Azuki Bunny Buns

Soft, fluffy, sweet, and classically Asian. There’s no other way to describe red bean buns. Where Americans have chocolate chip cookies, the Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans have their red bean buns. Whether it’s someone’s birthday or time for an afternoon snack, in Asian food culture red bean buns are always a welcome treat.

Maybe it’s the American in me, but I don’t find red bean buns nearly as appealing as chocolate chip cookies. After all, they’re made with–of all things–beans! Everything changed this past week when I did some tweaking on my recipe for savory steamed buns. Inspired by spring, I sought out to make an Easter bunny-themed variation, with the perfect mild sweetness and tender texture. The results are some seriously yummy buns that can easily steal the spotlight from those chocolate chip cookies.

Azuki buns are so popular that you’ll often find them ready-made in the freezer or fridge section in Asian markets. The tell-tale sign of a mediocre (or bad) azuki bun is that it’s chokingly dry and dense. And a good one? Tender and slightly chewy with just the right amount of filling. 
I based this recipe on the dough used for my Steamed BBQ Pork Buns and Chinese Fold-Over Buns, with a few changes. Instead of using Hong Kong flour, which is harder to find, I use regular all-purpose flour here. I also swap out the powdered sugar for superfine sugar, which creates a chewier, slightly heavier dough that steams up with a perfectly thin skin and smooth surface.

Decorated with a pair of bunny ears and a nubby nose made from soft candies, the humble buns are instantly transformed into wagashi-like Easter treats. You can also just scatter some sesame seeds in the center of each rounded bun before steaming. The buns will look elegant and easy, ideal for no-nonsense adults who aren’t in to adorably chubby bunnies. Enjoy these with Japanese green teas like a pale jade gyokuo, a toasty genmaicha, or a delicate sencha like Palais des Thés Tawaramine Shincha. Any tea that’s light, grassy, and fresh on the palette is ideal with the classic Asian flavor and look of these buns. Some may say that these Azuki Bunny Buns are too cute to eat, but as you can see I clearly don’t agree!Azuki Bunny Buns

Makes 10 buns.

Ingredients:

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup superfine sugar

1 tsp SAF instant yeast

1 tsp baking powder

1 Tbsp non-fat dry milk powder

1/8 tsp salt

1 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil

6 Tbsp lukewarm water + 1-2 tsp water more (if needed)

1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp sweetened smooth red bean paste (koshian)

black sesame seeds, for bunny eyes

soft, pink chewy candies, for bunny ears and noses (I used Hi-Chews)

non-stick spray or oil, for coating proofing bowl

Equipment:

stand mixer with dough hook attachment

large bowl

plastic wrap

work surface

chef’s knife

Tbsp measure

large bamboo steamer

wok with slightly larger diameter than steamer OR a stockpot with exactly the same diameter as the steamer

parchment paper, cut into 2 1/2″ squares

small cupcake liners (optional)

Japanese bento grass (optional)

Directions:

1.)  Place all dry dough ingredients into the bowl of a large stand mixer. Start the mixer on low, then gradually add the water and oil. About 3 minutes in, the shaggy dough should come together to form a ball. If it does not, add 1-2 tsp of water until the dough comes together. Let the dough continue to mix on low for 10 minutes, until you get a soft and supple ball of dough.

2.)  Lightly spray a large bowl with non-stick spray, coating the top surface of the dough with some of the same oil. Place the dough ball in the large bowl, then cover it with plastic wrap and place it in a draft free place to rise until almost doubled in volume.

3.)  After the first rise, take the dough out onto a work surface. Give the dough a few light kneadings, then portion it out into 10 equal pieces using a chef’s knife. Shape each dough piece into a ball, then flatten each ball into a disk about 3 1/2″ in diameter and fill it with 1 Tbsp of red bean paste. Gather the edges of the flattened dough disk, pinching them together to seal. Flip the filled dough ball over, then roll it into a slightly oval circle. Place this shaped bun on a small square of parchment paper.

4.)  Attach the eyes of the bunnies with the slightly wetted tip of a toothpick. Place the bun into the bamboo steamer. Shape a total of 10 buns, placing them at least 1″ apart in the steamer. Cover the steamer and let the buns rise for about 15 minutes, until just slightly puffy. Meanwhile, boil some water in a wok or stockpot so that the water is at least 2″ deep in the pot. 5.)  Steam the buns for 12 minutes over water at a full boil. After the buns have finished steaming, let them cool before decorating them with soft, pink candies (I used Strawberry Hi-Chews, but you could use any soft pink candy). Cut a candy crosswise, in 1/4″ thick pieces. Shape the pieces (see below) into elongated bunny ears. Use the center pink part of the candies to make tiny balls to make the bunny noses. Attach the candies to the surface of the cooled, steamed buns using light dabs of water. Decorate these buns just before serving as the attached candies get soft and sticky after being adhered to the buns. Place the buns on cupcake liners decorated with bento grass for a festive Easter finish.

Dim Sum Recipe #12: Golden Pineapple Buns (Bolo Bao)

Happy Chinese New Year!!

I hope the Year of the Sheep finds you in good sprits and ready to eat!

Yesterday my family met up for an early celebratory Chinese New Year dim sum lunch. For the first time, the hubby and I actually gave red envelopes to my niece, Maddy. As as gesture of promise and prosperity during this holiday, it’s custom for older people give good luck money stuffed in small red envelopes to the little ones. This year, the hubby and I decided to finally acknowledge ourselves as older people.
Along with red, gold is also an iconic color during Chinese New Year. We’re not talking frosty gold, we’re talking yellow, shiny, like-the-sunshine gold–the 24 K variety. Golden Pineapple Buns are where the culinary meets the karats. These buns bake-off with a gorgeous, rich, and slightly crunchy cookie-like topping. You won’t find a more quintessential Hong Kong style treat to snack on while taking in Chinese New Year festivities.Just so it’s clear, there’s absolutely no pineapple in these Golden Pineapple Buns. The name is purely inspired out of the rough textured look of the buns, like the jagged surface of a pineapple. If you’ve never enjoyed them before, think of these as a rich, buttery cookie hopping on the back of a soft, chewy bun.

This bun dough is adapted from my recipe for Baked Char Siu Bao. I swap out the oil in that savory recipe with butter here to create a richer, brioche-like dough. I also add some more sugar (1/3 cup verses 1/4 cup). What remains the same is the added water roux (tangzhong), which creates a milky-soft, chewy texture to the buns.

If you eat these straight out of the oven, the tops will be crunchy and crumbly. I actually like them even more a bit later, after they’ve cooled and the buttery crust softens. If you eat them the day after baking, a quick 15-20 second zap in the microwave and they are every bit as delicious as day they were baked.

A dark, complex Wuyi Oolong (a.k.a. Grand Scarlett Robe) or an earthy, peaty Pu-Erh are ideal pairings for these buns. Both will be bold and rich enough to stand up to that buttery crown of goodness!
Pineapple Buns (Bolo Bao)

Makes 16- 3″ buns.

Ingredients:

{Bun Dough}

3 cups bread flour

3 Tbsp Bird’s Custard Powder

1 Tbsp nonfat dry milk

1 Tbsp instant yeast (I use SAF instant)

1/3 cup white sugar

5 Tbsp butter (at room temperature)

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/4 cup water

bench flour and oil for proofing bowl

{Water Roux}

1/2 cup water

2 Tbsp bread flour

{Pineapple Topping}

1 stick butter (at room temperature)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 T Bird’s Custard Powder

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

2 egg yolks

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp almond extract

{Egg Wash}

1 egg

1 tsp milk

Equipment:

small saucepan or pot

stand mixer with dough hook attachment or bread machine

2 large baking sheets, fitted with parchment

medium bowl

large work surface

plastic wrap

chef’s knife

small bowl

pastry brush

cooling rack

Directions:

1.)  Make the Water Roux. Place a 1/2 cup of cold water into a small saucepan and add the 2 Tbsp of bread flour. Mix well until the mixture resembles homogenized milk, then turn on the stove top to medium heat. Cook the roux until it thickens up and has the consistency of a thick yogurt, making sure to keep the mixture a pure white color by not overcooking. The mixture should not exceed 150 degrees F. Place the mixture into a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap, making contact with the top surface of the roux (to prevent a skin from forming). You should end up with about 1/3 cup of roux, ready to use when it has cooled back down to room temperature.

2.)  Make the Bun Dough. Using the bowl of a stand mixer, place all the wet dough ingredients (including the roux) into the mixing bowl. Place the bowl in the stand mixer with a dough hook attachment and start to mix on low-speed. Add the yeast, sugar, milk powder, and custard powder first. Then add the bread flour gradually, a cup at a time, scraping down the insides of the mixing bowl periodically. Increase the speed to low-medium and continue to mix until the shaggy mass becomes a soft and supple ball of dough. If necessary, gradually add a teaspoon of water at a time until the dough comes together. Knead the dough for 10 minutes. Transfer the ball of dough to an oiled bowl to proof, lightly coating all sides of the dough with some of the same oil. Cover the bowl lightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough proof in a warm, draft free place for 30-40 minutes or until the mass has doubled in volume.

3.)  Make the Pineapple Topping. In a medium bowl, mix all the topping ingredients together thoroughly. Transfer this topping dough onto a large sheet of plastic wrap, then use the wrap to shape the dough into a log/cylinder, about 3″ in diameter. Unravel the plastic wrap from the dough, then cut it into 16 equal pieces (cut the log in half, then each half in half again until you get 16 pieces). Cover and set aside.

4.)  Portion Out the Dough. After the dough has doubled in volume, punch it down and transfer it to a work surface lightly dusted with bench flour. Give the dough a few light kneadings, then portion dough out into 16 equal pieces.

5.)  Shape the Buns. Shape each of the 16 pieces into a round, slightly flat ball. Place them on the large baking sheet, 8 to a sheet, so that they are at least 3″ apart from each other. Cover the buns with a large piece of plastic wrap, then let the buns rise for 30-40 minutes, or long enough for them to have doubled in puffiness. Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

6.)  Shape the Pineapple Topping. While the buns are proofing, shape each piece of the topping dough into a round-edged 3″ disk. Just use your hands to shape them. When the buns have doubled in puffiness, place one topping dough disk over each proofed bun, carefully placing it so that the bun doesn’t deflate.

7.)  Finish and Bake. In a small bowl, mix together the egg and milk to create an egg wash. Using a pastry brush, brush the tops of the buns (the topping dough) generously with the egg wash. Bake the buns for 22-25 minutes, until the tops are golden. Remove from the oven, then transfer the buns to a cooling rack to sit for a few minutes before serving.

*** Tip:  Store leftover buns in fridge for up to 5 days.  When you are ready to eat them, reheat the buns in the microwave for 15-20 seconds or until warm and soft again.

Dim Sum Recipe #8: Steamed BBQ Pork Buns (Char Siu Bao)

The number 8 is a lucky one in Chinese culture.  It’s used to indicate fortune, prosperity, and success.  This is a good thing for me, because after much trial and error, I’m happy to bring you lucky Dim Sum Recipe #8 in my series on the highly coveted Chinese tea lunch…Steamed BBQ Pork Buns!  For the longest time I wasn’t successful at making Chinese steamed buns.  My steamed buns would often end up speckled, dimpled, or lopsided…just not right.  With success finally comes the recognizable dim sum treat we know as Char Siu Bao–fluffy buns stuffed with a slightly salty, slightly sweet pork filling that’s always a crowd favorite.

What I aimed to create in a recipe for Steamed BBQ Pork Buns was a supple bun dough where I could easily make baos in 2 ways–one with a perfectly smooth top and the other the traditional way, pleated and pinched with an open top for venting.  This bun dough, based on my recipe for Chinese Fold-Over Buns, easily adapts to either shape and is extremely versatile. You can use it as a base for both sweet and savory fillings, and even enjoy the buns made with it plain.  I have many more ideas and riffs on using this bun dough, so trust me, you definitely haven’t heard the last of it!

The filling I use here is the same filling I use for my Baked BBQ Pork Buns, the buns with a golden, honey-lacquered top that’s sticky to the touch.  One thing I prefer to do for the steamed version of these buns is processing the BBQ pork through a food processor instead of dicing it into cubes.  While high-gluten bread flour is used to make baked buns heartier and chewier, low-gluten Hong Kong flour is used to make steamed buns delicate and airy.  Since the texture of steamed bread is more tender than that of the baked variety, loosening up the texture of the meat to match the bread’s tenderness makes each bite lighter and more harmonious.

I could really use some help with my pleating.  I’ve mentioned in my Ha Gao post that pleating really isn’t my forte.  Luckily, with these Char Siu Bao, poor pleating doesn’t matter. If you want a neater look to your buns, just flip the baos over to reveal a smooth top. Anyhow, steamed pork buns really should be eaten while they are still warm and fresh out of the steamer.  If you are like me and can’t get into a good pleating groove, no worries!  You and your friends will be munching on the steamy pockets before anyone will even notice any of those perfect imperfections.

At Chinese restaurants you will commonly find steamed buns with a square of parchment attached underneath to prevent each bun from sticking to the steamer.  I like to steam my buns in a bamboo steamer lined with one large round of parchment, perforated and cut to the dimensions of the steamer.  Place the baos in colorful cupcake liners immediately after steaming for a pretty and modern look.  The liners will still adhere to the buns but won’t warp as they would if they were cooked with the buns in the bamboo steamer.

If you are looking for a delicious tea to enjoy with these buns, please check out my post on Steven Smith Teamaker’s Spring Harvest blend.  It’s a Chinese Mao Feng green tea that’s fresh and slightly sweet, just like these Steamed Char Siu Bao are!  The two make a delicious pairing, and are perfect served as a light springtime afternoon snack.

Dim Sum Recipe #8:  Steamed BBQ Pork Buns (Char Siu Bao)

Makes 16 small buns. 

Ingredients:

1 batch of Chinese Steamed Bun Dough

1 full recipe of Char Siu Bao Filling

Equipment:

stand mixer with mixing bowl and hook attachment

large whisk

large proofing bowl

plastic wrap

work surface

bamboo steamer

wok with slightly larger diameter than steamer OR a stockpot with exactly the same diameter as the steamer

rolling-pin or scale

parchment, to line steamer

food processor (optional)

large frying pan or wok (for making char siu filling)

large plate

Directions:

1.)  Make 1 batch of Chinese Bun Dough (aka dough for Chinese Fold-Over Buns).  While dough is going through first proofing, make the Char Siu Bao Filling.

2.)  Make 1 full recipe of Char Siu Bao Filling.  If you prefer, process the store-bought/prepared BBQ pork in a food processor until you get a shredded-like texture to the meat, then proceed with Char Siu Bao Filling recipe.  If not, just dice the pork into 1/4 inch cubes and proceed with the filling recipe.  I’ve omitted the chives here as a like a completely reddish looking filling.  You can add chives into the filling if you prefer.  After cooking, place the filling on a large plate and cover with plastic wrap.  Set it aside to cool to room temperature.

3.)  When the first proofing is complete, cut the dough into 16 equal pieces.  You can just eyeball this or use a scale for extra accuracy.

4.)  Form each of the 16 portions of dough into balls, then roll each ball into a 3.5″ flat round. Place 1 Tbsp of the cooled char siu filling in the center of each round, then pleat the edges of the dough round and pinch to seal the top of the bun (see below).  Set finished buns into a parchment lined bamboo steamer (or large plate) about 2″ apart, then cover with plastic wrap and allow the buns about 15 minutes to proof again.  Preferably, proof the buns in a warm, draft free place.

5.)  Meanwhile, fill wok or stockpot with 3-4″ of water.  Set water on high heat and let it come to a full boil.  After the 15 minutes of proofing have elapsed, place the steamers in/on top of the wok/stockpot and cook on high heat for 8 minutes, or until the buns are puffy, fluffy, and risen.

Mini Burger Buns

It’s very common to make tea sandwiches with sliced bread, the type sliced from a Pain Di Mie loaf.  Especially for afternoon tea events, it’s fun to play around with the kinds of bread you make sandwiches with.  Different sizes, shapes, and textures make for a festive presentation.  These shiny golden few-bite buns are sure to make any tea sandwich that much more enticing!

These slightly sweet buns are made from the same dough as my Baked Char Siu Bao.  The dough has a tangzhong in it, also known as a water roux, which is added for extra softness.  With a light egg wash and some sesame seeds, these round dough balls bake up to look like perfect little hamburger or slider buns.

These go particularly well with robust, full-flavored fillings, like my BLTea Sandwiches, which are made with salty, smokey thick-cut bacon.  Depending on what you plan on filling them with, play around with the scatterings that go atop the buns.  Black sesame seeds, poppy seeds, or even wheat germ would give these mini buns a unique look and taste.

A light toasting over a hot pan lightly coated with some oil or butter makes these mini buns exceptionally delicious.  A few seconds in the microwave brings out their soft and chewy texture–a good time to fill them with some fruit jam and cream.

Whether you use these Mini Burger Buns for tea sandwichesas appetizers, or as snacks, they’ll make the most gorgeous bites you’ve ever seen.  A toothpick through the center will allow you to fill them with a maximum amount of filling, and also allow for you to effortlessly and neatly arrange them on your serving platters.

Mini Burger Buns

Makes 20- 2″ buns.

Ingredients:

{Bun Dough}

3 cups bread flour

3 Tbsp Bird’s Custard Powder

1 Tbsp nonfat dry milk

1 Tbsp instant yeast (I use SAF instant)

1/4 cup white sugar

2 Tbsp butter at room temp

3 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/4 cup water

bench flour

oil for proofing bowl

{Topping}

1 Tbsp sesame seeds

1 egg, beaten with 1 tsp of water

{Water Roux}

1/2 cup water

2 Tbsp bread flour

Equipment:

stand mixer with dough hook attachment or bread machine

scale

pastry brush

2 half baking sheets fitted with parchment paper

Directions:

1.)  Make the Water Roux.  Place a 1/2 cup of cold water into a small saucepan and add the 2 Tbsp of bread flour.  Mix well until the mixture resembles homogenized milk, then turn on stove top to medium heat.  Cook the roux until it thickens up and has the consistency of a thick yogurt, making sure to keep the mixture a pure white color by not overcooking.  The mixture should not exceed 150 degrees F.  Place the mixture into a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap, making contact with the top surface of the roux (to prevent a skin from forming).  You should end up with about 1/3 cup of roux, ready to use when it has cooled back down to room temperature.

2.)  Make the Dough.  Using the bowl of a stand mixer, place all the wet dough ingredients (including the roux) into the mixing bowl.  Place the bowl in the stand mixer with a dough hook attachment and start to mix on low speed.  Add the yeast, sugar, milk powder, and custard powder first.  Then add the bread flour gradually, a cup at a time, scraping down the insides of the mixing bowl periodically.  Increase the speed to low-medium and continue to mix until the shaggy mass becomes a soft and supple ball of dough.  This will take about 5 minutes.  If necessary, gradually add a teaspoon of water at a time until the dough comes together.  Transfer the ball of dough to an oiled bowl to proof, lightly coating all sides of the dough with some of the same oil.  Cover the bowl lightly with plastic wrap.  Let the dough proof in a warm, draft free place for 30-40 minutes or until the mass has doubled in volume.

3.)  Portion Out the Dough.  After the dough has doubled in volume, punch it down and transfer it to a work surface lightly dusted with bench flour.  Give the dough a few light kneadings, then use the scale to portion out dough out into 20 equal pieces (by weight).

4.)  Make the Buns.  Roll each of the pieces into a ball shape.   Making an “o” sign with your left thumb and index finger.  Using your right index finger, push a dough ball upwards from the underside of your “o” shaped fingers.  Continue to push upwards until you get a taut ball surface with a smooth top.  Lightly roll the base of the dough balls on a flat worksurface to smooth out the bottoms.  Place the ball on a baking sheet fitted with parchment.  Repeat this process for all 20 balls.  When done with all 20 dough balls, cover the 2 baking sheets loosely with plastic wrap (10 buns on each half sheet pan).  Let the buns rise for 30-40 minutes, or long enough for them to have doubled in puffiness.  Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

5.)  Finish and Bake.  After the second rising, brush the tops of the buns with egg wash, then sprinkle with sesame seeds.  Bake in oven for about 12-15 minutes, or until buns turn a light golden brown.

making buns 3