August 12, 2008

Hong Dou Baozi

I used to make these back in the U.S., but figured I wouldn't be making them much, once we got to China. It turns out, though, that they're not very common in our neighborhood. We used to get really great ones in Hangzhou - very fluffy and packed with sweet red-bean paste. The little shop that sold them also sold really good vegetable buns as well as pork buns. I assumed we'd find pretty much the same thing in Beijing, but though northerners are known for their diet that includes more wheat, there's a serious lack of good steamed buns in our immediate vicinity.

The supermarket carries one version of hong dou baozi, but we all agreed that they were mediocre: too much dry bread and not enough smooth, tasty bean paste.

I foundpackages of dousha (the sweet red bean filling) on the supermarket shelf so knew success was close behind (that was half the battle, just finding that there actually was adzuki bean paste available). I have a recipe for dousha though I've never made it - it's available at the Korean store (Kim's Mart, which is owned by our friends/former neighbors) and it is cheap and easy to just buy it.

Anyway, I never really learned an official version of hong dou baozi, I just modified a bread recipe I used to use - you could use any recipe you're more familiar with if you wish.

This time, since I don't have my baking utensils, I just measured by eye - it turned out just fine, but I'll give you the measurements so you have an idea of what you're working with.

Bread recipe:

1/4 cup warm water (not too hot)
1 Tbsp sugar

1/2 tsp yeast

Mix these three ingredients together in a small bowl - let sit for about 10 minutes, so the yeast can proof.

In a large bowl add:

2 cups water
2 Tbsp oil

2 tsp salt

1 Tbsp sugar

Mix these. After the yeast has proofed, add it to the liquids in the large bowl.

6 cups of flour can be gradually added to the liquids. Eventually it'll become dough and be very sticky. Keep adding flour until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Keep stirring, trying to incorporate as much of the flour as possible early on.

When it becomes too stiff to stir, flour your table surface well and put the dough on that. Flour your hands and start kneading, adding more flour as the dough reveals its true stickiness.

You may need to add an additional 1/2 cup of flour or so. No worries. Just keep kneading, until the dough is supple and smooth which will indicate that the gluten is well developed.

At this point I wash the large bowl and then coat it lightly with vegetable oil. When I'm sure I've kneaded the dough long enough, I set the dough ball in, upside down, flip it over (so it's gotten lightly oiled all over) and then cover it and leave it to sit. Your rising time will vary depending on how warm your house is. Let it rise until it's doubled in size (more or less) but not so long that when you stick your finger in it it gives a big sigh and collapses completely.

Deflate the dough gently, then let it sit for about ten or fifteen minutes - it would be fine to take it out of the bowl and let it sit on the table.

Divide the dough into four equal pieces - set three of the pieces aside and cover them with plastic wrap so they don't dry out. Make a "snake" of the one other piece (a very very thick snake with about a 1 1/2 to 2 inch diameter) and cut it into rounds so that when you roll them in your hand they'll end up about ping-pong ball sized (or maybe like a golf ball would be ok). Roll them all into balls and let them sit, covered, while you work with each one.

Now you're ready to make the baozi.

Take a ball and roll it out with a rolling pin so that it maintains its circular shape (not elongating into an oval). The Chinese way to do this is to hold the dough in one hand and the rolling pin in the other (Chinese rolling pins are like dowels with curved edges, so you can use it one-handedly) and the hand holding the dough rotates it after each stroke of the rolling pin so that all parts of the edge get flattened. The middle usually ends up a little thicker. The point here is that you should just do what works best for you.

When you have a nicely flattened round that's about 1/4 inch thick, take a spoonful of the dousha and put it right in the center.

At this next point I can't pretend I'm any good at making baozi - Real Chinese Baozi-Makers are impressively nimble-fingered and they turn out beautiful creations. Amateurs like me - well, I'm a little slow and I always end up saying, "Yep, they're ugly but they still taste good."

I use a method for wrapping them up that is more akin to dumpling wrappers, but it works - it holds the dousha in for the amount of time it takes to steam and eat the bun. I don't know if it'll translate well as a written description, but here goes:

Holding the dough round (with it's dousha in the middle) in my left hand, I use my right thumb, index and middle fingers to pinch the edge of the dough like I might to make a pie crust edge. Pinching it tightly, I walk my fingers forward to make another pinch - effectively making small waves in the edge of the dough as I go around the circle, pinching each one to the one previously made. Around, around, and at the end I just pinch it some more.

You migh wish to follow Merlin's instructions - " close it up into any shape, just make sure it's closed." That's what we normally do when I have help - we end up a with a hodge-podge of shapes that we then try to identify after steaming ("oh, that's the cranky bull-dog!" "look, there's your purse!").

When you have enough to fill your steamer basket... oh yeah, you need some steaming apparatus, generally a large pot, a tray to set all the baozi out of the water, and some sort of perforated dish or something like that on which they can be lowered and lifted out of the pot. I've used bamboo steamers, vegetable steamers, and the like - a colander might even work.

Ok, when you have enough to fill your steamer basket, go ahead and set them with a little space around each bun. Then put them into the pot and turn the heat on. Steam them for 10 minutes - start timing once you see actual steam coming out of the pot.

At the end of ten minutes, turn off the heat and remove the buns to a rack to cool. They're edible as soon as they're handle-able.

This recipe makes a bunch (it's enough dough to make four loaves of bread) but we end up eating them fast - and I usually take a good portion of them, after they've cooled, and stick them in the freezer. They make for a fast, easy breakfast because they just need to be re-steamed for a few minutes (maybe 5?) to defrost and be ready to serve.

I think the packages of dousha I usually buy only end up containing enough for 3/4 of the dough. This time I experimented with the remaining dough and found that indeed you can bake bread in a toaster oven. I baked it as though I was making pull-apart rolls simply because I knew the toaster oven would have the tendency to overcook the outside and leave the inside gooey. This way, with spaces in the middle and fewer thick areas, the dough ended up baking evenly.



jenna said...

Wow Wendy - Thanks for this recipe and your dear discipline in continuing the tradition. Perhaps I'll taste one of yours someday and hope to try making them sometime soon... Hugs - Jenna

Wendy said...

Hi Jenna! I'm so glad you're checking out the blog. How's life in Davis? Maybe when we come home we'll have a hong dou baozi party!?!