Thursday, 31 January 2013

Banana Rolls

It is quite funny that I was once terrified at baking breads and now I can't seem to stop.  After several attempts and professional guidance during my work training, I have built my confidence and discovered the joy of baking breads at home.  

This is another one of mom's old recipe and is a great way of using ripe bananas.  These rolls look like a sweet version of sausage rolls. And what I haven't mentioned in the title is, they are actually banana and cheese rolls.  The ripe banana is very sweet and the saltiness from the mild cheddar makes the two so good together.  I love it.  But if adding a bit of cheddar to banana is too weird for you, add some chocolate chips instead :)

Have a great weekend everyone!

P.S. I am looking for baking ideas with polenta/corn meal.  Anyone?

Banana Rolls
Makes 12 rolls

500 grams strong white flour
100 grams caster sugar
2 egg yolks
7 grams fast-actioned dried yeast
75 grams soft butter, unsalted, plus more
200 ml whole milk
12 ripe small bananas or 6 medium ones, cut in half 
1 egg, lightly beaten

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, yolks, dried yeast and butter.  Add the milk a little at a time and using a wooden spoon or a clean hand, mix until you have a lump of dough.  Tip the dough to a clean work surface and knead it until you have a smooth and elastic dough.  This might take about ten to fifteen minutes.  Alternatively, use a stand mixer with a dough hook and 'knead' for five to seven minutes.  Do check it often to prevent over-working, which can result in hard, doughy bread.  If the dough looks dry, add a bit more milk. 

Shape the dough into a ball and place in a buttered bowl and cover with a tea towel or cling film.  Let the dough prove for an hour. The dough should double in size after this time.

Once the dough has doubled in size, take it out of the bowl to your work surface and knock out the air, by punching it.  I love this bit.  And knead it again for several times.  Divide the dough into twelve roughly equal portions and shape them into little balls.  Cover them with tea towel or cling film and let them rest for thirty minutes.

Now take one dough and with a lightly floured rolling pin, flatten them into an oval shape.  I find this easier if I start from the centre of the dough to the top and then the bottom.  Try to keep the dough at an even thickness and try to roll the dough as little as possible to keep it tender. A tip I learned from mom.

When you have your oval shaped dough, place a banana (or half a banana) at the top and with a knife, make several straight slits from the middle of the dough to the bottom, but not all the way through the edges.  Roll the dough so that the banana is wrapped around it and place on a buttered baking tray, seam side down.  Continue with the rest of the dough.  Cover the rolls again with tea towel and let the prove for the last time for another thirty minutes.  In the meantime, preheat your oven to 180 C. 

Brush the rolls with an egg wash and bake them for fifteen to twenty minutes.  Take them out of the oven and whilst they're still warm, brush with softened butter all over the surface to give them shine and lovely flavour, of course :)  Let them cool a little bit which gives you plenty of time to put the kettle on for a cup of tea or coffee, and enjoy.  

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.