Sunday, 6 January 2013

Chinese Red Bean Steamed Buns

When I was working with international students, one of the questions I get asked a lot is, "Do you speak Chinese?" And the answer to that question is "No".  And very often, people don't even bother asking the question, and just start a conversation with me in Chinese.  I listen to them until they're finished, well, to be polite, then I told them that I don't speak Chinese and they gave me this look of shock and disbelief.  Some think I lie to them, and continue the conversation anyway, insisting that I reply to them in their native tongue. 

My Mandarin is very limited, I can tell you.  OK, that's a lie.  It's pretty much non-existent.  I can say 'ni hao' (hi/how are you), xiexie (thank you) and apart from naming some Chinese dishes in restaurants, that's about it.  Oh, I also know how to say "I don't speak Chinese" in Mandarin which I thought was a good idea, but that's just caused even more confusion.    

Growing up in a Chinese family, I suppose it is one of my parents' biggest disappointments that none of their children speaks the language of my ancestors.  But that's not entirely my fault.  I went to English speaking school when I was young, and at home we only spoke in Indonesian.  Years later when I was a teenager, my dad mentioned that China is a growing major power and that speaking Chinese would be an asset.  I opted learning French instead. 

But this year, I am hoping to learn more Mandarin.  This is not a new year's resolution and I certainly make no promises that I will master this language anytime soon.  But, I'll definitely give it a good go and if I can have a small conversation with my extended family, when I get to visit China one day, that would be wonderful.

Now, on to these steamed buns or known as 'bao' or 'pao' which thankfully requires no ability to speak Chinese whatsoever.  I love them and I am so happy that I can make them myself now.  Just like baking bread, it is very rewarding.  The dough is easy to make, and once you know how to make the bun, the possibilities for the filling are endless.  This time I went for a sweet one by using red bean paste.  Before I go any further, I will confess that I bought ready-made red bean paste from a bao place.  You may be able to find it in your local Asian grocer as well or online.  Rumour has it that making red-bean paste is a long, time consuming process and you know me, I've got very little patience....

Whilst at the Asian grocer, also look for bao/pao flour.  Plain/All-purpose flour can be substituted but you will end up with a yellowish buns.  

And don't worry if you don't have the special bamboo steamer you see in bao shops.  I don't have one either.  I used a wok filled with water and using a tall wire rack which I cover with strong foil and poke a bunch of holes on the foil using a skewer. That's my base.  My wok comes with a lid which is handy, but if yours doesn't, use any large pot lid that will fit on your wok. 

Meat eaters, obviously you can fill these buns with char siew (Chinese BBQ pork) or sausage meat cooked with some finely chopped carrots, shallots, garlic, fresh coriander leaves and seasoned with soy sauce, white pepper and few drops of sesame oil... well, just a thought... :)


Chinese Red Bean Steamed Buns
Makes about 20 buns

500 gr bao flour, plus more if required
80 gr caster sugar
7 gr fast acting dry yeast
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus extra for greasing
200-250 ml water
500 gr red bean paste

Sift the flour and combine with sugar and yeast in a large mixing bowl.  Add the water, start with 200 ml and mix to a rough dough.  Mix in the vegetable oil.  If necessary, add the extra water or if it's too sticky, add a bit more flour.  Turn the dough out to a clean work surface and knead it until it is as smooth as you can make it.  This might take about ten minutes or so.  Shape the dough into a round and put it in an oiled bowl.  Cover with cling film or a damp tea towel and allow to proof for an hour or until doubled in size.

In the meantime, cut baking parchment into twenty squares measuring roughly 7 cm x 7 cm for placing the buns on while steaming.  Also, divide and roll the red bean paste into twenty little balls.

When the dough has doubled in size, give it  a punch down to remove some of the air.  Words can't describe how much I love doing this... Anyway, knead it a little and cut the dough in two.  Roll one dough into a log.  For no special reason, but this makes it so much easier to divide.  With a pastry scraper, cut each log in to ten and roll into little buns. 

Take one little bun and flatten it with the palm of your hand or a rolling pin.  Take the red bean paste and put it in the centre of the flatten dough.  To make a round bun, seal the dough by gathering all the edges and give it a gentle twist to seal.  Roll it on a work surface to make the bun really smooth.  Place on the prepared baking parchment, seal-side down.

If you plan to make a pattern, it is a bit tricky but not at all difficult.  Just a lot of pinching action.  But make sure you pinch the bun tightly.  Otherwise, they'll open up during the steaming.

Let the filled buns, rise again for 15-20 minutes which give you time to prepare the steamer of your choice.  Steam the buns in batches, making sure they're not too close to each other.  Let them steam for 10 minutes.  Just like an oven, the heat of your steamer might be different to mine.  So, do a test run using one bun.  And a tip from mom, do not peek at all during the steaming process.  If you do, there's a risk that the buns will shrink and become wrinkly...

They're best served warm.  Any leftover buns can be stored in an airtight container and re-steamed later.  I hope you give this a try. 

23 comments:

  1. Uuuuugh char siew bao were one of my favourite things in Singapore (dribble dribble dribble!). I'm pleased to know my Mandarin is about at the same level as yours; I can count to ten and know the all important ", gong xi fa cai, hong bao na lai!", and "xiao long bao" - I found those phrases enough to keep me going (xlb are after all the second most important food group after char siew bao?)

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    1. I love char siew bao and xiao long bao too.. might have to make them soon :) Oh yes, counting to ten... forgot about that and to say happy new year too... all coming back to me now :)

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  2. Hehe I'm glad I'm not alone! Alas, I don't speak much Chinese and my non Chinese husband speaks more than I do. But I make up for it in eating ;)I love the floral patterns on top!

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    1. Glad to know that I am not alone as well :)
      Thanks Lorraine.

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  3. Well, I certainly don't speak Mandarin. Is bao/pao flour rice flour? I do have a steamer basket which I use often in my wok. Would love to try making these.

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    1. No, Stephen. I believe it's bleached flour. Regular AP flour can be substituted, but the colour of the bao will be a bit yellow.

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  4. These steamed buns look so lovely. The floral patterns are so sweet.

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    1. Thanks Angie. I love the floral pattern too. They look adorable.

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  5. these look amazing :-) no worries on the language and I bet you can master learning it, happy new year

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    1. Thanks Rebecca. I had four lessons now and it's going well. Not enough to make a long conversation or order food in Chinese yet. But maybe soon :)

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  6. Oh Michael, your red bean buns are so cute...I never seen this way...they look light and fluffy.
    Happy 2013 and have a great week ahead!

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    1. Thanks Juliana. They are pretty cute and delicious :)

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  7. Oh Michael, I love steamed buns... can you please hop on over to Arizona and make a few for me??? PLEASE??? :)
    And good luck with learning Mandarin!!

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    1. If I could hop over to Arizona, I definitely would share these buns with you! And you'll grill some delicious meats for me, yeah? :)

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  8. Those buns look excellent. I love eating steamed buns, but I've never thought about making my own. That's another thing for the list of things to do when I've got the time. Speaking as someone who loves languages but really struggles to learn them, I'm full of admiration for your intention to learn Mandarin and I wish you well.

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    1. It's quite fun to do actually Phil. So give it a go when you have the time.
      Thank you for your wishes. It's going so far so good :)

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  9. michael you wont believe this, but steamed buns are my latest kitchen obsession. I'm obsessed with getting them right, so I've tested out 4 recipes so far, and am still going strong. haha. yours is up next.

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    1. Hehe... This is a very easy recipe. So do try it. Hope you love them.

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    2. tried it, and do like it! I don't use bao flour though, I use unbleached flour I can get here, which prob resutls in a less pretty look/ fine texture.

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  12. May this yummy steamed buns get you going on your language study. Definitely keeping this recipe for Chinese new year is just around the corner. Got my eye on your next posts.

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  13. Oh, Michael! I'm so proud of how far you have become with your culinary creativity. These steamed buns are absolutely divine. Just love the pretty floral shape!

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