dough, fold up the edges of the dough sealing the baking powder and knead the dough for a few minutes to incorporate the baking powder. Cut the dough in half.

With one half of the dough, roll the dough out into a rectangle about 18 inches by 12 inches, fold into thirds along the long edge so that you end up with a rectangle that is about 6 inches by 12 inches. Roll out the dough into a rectangle about 18 inches by 12 inches again. Lightly dampen the surface of the dough with water and tightly roll up the dough on the long edge into a log. Pinch the edge to seal. Cut the log into 12 pieces and place each one on a piece of wax paper. Place in a steamer about 1-2 inches apart.

Repeat rolling and shaping with the other half of the dough. Let the buns rise, covered, for 30-40 minutes until they are at least 1.5 times their original size.

When ready to steam, heat water in a pot and steam the buns in a single layer in batches for 15 minutes on high heat. After 15 minutes, turn the heat off and lift the lid slightly leaving a small gap. Let the buns sit for another 2-3 minutes before removing them from the steamer to serve.

To reheat, steam the buns over high heat for 5 minutes or microwave for 15-20 seconds. They can also be frozen and reheated as desired.

For a visual of how to shape the mantou, check out this youtube video: Chinese steamed bun

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