Friday, March 29, 2013

Chinese "pineapple" (bolo) custard buns 菠蘿包


Redemption. Don't you just love it? After my epic fail in the Chinese custard buns that I made recently, I was extremely discouraged in trying to make Asian bakery style buns again. My yeast didn't rise in the previous recipe, and I was scared to try something similar another time.

Imagine my surprise when I got assigned Christine's Kitchen Chronicles for this month's Blogger's Choice swap, which is hosted by Sarah of Taste of Home Cooking. Although I had been eyeing Christine's bolo bao recipe for a long time, I was hesitant to try it after my baking failure since the bun technique was similar. "What the heck," I thought, "Let's give the bolo bao a try."

My bolo bao (菠蘿包) dough did not want to rise (I'm guessing because my butter was still too cold), so I tricked it. I covered my dough, popped it in the microwave for 20 seconds and let it rest. Then, about 15 minutes later, I zapped it for another 20 seconds in the microwave and put it aside to rise. When I returned 2 hours later, my dough had risen. Success!

These buns were beyond phenomenal. I did not add an egg wash to mine, so I didn't achieve the beautiful golden color on the top of my pastries. However, everything else was spot on. The dough was light and chewy, and the custard inside was slightly sweet. And of course, the best part of the entire bun was the topping, which is something that I could eat plain.

Thanks, Christine, for sharing such a fantastic recipe. I'm happy to say that this was a successful attempt at a pretty intimidating pastry.  And in case you're wondering, the bolo bao is often referred to as a "pineapple" bun because of the marks on top of the bread. The diamond pattern resembles the exterior of a pineapple. There isn't any real pineapple in the pastry otherwise.

Dough
  • 2 and 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 TBSP sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 medium egg
  • 2/3 cup warm water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 TBSP milk powder
  • 3 TBSP butter
Topping
  • 6 TBSP unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 g salt (a pinch)
  • 1 TBSP milk powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Yellow food coloring (optional)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • Another egg for egg wash
Custard filling
  • 3/8 ounce custard powder*
  • 1 and 7/8 ounces wheat starch (tungmin flour)*
  • 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten
*You can substitute with 1 TBSP of vanilla pudding mix (NOT instant) and 1/4 cup corn starch

Directions
Place the dough ingredients in a bread machine according to the manufacturer’s recommendation.  Set to the dough cycle and start the machine. It takes about two hours for the dough cycle to complete. (I do not own a bread machine and simply kneaded the dough by hand, covered it with plastic wrap and heated it in the microwave for 20 seconds. I then let the dough rest for about 10-15 minutes and reheated it for another 20 seconds in the microwave. I let the dough rest for another 2 hours before it rose.)

While the dough is resting, make the topping.  In a large bowl, mix the butter and powdered sugar together. Add in the salt, milk powder, vanilla, and food coloring and mix well.  Then add the beaten egg and mix.  Finally, mix in the flour and combine. If the dough is too sticky, place it in the refrigerator to firm up.

Prepare the filling.  Combine the custard powder (or vanilla pudding mix) and wheat starch (or corn starch) in a non-stock saucepan. Add in sweetened condensed milk, and mix over low heat until combined. Add butter. Bring the mixture to a simmer while constantly stirring. The mixture should turn into a consistency like paste.  Remove the mixture from stove and allow to cool slightly.  Once the mixture has cooled, add the egg and stir constantly until it has been well incorporated. Divide the dough into 12 equal portions, shape them into balls, cover with a damp towel and set aside.

After the dough has risen, punch it down and separate into 12 equal pieces.  If dough is too sticky, add a little bit more flour.  Using a lightly floured rolling pin on a lightly floured surface, roll the dough ball into a circle. Thin out the edges more than the center.  Add a custard ball in the middle, and wrap to form a bun.  Pinch centers to seal and place on parchment paper lined baking pan, seam side up.  Repeat for the other buns.

Remove topping from refrigerator and divide into 12 pieces.  Flatten topping dough with hands and gently place on top of bun.  Using a knife, score the topping 3 times vertically then 3 times horizontally.  Repeat for other buns and let dough rise for 40-50 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

After final rising, gently re-center topping if needed.  Gently brush egg wash over each bun.
Bake for 10 minutes at 325 degrees.  Then, reduce temperature to 300 degrees and bake an additional 5 minutes.  Allow buns to fully cool before storing in air-tight containers. These buns freeze exceptionally well (for several months). Simply reheat them in the microwave for 30-45 seconds to serve.

Yield: 12 buns

Source: Christine's Kitchen Chronicles; originally adapted from Chow Times and Recipezaar

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