Monday, November 20, 2017

Heavenly double pineapple buns

Like we discussed a while ago, pineapple buns are an iconic part of any good Taiwanese style bakery, but the fact that there is never any pineapple inside them has puzzled and, to be frank, annoyed the heck out of me for years and years.

I decided recently that it was high time I did something about this. And I have to admit, this was a no-brainer, and in fact is totally easy. All you really need to do is make some pineapple filling.

Now, as it’s getting close to the holidays, I thought some ginger would be really good in there. No cinnamon or nutmeg, thank you… I have had enough of the uber-prevalent pumpkin spice that insinuates itself into just about everything nowadays from early October until someone just after Thanksgiving decides to sub in oodles of sinus-clearing peppermint. 

A nice blob of pineapple jam
Instead, we have in here a good pinch of my favorite spice, a dribble of honey in both the filling and the bread, some freshly ground black pepper to add a touch of mystery, and a dollop of butter to keep things really luscious.

You can, of course, use ready-made pineapple filling or even pineapple preserves here. I just find those a bit too sweet. However, use what’s available and what you like—that’s always most important. Plus, you can always tweak them with lemon juice and spices to (literally) tart them up. It’s your call.

Do note that I've updated that previous recipe here. Just some little tweaks in the ingredients and directions, but the results are really fantastic, especially if you can enjoy them right out of the oven. 

Pinch the bun closed
Like all the Taiwanese breads I’ve been promoting lately, these are fantastic to keep on hand for whenever friends pop by or you get a tad hungry. They really freeze well and don’t stick together. Just be careful not to stack anything on top of them, as the brittle cookie dough might get crushed. Not the end of the world, but still.

Heavenly double pineapple buns
Fènglíxiàn bōluó bāo 鳳梨餡菠蘿包
Taiwan, kind of
Makes 16 buns

Filling:
2 (20 ounce | 600 g) cans unsweetened crushed pineapple
2 teaspoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
The correct "fried egg" shape
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup | 60 ml honey
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Dough:
1½ cups | 300 ml warm water
½ cup | 50 g powdered milk
1 tablespoon bread yeast
¼ cup | 85 g honey
1 large egg, lightly beaten
4 cups | 600 g Chinese flour, plus about 1 cup | 150 g more for kneading
1½ teaspoons sea salt
2 tablespoons | ¼ stick unsalted butter, softened

Cookie dough:
2 sticks (1 cup | 120 g) unsalted butter, softened
Cook the pineapple down
6 tablespoons | 80 g sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1½ cups | 240 g unbleached bread flour

1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water
Water, as needed

1. First make the filling: Empty the cans into a medium saucepan, preferably stainless steel so that you can keep an eye on the color of the pineapple. Cook the pineapple and juice down over medium-high heat until almost all the liquid has evaporated. As the liquid recedes, be sure to stir and scrape the pan so that the natural sugars in the juice don’t burn. They will begin to caramelize, though, which is really nice, so lower the heat as needed. Once the pineapple is a golden color, add the spices, salt, honey, and butter, and continue to stir over medium-low heat until the pineapple mixture is thick. Let the filling cool while you prepare the bread and cookie doughs. This will give you about 2 cups | 475 ml of pineapple jam, and you can prepare this step far in advance, if you like; just refrigerate or freeze it for later.

Flatten the cookie dough with bags
2. Now make the bread dough: Place the water in a medium work bowl, add the yeast, powdered milk, and honey, and let the yeast soften and bloom while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Using a food processor, stand mixer with a hook attachment, or just a bowl with a wooden spoon, stir in the egg, flour, salt, and butter, and then knead to form a sticky dough, adding more flour as needed, until it is soft and tensile. Clean and dry a work bowl, form the dough into a smooth ball, and place it in the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place until it is double in bulk. Punch it down, turn it over, and cover again until it is again double in size.

3. Now for the cookie dough: As soon as the bread dough is getting its first rise, use a food processor, stand mixer, or hand mixer to beat the butter and sugar together until light. Add the egg and flour, and then mix until smooth. Scrape the cookie dough into a smaller container, cover, and chill for at least an hour. 

4. Line two baking sheets with Silpat or parchment paper. Divide the bread dough into 16 balls. Flatten each ball into a disc and fill every one with about 2 tablespoons of the pineapple jam. Pinch the dough around the jam as if you were making a baozi. Smooth the pinched area, making sure that the jam is securely sealed inside the dough. Turn the filled bun over so the smooth side is on top and shape it into a slightly flattened ball about 3 inches | 7.5 cm wide. Arrange 8 buns on each of the baking sheets. Brush each of the buns with the egg wash.

5. Prepare 2 small plastic sandwich bags and set one of them (if the bag has a fold, put that side on the bottom) on a wet washcloth on your work surface, as the cloth will help prevent the plastic from sliding around. Divide the cookie dough into 16 even pieces and roll these into balls. Try to use only your fingers and the heel of your hand, rather than your palm, as these will not warm up the dough.  

Dabbed with water
6. Place a ball of cookie dough on the plastic bag, cover it with the other bag, and press down on the dough with the heel of your hand to form a wide disc about 3 inches | 7.5 cm wide. Drape the disc over one of the balls of bread dough and pat the edges against the bread. Repeat with the rest of the cookie dough until all of the buns have been covered..

7. Dip a plastic pastry scraper in flour and make 4 even lines across the top of a bun, then crisscross these with 4 diagonal lines. (Don’t cut all the way down through the cookie dough, but rather mark them clearly, about halfway down the cookie dough, as otherwise the cookie bits will drop off into little diamonds, which would be sad.) Wipe your scraper often on a wet towel and dip the edge in flour, as otherwise it will stick and make raggedly edges. Repeat this with the rest of the buns. Use a pastry brush to dab water over the cookie topping on each bun. Let the buns rise for about 20 minutes.

8. Arrange 2 racks in the oven toward the center and then heat the oven to 350°F | 170°C. Just before you place the buns in the oven, brush that last beaten egg over the top of each one, hitting the whole cookie, so that it will brown evenly. Bake the buns for about 30 minutes, rotating the sheets top to bottom and front to back halfway through the cooking time, until the tops are a golden brown. Slide the sheets with the buns onto a counter so that they stop cooking on the bottom, and nudge them free once they have cooled. Eat warm or cooled. Store in an airtight container or freeze in resealable bags.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Taiwanese raisin cream buns

One of the mainstays of any Taiwanese bakery worth its salt is the raisin bun. It’s unlike anything we have in the West. The filling is creamy, and yet not like pastry cream, but rather with a slightly sandy texture that contrasts wonderfully with the yeasty dough.

My main complaint whenever I ate these (yes, I found time to complain between big mouthfuls) was the tiny little nuggetty raisins. They were chewy and often blah, and so seemed to be there more for visual contrast than anything else. 

I guess it's because I’ve always been a major fan of plump raisins, which aren’t that hard to achieve: all you need are relatively fresh raisins (dried up fossils are beyond redemption) and boiling water, and voila, they’re delectable.

Plumped-up raisins
The other thing I’d get cranky about was the use of margarine instead of butter. I go totally Julia Child when it comes to pastries. Go butter or go home is my mantra. But not all butters are made equal. There’s salted and unsalted, organic and not, cultured and not, and so forth. Here’s my suggestions: salted is fine for the pastries here. The advantage of unsalted is that you can calibrate the salt levels a little easier, but truth be told, the pastries will turn out great no matter what kind you use here.

I’d always head for the organic butters simply because they’re better for me (and you). But use your own judgment. 

When it comes to cultured butter, though, if you can find it, do try it. There’s a fabulous depth of flavor in cultured butter that makes other butters seem bland by comparison. And in pastries like this one, where butter turns up everywhere, a really great butter will make a world of difference in the aroma and taste. So try it and see what I mean.

Fill the dough with cream & raisins
This recipe was a lot of fun to figure out. The main thing to nail down here was the creamy filling, which is called naisu in Chinese. 

I got rid of the things like custard powder that tend to clog up too many things with their stale vanillin flavor, and then played around with the ratios until it was like the buns of my dreams. 

The topping is pretty much the same thing, but without the egg, so that it ends up like little snowflakes on the top.

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Beautiful and delicious.

Raisin cream buns
Pútáogān năisū miànbāo 葡萄乾奶酥麵包
Taiwan
Makes 16 large buns

Shape the filled bun
Filling:
½ cup | 75 g raisins (see Tips)
Boiling water, as needed
½ cup | 110 g | 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
½ cup | 85 g powdered sugar
1 cup | 100 g powdered milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla

Dough:
1½ cups | 300 ml warm water
½ cup | 50 g powdered milk
1 tablespoon bread yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
4 cups | 600 g Chinese flour, plus about 1 cup | 150 g more for kneading
The snowy topping
1½ teaspoons sea salt
¼ cup | 55 g | ½ stick unsalted butter, softened

Topping:
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
¼ cup | 50 g Chinese flour
2 teaspoons powdered milk
¼ cup | 55 g | ½ stick unsalted butter, softened

Egg wash:
1 large egg, lightly beaten, mixed with 1 teaspoon water

1. First make the filling: Place the raisins in a heatproof bowl and cover them with boiling water. Place a saucer on top to speed up the plumping process. When they are fat and juicy (say, around 20 minutes), drain off the water and let the raisins sit on a paper towel to soak up the extra moisture. Cream the butter, powdered milk, powdered sugar, egg, and vanilla together with a food processor, stand mixer, or large work bowl until you have a light and relatively lump-free cream. Stir in the raisins. Divide the filling into 16 even pieces.

2. Now make the dough: Mix the warm water, powdered milk, yeast, and sugar together in your food processor, stand mixer bowl, or a large work bowl. (BTW, you don’t need to wash out the bowl before you do this.) Give the yeast time to wake up and become very foamy, which should take around 20 to 30 minutes. If you don’t get a good head of foam, buy fresh yeast and start over.

Final rising
3. Stir the egg, flour, salt, and oil into the yeast mixture to form a soft dough. If you’re using a stand mixer, use the hook attachment; use a metal blade for the food processor, of it you’re doing this by hand, flour a smooth work surface and dump the dough out on top. Quickly knead the dough, adding more flour as necessary to keep it from sticking, until it is smooth and bouncy. Roll the dough into a ball and lightly flour it. Cover the dough with a clean tea towel, stick the bowl over the top to help keep the dough moist, and wait until the dough has risen to at least twice its original size, which will take about an hour.

4. While the dough is rising, make the topping: Mix together all of the ingredients until smooth. That’s it.

5. Cut the dough into 16 even pieces. Toss them with flour and cover with a dry tea towel to keep them from drying out. Cover 2 baking sheets with either Silpat or parchment paper. Heat a convection oven to 350°F | 175°C (375°F | 190°C for a regular oven) and set 1 rack near the center.

6. Working on one piece at a time, and working on a lightly floured surface, roll a piece into a disc about 5 inches| 13 cm in diameter. Place one ball of filling in the center and bring up the edges around it to seal the filling well. Shape the bun into a oval shape with the smooth side on top. Repeat with 7 more of the buns and filling so that 1 baking sheet is filled. Let the buns rise for about 15 minutes.

Better than Taipei's!
7. Brush half of the egg wash all over each of the buns, and then break up the topping so that it can be easily scattered over the buns, sort of like snow. Sprinkle half of the topping along the center of each bun so that it becomes glued to the buns—don't worry if some of it ends up on the baking sheet. Set the pan in the center of the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the buns are a lovely golden brown. Repeat Steps 6 and 7 for the remaining 8 pieces of dough while the first batch is cooking.

Tips

I like to use Middle Eastern raisins for these buns because their flavor is often incredibly intense. See if you can find really dark, really deeply flavored raisins, since they will make these buns almost magical.


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Use good quality butter for this recipe—there is so much of it that a really tasty butter becomes the main flavoring.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Taro horseshoe buns

One of the homiest, most comforting flavors around has to be that of taro. If you have never enjoyed this lovely tropical root, let me say that you should stop right here, head for an Asian store, buy some taro, and prepare to fall in love.

There is a warmth to taro that you just don’t find in other starchy vegetables. Yes, potatoes are nice in all their permutations, but they are, when you get right down to it, there is not an immense amount of flavor or texture. Sweet potatoes—especially delectable Garnets—are fabulous, but in a totally different way from taro. They are moist and honeyed, and when cooked the Shaanxi way, will ooze out caramel like nobody’s business.

Taro, though, has something else going on. Slightly fibrous, it cooks into a potato-like mass that smells slightly of vanilla and nuts (at least to my nose). My house has the most wonderful aromas whenever I cook with it, summoning my husband downstairs in an anticipatory trot to find out what’s on today’s menu.
Taro with my mighty peeler

Which brings us to today’s menu: baked taro buns. Nobody does baked buns like the Taiwanese. There is a lovely pan-Pacific carnival involved here, a perfect marriage between East and West. Like in those delicious green onion buns from two weeks ago, this is basically a variation on Parker House rolls, for they are rich and yeasty, with eggs and oil in the dough.

But what makes these so quintessentially Chinese are the taro filling and the spectacular shapes. I have, naturally, made these less sweet than what is traditional—you can of course make them as sweet as you want. I’ve opted instead for just a smidgen of white sugar in order to keep the pale lavender hue and a hunk of butter that is there just to keep things properly luscious. And since we have butter in the filling, I also used butter in the dough so that we have some happy harmony in each bite. Do note that I have not colored the taro, as way too many commercial bakeries do. (To be honest, I’m pretty sure that powdered mixes are involved, which sneaks in nasty old vanillin and a plethora of chemicals.) If you want, you can give this a violent violet hue. I’m not judging. Much.

Lavender-specked slices
Also note that the dough here is slightly less sweet than with those used for savory fillings. This will give you the proper juxtaposition between flavors so that you’re not overwhelmed with sugar. I’ve sanded them with coarse sugar, too, which is another reason to dial down the sweetness where you can.

As for the shapes, aren’t they beautiful? They look impossibly hard to make, but in fact are incredibly easy once you do a couple in order to get the knack down. Just fill a piece of dough as if you were making baozi, flatten it, and then slash it before rolling it up. How hard is that?

Fresh from the steamer
Like all of these buns I’m going to be talking about in the near future (I’ve been on a bit of a bun binge lately), these freeze well and heat up deliciously. Get a nice, crisp edge on them when you do that, and they might even be better than fresh out of the oven.

Taiwanese taro horseshoe buns
Yùní miànbāo 芋泥麵包
Taiwan
Makes 16 large buns

Filling:
Around 1½ pounds | 700 g taro
½ cup | 115 g sugar
¼ cup | 55 g | ½ stick unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons cream or milk
½ teaspoon sea salt

Dough:
1½ cups | 300 ml warm water
Filling the dough
½ cup | 50 g powdered milk (nonfat or regular)
1 tablespoon bread yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
4 cups | 600 g Chinese flour, plus about 1 cup | 150 g more for kneading
1½ teaspoons sea salt
¼ cup | 55 g | ½ stick unsalted butter, softened

Toppings:
1 large egg, lightly beaten, mixed with 1 teaspoon water
¼ cup sanding sugar

1. First make the filling: Wear kitchen or latex gloves when working with raw taro unless you are sure you’re not allergic to it. Remove the skin with a potato peeler, rinse the taro, and cut it lengthwise into quarters. Then cut it into ½ inch | 1 cm slices. Steam the taro for 15 – 20 minutes, or until it can be easily flaked with a fork.

2. Mash the taro (make it as coarse or fine as you like), either by placing it in a food processor fitted with a metal blade, or in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or by hand.  Add the sugar, butter, cream or milk, and salt, and mix thoroughly; if you’re using a food processor or stand mixer, you can beat it until it is light and fluffy. Taste and adjust the seasoning. If you want to add food coloring, now is the time. Divide the filling into 16 even pieces.

A baozi shape
3. Now make the dough: Mix the warm water, powdered milk, yeast, and sugar together in your food processor, stand mixer bowl, or a large work bowl. (BTW, you don’t need to wash out the bowl before you do this.) Give the yeast time to wake up and become very foamy, which should take around 20 to 30 minutes. If you don’t get a good head of foam, buy fresh yeast and start over.

4. Stir the egg, flour, salt, and oil into the yeast mixture to form a soft dough. If you’re using a stand mixer, use the hook attachment; use a metal blade for the food processor, of it you’re doing this by hand, flour a smooth work surface and dump the dough out on top. Quickly knead the dough, adding more flour as necessary to keep it from sticking, until it is smooth and bouncy. Roll the dough into a ball and lightly flour it. Cover the dough with a clean tea towel, stick the bowl over the top to help keep the dough moist, and wait until the dough has risen to at least twice its original size, which will take about an hour.

Slash the dough
5. Cut the dough into 16 even pieces. Toss them with flour and cover with a dry tea towel to keep them from drying out. Cover 2 baking sheets with either Silpat or parchment paper. Heat a convection oven to 350°F | 175°C (375°F | 190°C for a regular oven) and set 1 rack near the center.

6. Working on one piece at a time, and working on a lightly floured surface, roll a piece into a disc about 5 inches| 13 cm in diameter. Place one ball of filling in the center and bring up the edges around it to seal the filling well. Gently flatten the ball with the heel of your hand. Roll it out into a rectangular-ish shape about 8 x 4 inches | 20 x 10 cm.

7. Flip it over so the smooth side is on top, and then slash it horizontally about every ½ inch | 1 cm so that you just cut through the top layer, but not all the way through the dough. Flip it back over. Starting at the long edge, loosely roll the dough up so that the cuts are on the outside. Gently shape the bun into a horseshoe and use a pastry scraper to lift the bun onto  a prepared baking sheet. You should be able to fit 8 of these buns on each sheet, but be sure to leave around 1 inch | 2 cm between them on all sides, as they will rise. Repeat this step with 7 more balls of dough in order to fill up the sheet.
Roll it up

8. Brush the egg wash all over each of the twists, and then sprinkle them generously with the sanding sugar. Set the pan in the center of the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the buns are a lovely golden brown. Repeat Steps 6 and 7 for the remaining 8 pieces of dough while the first batch is cooking.

Tips

Use the large taro for this sort of filling, since it is very flavorful and starchy. Baby taro bulblets are much too moist and vegetal for this.

Some taro will be larger than footballs, and some will be cut into chunks. It doesn’t matter. Feel them all over and attempt to locate any soft spots, which indicates bruising and spoilage. Peel them with a heavy-duty potato or sugar cane peeler, remove any discolored or soft spots, and trim off the cut ends.
Love

Prep more taro than you can use, as it will come in very handy once you become a taro addict. Simply place the cut-up slices in freezer bags and freeze. Use them before there’s a frost buildup, but otherwise these are ready to go when you are.

Reheat the buns before you eat them, if they’ve been refrigerated or frozen. Really try to aim for a crispy exterior, as this will magnify your eating pleasure immeasurably.




Video of the roll-making process