Sunday, March 17, 2013

Chinese baked custard filled buns (奶黄包)

One Asian food that I have always loved and will always adore are Chinese pastries. My mom and I have been known to walk into a Chinese pastry store and come out with dozens of breads, buns and other delectable delights. The owners always recognize us and even offer us a volume discount. Yeah, we're those people.

Unfortunately for me (but fortunately for my waist), the nearest quality Chinese pastry store to me is a good 2 hours away. My best friend used to live a few miles down from one, but since she moved last summer, I haven't had the time to trek over to the pastry shop. My best friend was kind enough to buy me two dozen pastries and give them to me the last time I saw her. (Thank you, Y!)

Since my visits to the pastry store are few and far between, I thought I'd try my hand at making my own pastries. My all-time favorite is the baked custard filled buns, or nǎi huáng bāo (奶黄包). If you have an Asian bakery near you, I urge you to go in and give these a try. Also get a few varieties of buns and see what you've been missing out on. These are excellent for breakfast, lunch, dinner and anything in between (they are commonly eaten as breakfast, in case you are wondering). They're a perfect snack after skating too.

I ran into many snags with this recipe. Unfortunately, my yeast never rose (I let it rest for at least 3 hours, as opposed to 1). My buns did not turn out even half as pretty as the ones I normally buy, so that was seriously disappointing (I didn't add an egg wash, so that was part of my problem). I also had to make two batches of the water-roux paste, and the custard filling was only enough to fill 8 buns. I guess making these buns just wasn't in the stars for me today. I am still glad I tried baking these from scratch, but I am afraid I will just leave it up to the experts. The only saving grace about these custard buns was that they tasted good. They sure were ugly though!

Water-roux paste (I recommend doubling this)

  • 2 TBSP bread flour
  • 1/2 cup water

 Sweet bun dough
  • 1-1/2 cups bread flour (I used all-purpose)
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 7 tsp milk powder
  • 1/3 cup caster sugar (can sub granulated white sugar)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 package (2-1/2 tsp) instant dry yeast
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2/3 cup lukewarm or room temperature water-roux paste, more or less if needed
  • 3 TBSP butter, cubed
Custard filling (recommend doubling this)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
Directions
For the water-roux paste: In a small saucepan, mix the flour and water and cook over low to medium heat. Stir constantly until the temperature reaches 150ºF.  The mixture should have thickened to a paste and you should be able to see the bottom of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat, place saran wrap over the paste and set aside. The water-roux paste can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 1 day if not used immediately.  DO NOT USE if the paste turns grey.

For the bun dough: In a large bowl or a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix together add the bread flour, plain flour, milk powder and sugar. Add instant dry yeast and continue to mix. If using a large bowl, form the dry ingredients into a well; otherwise, continue to the next step. Add the lightly beaten egg and water-roux paste and mix. Gradually add just enough lukewarm water-roux paste to form into a slightly sticky but soft dough. Knead by hand for 10 minutes (or using an electric mixer for about 3-4 minutes) until smooth and elastic. If you are kneading by hand, throw or slap the dough onto your working surface once every few minutes between kneading.
Knead in the butter until it is fully incorporated. Form the dough into a round ball, place into a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover and let it rest until it has doubled in size, about 1 hour.
 
After the dough has risen, remove it from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Punch the dough down, knead briefly and form into a ball shape. Divide the dough into 16 equal portions. Shape each portion into round balls and let them rest for 10 minutes.

For the custard filling: In a medium saucepan, whisk the sugar, flour, and salt. Add 3/4 cup of milk and mix until smooth.

Bring mixture to a boil at medium heat, whisking constantly. Do not scrape off any clumps that form on the sides and bottoms because they will leave clumps in your custard.


Cook another 2 minutes and remove from heat (do not turn off the stove). The mixture should have thickened up dramatically.


Mix the egg with remaining 1/4 cup of milk, then pour it into the mixture in the saucepan. Whisk vigorously to combine. Return the mixture to the heat and cook until it just starts to boil. There will be a lot of lumps initially but just keep whisking over the medium heat and most of the lumps should disappear.


Remove from heat and immediately stir in vanilla. Transfer the custard to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. If there are still lumps in the custard, you can 1) keep whisking until they disappear, 2) strain the custard using a fine mesh sieve to get rid of the lumps, or 3) scoop them out with a fork or spoon.


Chill at least 2 hours in the fridge or overnight.

Assembly: Preheat your oven to 375°F. Using a rolling pan, roll out one of the balls into a flat circle. Thin out the edges and leave the center a bit thicker. Add about 1 TBSP of the custard  cream into the center of the flattened dough. Avoid getting custard near the edges because it will be hard to seal.

Take opposite sides of the circle and bring them towards each other so they meet in the middle. Continue to bring opposite edges together until the filling is completely wrapped up.  Pinch off any excess dough that has gathered in the middle. Place sealed side down on a lined or lightly greased baking tray. Repeat with the other dough balls.
 
Cover the pastries and allow them to rise until they have doubled in size. If desired, brush the tops of the buns with an egg wash.
 
If desired, you can swirl any leftover custard cream on top of the buns using a pastry bag and tip. Alternatively, you can put the cream in a ziploc bag and cut off the tip of one of the corners.



Bake in preheated 375°F oven for about 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown.

Yield:  16 buns (custard and water-roux recipes above only make enough for 8 buns)

Source: Custard filling from my Asian-style bakery cake; sweet bun dough and method from Corner Café

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