Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Festive Baos

We were hosting breakfast at church for about 70 people for a second time at the end of February and this time I experimented with a new recipe – or rather, a traditional one with a slight twist. I always prefer a hot breakfast over the usual cold pastries, especially during winter and the first time we did a steamed gua-bao with pork belly with some success (at least I think most people seem to like it), so I thought we would do an encore, except this time I am going to make one in red color, something I called the “Chinese New Year Special Edition”.

Beetroot is the natural choice for introducing the red color into the dough and that’s what I was using. Not knowing how the color turns out when cooked, I did a few trials to get the beetroot juice portion right for the right red color. The rest of my steamed gua-bao dough recipe was loosely based on one by Chef David Chang in his Momofuku cookbook with slight modifications.

For filling, I stuffed the bao with the braised pork with soy marinate, pickled carrot and daikon salad, cilantro and crushed peanuts. Those were typical combination for the most traditional Chinese gua-baos, with the pickles adding to the crunchiness and balancing acidity, cilantro for the refreshing herb aroma and peanuts for the extra texture. Do note this recipe probably yielded more baos that what one could consume over a meal and in more substantial size than those mini ones more commonly found these days – but leftovers kept well in the fridge for months and need only minutes to reheat on a steamer and they were good as those freshly made.

Steamed Baos Chinese New Year Edition

(yielded 25 lunch-portion baos)
  • 6 cup of flour – I saw recipes ranging from bread flour to cake flour but I thought general purpose flour worked just fine. Otherwise I think half general purpose and half cake flour worked best for the soft and fluffy texture. 
  • 1.5 cup of milk
  • 1.5 teaspoon of active dry yeast
  • 9g of baking powder
  • 120g sugar
  • 9g white or rice vinegar
  • 60g vegetable oil (use one with milder flavor like grapeseed or canola or rice bran) and more for brushing
  • Pinch of salt
  • Optional: 1 small raw beetroot (about 100g) (alternatively, use 2 tablespoon of beetroot juice)

1. (If using raw beetroot) Pre-heat the oven to 190C. Wrap the beetroot in aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour in a pan. Took out the soft cooked beetroot and leave to cool, then remove the skin and cut into chunks. Put in a blender, and blitz until smooth. Add some water if necessary to achieve the smooth texture. Set aside.
2. Warm 0.5 cup of milk and spoon in the dry yeast to bloom for at least 15 minutes.
3. Using a stand mixer, place the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar into the bowl and mix completely with the beater blade attached. Meanwhile, in the bowl with the yeast and milk already, mix in the remaining milk and vinegar plus 2 tablespoon of beetroot juice and with the stand mixer running,  Gradually pour in the oil – add it slowly and in a few batches to allow the dough took in the fat content evenly.
4. Once completely mixed, replace the beater blade with the dough hook on the stand mixer, and leave it on for 10-12 minutes to knead the dough until smooth and loosely attached to the hook.
5. Give the dough a few knead with your hand, put it in a gently oiled mixing bowl, cover with kitchen towel and leave to rise. Leave it under a warm, moist environment for 1.5 hours until the dough doubled in size.
6. Place the dough in a clean work surface, punch down the dough, and using a rubber scraper and divide the dough first in half then divide each half into 3 log-sized pieces. Using a scale, divide each log into equal 45g pieces (keep the rest of the dough under plastic wrap while you are working on one part so they won’t dry up) Roll each piece into a ball (slightly smaller than a billiard ball), and leave it in a try covered with plastic wrap and leave it to rest and rise for 30 minutes.
7. Flatten each ball with your palm, then use a rolling pin to roll it into approximately 18-20cm long (so it turned into an oval shape). Brush the flattened dough gently with oil, then use a chopstick rubbed with oil, place the chopstick in the middle of the dough and fold over to form a moon-shaped bao, remove the chopstick with the bao folded and place into the tray and let it rest again for about 1.5 hours. It should rise slightly and become more fluffy.
8. Use a steamer on the stove or steamer oven – I prefer the traditional bamboo steamer basket for the nostalgic taste but it’s not a must – steam the baos in batches for 15 minutes. Make sure gently-greased parchment paper was places at the bottom of the bao dough to prevent them from sticking to the tray or steamer basket. Do note the dough will increase in size significantly during steaming so leave plenty of room in between the dough.
9. The bao can be used immediately or let it cool on a rack completely, then place in freezer and can keep for a few months. To reheat, just place the frozen baos into the steamer for 5-8 minutes until warmed through.

Pickled Carrot and Daikon Salad

Traditional Gua-bao uses pickled mustard green as filling, but this time I am using the pickled and finely-shredded carrot and daikon, also known as Namasu which in Japanese cuisine was traditionally served during new year too with the festive white and red colors. Julienned the carrots and daikons and place in a bowl, add salt and mix well. Leave in room temperature for 30 minutes then remove the liquid, rinse the salt off completely and dry the carrots and daikons with kitchen towel. In a pan boil equal parts of rice vinegar, water and sugar with a pinch of salt until everything dissolved, cool slightly then pour to cover the julienned carrot and daikon. Refrigerate at least 4 hours and preferably overnight. When served, drain the pickling liquid.

Braised Pork

I prefer using pork belly as my gua-bao filling but you can also use pork shoulder (or a combination of belly and shoulder) if you prefer a leaner cut. I use a mixture of soy sauce, water, mirin, rock sugar, star anise, onions and shallots, garlic, bay leaves and green onions as my braising liquid ingredients, put everything in a dutch oven and slow-cook in an oven set at 110C for 8-12 hours. To make gua bao, I took out only the meat, and use a fork to shred into smaller pieces (any leftover plus the sauce was great for noodles or rice later on too)

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