Monday, December 11, 2017

Pumpkin bread for this season and every day


Just in time for the holidays is this gorgeous—and gorgeous tasting—bread. Pumpkin has gradually become more than a bit beloved in Chinese bakery goods over the years. 

This vegetable is, of course, an all-American native, but everything about it seems to appeal to the Chinese aesthetic, especially when it’s used in a food that ostensibly is as nutritionally empty as white bread, because then—voilà—your kids are eating vegetables!

Pumpkin has a gorgeous color going for it, which doesn’t hurt in the least. This reddish cast is auspicious. Until modern times, Chinese didn’t have a word for “orange” in Chinese (one of life’s many mysteries), and so the color “gold” was traditionally assigned instead, which is even better when you’re trying to describe something with more cachet. So there’s that.

Pumpkin schmear
And melon seeds are a big deal with the Chinese. Teatime has always included a little saucer of salted, roasted watermelon seeds on the side for nibbling. It’s a female art, though. 

My old girlfriends in Taipei loved this snack so much that many (most?) of them had a little notch in one of their front teeth from cracking zillions of them over the years. I never quite mastered this, and often ended up with a mush of shells and kernels in my mouth that I would then try to inconspicuously get rid of, usually failing grandly in the process.

But anyway. I’ve been playing around with the idea of making a pumpkin bread that wasn’t cakelike, but truly a bread. I didn’t want it too sweet or buttery, but finely textured and full of flavor, with just enough pumpkin to turn the bread into, well, a lovely shade of gold.
Fold over the long edges
I was thinking of a ribbon of pumpkin winding its way around in the bread, both because it would be so darned pretty, and also because it would lend a wonderful moistness to the affair and completely use up the can of pumpkin puree, which I did not want to see moldering away in the back of the fridge. 

Tastewise, I put my foot firmly down on there being no pumpkin spice. But a dash of ginger is nice, as is the coconut sugar that lends a slightly honeyed aroma without turning things too saccharine.

The crowning touch is the coating of pumpkin seeds. I mean, the loaf looks bejeweled when you get done with it! Their jade color contrasts perfectly with the loaf itself, and they brown just the right amount while the dough is cooking. Full of crunch and flavor, I’ve come to adore the end pieces because then I get a ridiculous amount of the toasted seeds in each mouthful. Yet another reason to be in charge of the bread knife in your house.
A Pullman pan

Again, I’m calling for a Pullman loaf pan. This will ensure that the loaf’s surface is completely embedded with the seeds and the top doesn’t get away with bald bits. It makes a whole lot of difference here, so try it out and see.

Pumpkin times three Pullman loaf
Nánguā nánguā nánguā tŭsī miànbāo 南瓜南瓜南瓜吐司麵包
Makes 1 (9 x 4 inch | 22 x 10 cm) loaf

Dough:
1 teaspoon active yeast
3 tablespoons | 45 ml warm water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
⅔ cup | 180 g canned pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling—see Tips)
2 cups | 300 g Chinese flour, plus about ½ cup | 750 g for kneading
Patting on the seeds
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup | 60 g | ½ stick unsalted butter, softened

Filling:
1 cup | 265 g pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons coconut sugar, or packed light brown sugar
½ teaspoon sea salt
¾ teaspoon powdered ginger

The rest:
Spray oil
1 cup | 150 g untoasted, shelled pumpkin seeds
Water for sprinkling

Ready to rise
1. Sprinkle the yeast on the warm water and sugar in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. (Theoretically, you can make this bread by hand, but the dough ends up being so soft and sticky that it’s definitely easier to have the mixer do all the work.) Let the yeast bloom for about 20 minutes, and then add the egg, pumpkin puree, flour, and salt. Mix these together and then knead on medium-low speed for about 10 minutes, until the dough is elastic and silky. Add the butter and continue to knead the dough for another 5 minutes or so to really build up the gluten. Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let it rise in a warm area until the dough is at least double in size, around 1 to 2 hours. Punch it down and then let it rise another time until at least double in bulk. Dump the puffy dough out on to a board covered with flour and knead it by hand until it is not very sticky. Cover it again and let the dough rest for around 20 minutes.

Risen to the top
2. To make the filling, mix the puree, sugar, salt, and ginger together in small work bowl.

3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board, sprinkle some flour on top, and use a rolling pin to roll it out into a long strap around 18 x 8 inches | 45 x 20 cm. Use a silicone spatula to spread the filling all over the dough up to around 1 inch | 2 cm from the edges. Fold the long edges over toward the center to completely hide the filling, and then fold the short edges over each other to give you a squarish shape about 9 x 4 inches | 22 x 10 cm, which (ta-da!) is the size of your pan.  

4. Spray your Pullman loaf pan and lid with oil. Pour half of the pumpkin seeds in a large, rimmed dish. Wet your hands and smear this all over the loaf before placing it in the seeds. Pour the rest of the seeds over the top of the loaf and pat as many of the seeds into the wet dough as you can, but don’t stress if some of them fall off or refuse to fuse. What you do is sprinkle half of these renegade seeds into your pan before laying the seed-studded dough on top of them and then dust the top with any remaining seeds. Flick some more water over the dough and cover the pan with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until it almost reaches the top of the pan. (Remember that you must be able to slide the lid on top, so don’t let it overproof.)

Fresh from the oven
5. Set a rack just below the middle of your oven and set it for 350°F | 175°C. When the oven is ready, sprinkle some water over the dough to create steam inside the pan. Slide the lid onto the pan, set the pan in the oven, and bake for around 40 minutes. When you open the pan, the loaf should be a lovely golden brown and sound hollow when you tap it in the center. Remove the pan from the oven, turn the loaf out onto a cake rack, and let it cool before cutting it into slices. This freezes well, of course.


Tips

Use pumpkin puree here, not pumpkin pie filling, which has sugar and spices added.

This recipe uses up one 15 ounce | 425 g can so that you don’t have any leftovers. Yay.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Your perfect loaf of Chinese "toast"

Last week I introduced you to the concept of a roux-inflected loaf that arose from the cracklingly inventive mind of some Hong Kong chef. 

That first salvo of mine was meant to hook you through the ingenious ribbons of chocolate that turn a basic white bread into sheer heaven.  Now we are backtracking a bit in order to talk about the bread itself.

If you aren’t particularly familiar with Chinese-style Western breads and pastries, you will find their texture remarkably soft, yet resilient. This is not artisanal bread by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, it will probably remind you of your childhood, for this is the kind of loaf that supermarket sandwich bread has tried (and failed) for years to imitate.

In fact, a proper white Pullman loaf will strike you as being more along the lines of something you’d find in proper English teas, where cottony offerings cuddle softened butter and thinly shards of cucumber.
Bubbly yeast & cooled roux

You will need a Pullman loaf pan to pull this off correctly. They’re not that popular in kitchenware stores nowadays, but very much available online. In a pinch, you still can bake this bread in a regular loaf pan. It will not have that perfect square shape, but it will still be extraordinarily delicious. But get yourself a Pullman loaf pan.

One thing I’ve come to love about these pans is the exacting layer of crispiness they create around the fluffy bread. This is necessary. The bread itself is so extraordinarily light that it requires something to tether it to planet earth. And unlike the yucky crusts you asked your mom to cut off when you were seven, you’ll adore these browned wonders because they taste so good and feel so good as they crumble on your teeth.

Sticky dough ready for the first rising
This bread melts in the mouth, too. It’s pure pleasure. It lacks all socially redeeming values. It’s Chinese toast.

Hong Kong style hot water Pullman loaf
Xiānggăng tāngzhŏng tŭsī miànbāo 香港湯種吐司麵包
Hong Kong
Makes 1 (9 x 4 inch | 22 x 10 cm) loaf

Roux:
½ cup | 120 ml cool water
3 tablespoons | 25 g Chinese flour

Dough:
1 teaspoon active yeast
After the second rising
6 tablespoons | 90 ml warm water
¼ cup | 50 g sugar
¼ cup | 30 g powdered milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 cups | 300 g Chinese flour, plus about 1 cup | 150 g for kneading
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup | 60 g | ½ stick unsalted butter, softened
Spray oil
Water for sprinkling

1. Start the roux at least 1 hour before you prepare the rest of the dough, as it will need time to cool off a bit. Add the water to a heatproof measuring cup and stir in the flour. Smash any major lumps that rise to the surface, and then microwave this liquid on high for 1 minute until you have a thick roux that is very elastic. Sample the roux, and if you can detect the taste of flour, microwave it for another 30 seconds or so. Stir the roux, and then let it come to room temperature before you proceed to the next step.

Roll out a ball of dough
2. Sprinkle the yeast on the warm water and sugar in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. (Theoretically, you can make this bread by hand, but the dough ends up being so soft and sticky that it’s definitely easier to have the mixer do all the work.) Let the yeast bloom for about 20 minutes, and then add the cool roux, powdered milk, egg, flour, and salt. Mix these together and then knead on medium-low speed for about 10 minutes, until the dough is elastic and silky. Add the butter and continue to knead the dough for another 5 minutes or so to really build up the gluten. Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let it rise in a warm area until the dough is at least double in size, around 1 to 2 hours. Dump the puffy dough out on to a board covered with flour and knead it by hand until it is not very sticky. Cover it again and let the dough rise until it is again at least double in size.

About to be covered...
3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead it for a minute or so to wake it up. Divide the dough into 3 evenly-sized pieces, shaped these into balls, cover with the plastic wrap, and let them rest for about 20 minutes to fully relax the dough and make it easier to shape.

4. Working on one piece at a time, roll a ball of dough out into a 12 x 4 inch | 30 x 10 cm rectangle-ish shape, with one of the short edges facing you. Roll it up gently from a short edge to make a cylinder that is 4 inches | 10 cm long—in other words, so that it will be able to fit easily into your loaf pan. Repeat with the other two balls of dough. Cover these cylinders with the plastic wrap, and let them rest for another 15 minutes.

5. Spray your Pullman loaf pan and lid with oil. Arrange the cylinders side-by-side in the pan, sprinkle them with a bit of water, cover them again with the plastic wrap, and give them a final opportunity to rise until they almost reach the top of the pan. (Remember that you must be able to slide the lid on top, so don’t let them overproof.)
 
Gratuitous side design
6. Set a rack just below the middle of your oven and set it for 350°F | 175°C. When the oven is ready, sprinkle water over the dough to create steam inside the pan. Slide the lid onto the pan, set the pan in the oven, and bake for around 35 minutes. When you open the pan, the loaf should be a lovely golden brown and sound hollow when you tap it in the center. Remove the pan from the oven, turn the loaf out onto a cake rack, and let it cool before cutting it into slices. This freezes well, of course.

Tip

Wash your Pullman loaf and cover with water and towel it dry. They shouldn’t ever need more than that to get clean. Never wash them (or any other bakeware, for that matter) in the dishwasher, as the soap will corrode their surface.


Monday, November 27, 2017

Chocolate for breakfast

Chocolate for breakfast is my idea of a great way to start a Monday morning. The French certainly have this right in spades, as there chocolate gets stuffed into croissants or spread on slices of bread. How nice it would have been to grow up in Paris…

But that’s not to say that they’ve cornered the market on the perfect combination of bread and chocolate. My personal take on a wonderful Hong Kong-style recipe shows that breakfast can be both beautiful and delicious. Making a luscious loaf like this it will certainly put you in the running for Favorite Adult of the Year if you happen to serve it to kids. And if you are having adults over for brunch, this and a pot of coffee will all but guarantee serious adulation.

Next week I’m going to talk more about this inspired use of a simple roux known locally as “hot dough,” or tāngzhŏng 湯種, to make the bread especially moist and light. I’ll also talk more about making Pullman loaves—something you’ve probably never heard of if you are under a *certain* age—but which means the loaf is baked with a flat cover that turns it into the classic Wonder bread loaf shape. Squarish breads like this are usually called tusi in Chinese, which just means “toast,” since they are designed to be sliced and browned. When you have chocolate and other soft fillings meandering around in the dough, as in here, be sure to toast the slices for only a short time to prevent the fillings from making a getaway.
Klee, Child and Aunt, 1937

By the way, I think this bread looks like something one of my favorite artists, Paul Klee, would have adored.

Hot dough chocolate swirl pullman loaf
Tāngzhŏng qiăokèlì dàlĭshí tùsī  湯種巧克力大理石吐司
Hong Kong-ish
Makes 1 (9 x 4 inch | 22 x 10 cm) loaf
  
Roux:
½ cup | 120 ml cool water
3 tablespoons | 25 g Chinese flour

Dough:
1 teaspoon active yeast
6 tablespoons | 90 ml warm water
3 tablespoons | 35 g sugar
¼ cup | 30 g powdered milk
Jimmies!
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 cups | 300 g Chinese flour, plus about 1 cup | 150 g for kneading
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup | 60 g | ½ stick unsalted butter, softened
½ cup | 100 g chocolate sprinkles (aka jimmies)
Spray oil
Water for sprinkling

1. Start the roux at least 1 hour before you prepare the rest of the dough, as it will need time to cool off a bit. Add the water to a heatproof measuring cup and stir in the flour. Smash any major lumps that rise to the surface, and then microwave this liquid on high for 1 minute until you have a thick roux that is very elastic. Sample the roux, and if you can detect the taste of flour, microwave it for another 30 seconds or so. Stir the roux then let it come to room temperature before you proceed to the next step.

A fat, chocolate-filled snake
2. Sprinkle the yeast on the warm water and sugar in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. (Theoretically, you can make this bread by hand, but the dough ends up being so soft and sticky that it’s definitely easier to have the mixer do all the work.) Let the yeast bloom for about 20 minutes, and then add the cool roux, powdered milk, egg, flour, and salt. Mix these together and then knead on medium-low speed for about 10 minutes, until the dough is elastic and silky. Add the butter and continue to knead the dough for another 5 minutes or so to really build up the gluten. Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let it rise in a warm area until the dough is at least double in size, around 1 to 2 hours. Dump the puffy dough out on to a board covered with flour and knead it by hand until it is not very sticky. Cover it again and let the dough rise until it is again at least double in size.

3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead it for a minute or so to wake it up. Divide the dough into 2 pieces, shaped these into balls, cover with the plastic wrap, and let them rest for about 20 minutes to fully relax the dough and make it easier to shape.

4. Working on one piece at a time, roll a ball of dough out into a 30 x 6 inch | 75 x 15 cm rectangle. Dust the chocolate sprinkles down the middle of the strip. Fold each of the long edges toward the center, pinch the open edge into the roll to close it, and then roll the rope gently to smooth it out a bit. Repeat with the other ball of dough.

And the snake coiled
5. Spray your Pullman loaf pan and lid with oil. Coil the ropes into the pan so that they are more or less evenly filling the bottom, and so that the top of the dough is more or less even—you don’t have to be terribly accurate, but this step will help the loaf rise more evenly. Sprinkle the dough with water and then cover the pan with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until it almost reaches the top of the pan. (Remember that you must be able to slide the lid on top, so don’t let the dough overproof.)

6. Set a rack just below the middle of your oven and set it for 350°F | 175°C. When the oven is ready, sprinkle water over the dough to create steam inside the pan. Slide the lid onto the pan, set the pan in the oven, and bake for around 30 minutes. When you open the pan, the loaf should be a lovely golden brown and sound hollow when you tap it in the center. Remove the pan from the oven, turn the loaf out onto a cake rack, and let it cool before cutting it into slices.

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Monday, November 20, 2017

Heavenly double pineapple buns

Like we discussed a while ago, pineapple buns are an iconic part of any good Taiwanese style bakery, but the fact that there is never any pineapple inside them has puzzled and, to be frank, annoyed the heck out of me for years and years.

I decided recently that it was high time I did something about this. And I have to admit, this was a no-brainer, and in fact is totally easy. All you really need to do is make some pineapple filling.

Now, as it’s getting close to the holidays, I thought some ginger would be really good in there. No cinnamon or nutmeg, thank you… I have had enough of the uber-prevalent pumpkin spice that insinuates itself into just about everything nowadays from early October until someone just after Thanksgiving decides to sub in oodles of sinus-clearing peppermint. 

A nice blob of pineapple jam
Instead, we have in here a good pinch of my favorite spice, a dribble of honey in both the filling and the bread, some freshly ground black pepper to add a touch of mystery, and a dollop of butter to keep things really luscious.

You can, of course, use ready-made pineapple filling or even pineapple preserves here. I just find those a bit too sweet. However, use what’s available and what you like—that’s always most important. Plus, you can always tweak them with lemon juice and spices to (literally) tart them up. It’s your call.

Do note that I've updated that previous recipe here. Just some little tweaks in the ingredients and directions, but the results are really fantastic, especially if you can enjoy them right out of the oven. 

Pinch the bun closed
Like all the Taiwanese breads I’ve been promoting lately, these are fantastic to keep on hand for whenever friends pop by or you get a tad hungry. They really freeze well and don’t stick together. Just be careful not to stack anything on top of them, as the brittle cookie dough might get crushed. Not the end of the world, but still.

Heavenly double pineapple buns
Fènglíxiàn bōluó bāo 鳳梨餡菠蘿包
Taiwan, kind of
Makes 16 buns

Filling:
2 (20 ounce | 600 g) cans unsweetened crushed pineapple
2 teaspoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
The correct "fried egg" shape
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup | 60 ml honey
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Dough:
1½ cups | 300 ml warm water
½ cup | 50 g powdered milk
1 tablespoon bread yeast
¼ cup | 85 g honey
1 large egg, lightly beaten
4 cups | 600 g Chinese flour, plus about 1 cup | 150 g more for kneading
1½ teaspoons sea salt
2 tablespoons | ¼ stick unsalted butter, softened

Cookie dough:
2 sticks (1 cup | 120 g) unsalted butter, softened
Cook the pineapple down
6 tablespoons | 80 g sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1½ cups | 240 g unbleached bread flour

1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water
Water, as needed

1. First make the filling: Empty the cans into a medium saucepan, preferably stainless steel so that you can keep an eye on the color of the pineapple. Cook the pineapple and juice down over medium-high heat until almost all the liquid has evaporated. As the liquid recedes, be sure to stir and scrape the pan so that the natural sugars in the juice don’t burn. They will begin to caramelize, though, which is really nice, so lower the heat as needed. Once the pineapple is a golden color, add the spices, salt, honey, and butter, and continue to stir over medium-low heat until the pineapple mixture is thick. Let the filling cool while you prepare the bread and cookie doughs. This will give you about 2 cups | 475 ml of pineapple jam, and you can prepare this step far in advance, if you like; just refrigerate or freeze it for later.

Flatten the cookie dough with bags
2. Now make the bread dough: Place the water in a medium work bowl, add the yeast, powdered milk, and honey, and let the yeast soften and bloom while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Using a food processor, stand mixer with a hook attachment, or just a bowl with a wooden spoon, stir in the egg, flour, salt, and butter, and then knead to form a sticky dough, adding more flour as needed, until it is soft and tensile. Clean and dry a work bowl, form the dough into a smooth ball, and place it in the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place until it is double in bulk. Punch it down, turn it over, and cover again until it is again double in size.

3. Now for the cookie dough: As soon as the bread dough is getting its first rise, use a food processor, stand mixer, or hand mixer to beat the butter and sugar together until light. Add the egg and flour, and then mix until smooth. Scrape the cookie dough into a smaller container, cover, and chill for at least an hour. 

4. Line two baking sheets with Silpat or parchment paper. Divide the bread dough into 16 balls. Flatten each ball into a disc and fill every one with about 2 tablespoons of the pineapple jam. Pinch the dough around the jam as if you were making a baozi. Smooth the pinched area, making sure that the jam is securely sealed inside the dough. Turn the filled bun over so the smooth side is on top and shape it into a slightly flattened ball about 3 inches | 7.5 cm wide. Arrange 8 buns on each of the baking sheets. Brush each of the buns with the egg wash.

5. Prepare 2 small plastic sandwich bags and set one of them (if the bag has a fold, put that side on the bottom) on a wet washcloth on your work surface, as the cloth will help prevent the plastic from sliding around. Divide the cookie dough into 16 even pieces and roll these into balls. Try to use only your fingers and the heel of your hand, rather than your palm, as these will not warm up the dough.  

Dabbed with water
6. Place a ball of cookie dough on the plastic bag, cover it with the other bag, and press down on the dough with the heel of your hand to form a wide disc about 3 inches | 7.5 cm wide. Drape the disc over one of the balls of bread dough and pat the edges against the bread. Repeat with the rest of the cookie dough until all of the buns have been covered..

7. Dip a plastic pastry scraper in flour and make 4 even lines across the top of a bun, then crisscross these with 4 diagonal lines. (Don’t cut all the way down through the cookie dough, but rather mark them clearly, about halfway down the cookie dough, as otherwise the cookie bits will drop off into little diamonds, which would be sad.) Wipe your scraper often on a wet towel and dip the edge in flour, as otherwise it will stick and make raggedly edges. Repeat this with the rest of the buns. Use a pastry brush to dab water over the cookie topping on each bun. Let the buns rise for about 20 minutes.

8. Arrange 2 racks in the oven toward the center and then heat the oven to 350°F | 170°C. Just before you place the buns in the oven, brush that last beaten egg over the top of each one, hitting the whole cookie, so that it will brown evenly. Bake the buns for about 30 minutes, rotating the sheets top to bottom and front to back halfway through the cooking time, until the tops are a golden brown. Slide the sheets with the buns onto a counter so that they stop cooking on the bottom, and nudge them free once they have cooled. Eat warm or cooled. Store in an airtight container or freeze in resealable bags.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Taiwanese raisin cream buns

One of the mainstays of any Taiwanese bakery worth its salt is the raisin bun. It’s unlike anything we have in the West. The filling is creamy, and yet not like pastry cream, but rather with a slightly sandy texture that contrasts wonderfully with the yeasty dough.

My main complaint whenever I ate these (yes, I found time to complain between big mouthfuls) was the tiny little nuggetty raisins. They were chewy and often blah, and so seemed to be there more for visual contrast than anything else. 

I guess it's because I’ve always been a major fan of plump raisins, which aren’t that hard to achieve: all you need are relatively fresh raisins (dried up fossils are beyond redemption) and boiling water, and voila, they’re delectable.

Plumped-up raisins
The other thing I’d get cranky about was the use of margarine instead of butter. I go totally Julia Child when it comes to pastries. Go butter or go home is my mantra. But not all butters are made equal. There’s salted and unsalted, organic and not, cultured and not, and so forth. Here’s my suggestions: salted is fine for the pastries here. The advantage of unsalted is that you can calibrate the salt levels a little easier, but truth be told, the pastries will turn out great no matter what kind you use here.

I’d always head for the organic butters simply because they’re better for me (and you). But use your own judgment. 

When it comes to cultured butter, though, if you can find it, do try it. There’s a fabulous depth of flavor in cultured butter that makes other butters seem bland by comparison. And in pastries like this one, where butter turns up everywhere, a really great butter will make a world of difference in the aroma and taste. So try it and see what I mean.

Fill the dough with cream & raisins
This recipe was a lot of fun to figure out. The main thing to nail down here was the creamy filling, which is called naisu in Chinese. 

I got rid of the things like custard powder that tend to clog up too many things with their stale vanillin flavor, and then played around with the ratios until it was like the buns of my dreams. 

The topping is pretty much the same thing, but without the egg, so that it ends up like little snowflakes on the top.

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Beautiful and delicious.

Raisin cream buns
Pútáogān năisū miànbāo 葡萄乾奶酥麵包
Taiwan
Makes 16 large buns

Shape the filled bun
Filling:
½ cup | 75 g raisins (see Tips)
Boiling water, as needed
½ cup | 110 g | 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
½ cup | 85 g powdered sugar
1 cup | 100 g powdered milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla

Dough:
1½ cups | 300 ml warm water
½ cup | 50 g powdered milk
1 tablespoon bread yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
4 cups | 600 g Chinese flour, plus about 1 cup | 150 g more for kneading
The snowy topping
1½ teaspoons sea salt
¼ cup | 55 g | ½ stick unsalted butter, softened

Topping:
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
¼ cup | 50 g Chinese flour
2 teaspoons powdered milk
¼ cup | 55 g | ½ stick unsalted butter, softened

Egg wash:
1 large egg, lightly beaten, mixed with 1 teaspoon water

1. First make the filling: Place the raisins in a heatproof bowl and cover them with boiling water. Place a saucer on top to speed up the plumping process. When they are fat and juicy (say, around 20 minutes), drain off the water and let the raisins sit on a paper towel to soak up the extra moisture. Cream the butter, powdered milk, powdered sugar, egg, and vanilla together with a food processor, stand mixer, or large work bowl until you have a light and relatively lump-free cream. Stir in the raisins. Divide the filling into 16 even pieces.

2. Now make the dough: Mix the warm water, powdered milk, yeast, and sugar together in your food processor, stand mixer bowl, or a large work bowl. (BTW, you don’t need to wash out the bowl before you do this.) Give the yeast time to wake up and become very foamy, which should take around 20 to 30 minutes. If you don’t get a good head of foam, buy fresh yeast and start over.

Final rising
3. Stir the egg, flour, salt, and oil into the yeast mixture to form a soft dough. If you’re using a stand mixer, use the hook attachment; use a metal blade for the food processor, of it you’re doing this by hand, flour a smooth work surface and dump the dough out on top. Quickly knead the dough, adding more flour as necessary to keep it from sticking, until it is smooth and bouncy. Roll the dough into a ball and lightly flour it. Cover the dough with a clean tea towel, stick the bowl over the top to help keep the dough moist, and wait until the dough has risen to at least twice its original size, which will take about an hour.

4. While the dough is rising, make the topping: Mix together all of the ingredients until smooth. That’s it.

5. Cut the dough into 16 even pieces. Toss them with flour and cover with a dry tea towel to keep them from drying out. Cover 2 baking sheets with either Silpat or parchment paper. Heat a convection oven to 350°F | 175°C (375°F | 190°C for a regular oven) and set 1 rack near the center.

6. Working on one piece at a time, and working on a lightly floured surface, roll a piece into a disc about 5 inches| 13 cm in diameter. Place one ball of filling in the center and bring up the edges around it to seal the filling well. Shape the bun into a oval shape with the smooth side on top. Repeat with 7 more of the buns and filling so that 1 baking sheet is filled. Let the buns rise for about 15 minutes.

Better than Taipei's!
7. Brush half of the egg wash all over each of the buns, and then break up the topping so that it can be easily scattered over the buns, sort of like snow. Sprinkle half of the topping along the center of each bun so that it becomes glued to the buns—don't worry if some of it ends up on the baking sheet. Set the pan in the center of the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the buns are a lovely golden brown. Repeat Steps 6 and 7 for the remaining 8 pieces of dough while the first batch is cooking.

Tips

I like to use Middle Eastern raisins for these buns because their flavor is often incredibly intense. See if you can find really dark, really deeply flavored raisins, since they will make these buns almost magical.


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Use good quality butter for this recipe—there is so much of it that a really tasty butter becomes the main flavoring.