Bread is my rock. I can survive with bread and some butter (maybe cheese), and the beautiful thing about bread is that it comes in all shapes and sizes and is a staple in every single country. I believe in the it is said that bread brings people together, because people sit down, break bread, and just talk to create bonds and meaningful relationships.
As a result of my love for bread, it is also my favorite thing to make. The texture of dough is fun to work with and the science behind bread making is stunning. Every single bread I’ve made up to this date has been homemade because I have not yet invested in a stand mixer. It certainly cuts production time by about half, but whenever I consider buying one, I just know that I can do it all by hand, and why let a machine do something that I can do? Plus, kneading dough is a FANTASTIC workout, so why not burn a few calories while at it?
As I move on to discussing Asian bakery bread, in particular, from Taiwan or China, I just want to state that Asian bread rocks. It’s unique in that it much softer, butterier, and fluffier, and often filled with combinations of unique flavors such as 1.) mayo, corn, pork sung, and green onions 2.) pudding and sugar crust 3.) ham, onions, and garlic sauce 4.) Red bean and sesame paste…. The combinations are infinite and as bizarre as some sound, they all end up working well together. Asian bread is famous for using a tangzhong method, but I found that it’s not necessary to making fluffy bread. Simple ingredients and the proper technique can result in a successful bread.
I’ve failed in making bread a plethora of times before I fully understood the science behind bread. My failures were tough, but I want to post my tips below to ensure the proper bread is made.
- Must use lukewarm water: about 105 F. I always had my water too hot, and the yeast died, resulting in flat bread.
- Always add sugar to yeast to activate yeast efficiently. A 1/2 tsp of yeast is sufficient.
- Do not add flour to yeast mixture until there are plenty of bubbles. Takes about 15-20 min. This will help rising and ensure the bread is nice and soft.
- Room temperature for rising is sufficient (around 80-85 F). BTW 83 F is room temperature for my family 🙂 I always killed my yeast by placing it in a warmed oven. Unnecessary waste of energy and resulted in failure.
- Adding excess flour when the dough initially seems wet is a NO NO. I’ve dried out my dough several times because I was impatient to knead the dough more, and I added flour which dried the dough. If the dough is sticky, continue to knead and add 1/2 tsp flour slowly at a time until the dough is smooth. If the recipe is followed correctly, not much extra flour will need to be added. TRUST ME ON THIS! I’ve made bad breads too many times due to this mistake.
- Hand kneading can take up to 30 minutes. Dough must bounce back, feel springy, and pass the windowpane test, otherwise bread will not be as fluffy! I cannot stress HOW important this tip is. It’s a must.
- Patience is KEY. Most of my failures arose because I was impatient. I didn’t let the bread rise for 1-2 hours, I couldn’t wait for my yeast to activate, and I didn’t want to knead until the windowpane test was passed. My first successful bread took me 45 min to knead, but now that I have become more skilled, it takes me about 10-15 min, which is not bad at all. Just listen to music or watch a show, and time will pass by quickly.
Fluffy Chinese Bakery Bread (Sweet & Savory Fillings)
yield: 2 loaves
- 2 1/3 c. bread flour (loosely packed)
- 3 1/2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 2 tbsp softened unsalted butter
- pinch of salt
- 2/3 c warm milk (2% or whole milk works)
- 1 egg
- 1 1/2 tsp yeast
- egg wash: 1/2 beaten egg
For sweet taro filling:
- 1 c. mashed taro
- 2 tsp cornstarch
- 3 tbsp granulated sugar or honey
- pinch salt
- 2 tsp water
- Optional: 1/2 tsp white sesame seeds for the top
For savory filling:
- 4 slices ham OR turkey
- 3/4 c. shredded mozzarella OR cheddar
- 4 tbsp pesto sauce or tomato sauce
- Optional: 1/2 tsp garlic bread seasoning for the top
NOTE: the filling recipes EACH make 2 loaves. Because I wanted variety, I did one sweet and one savory but typically most people would just make both loaves the same flavor. I’m just going for variety here.
- Grease two loaf pans.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, yeast, and warm milk until completely dissolved. Let the yeast activate for 15-20 minutes.
- Pour in the bread flour, salt, and egg, and mix until sticky and combined. On a floured surface, pour out the dough and knead for about 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, add in the softened butter and knead for an additional 10 minutes OR more until the dough passes the windowpane test and springs back when pressed. The dough will temporarily separate due to the butter and seem like it won’t come together, but keep kneading and the dough will slowly incorporate.
- Lightly grease the bowl, place the dough (shaped into a ball) in the bowl, cover it with a larger pot or plate, and place in a warm area to rise for 1-2 hours. I placed my dough outside which was the perfect mix of heat and humidity.
- Meanwhile, to make the taro filling, heat a small pot on low and pour in the water, sugar or honey, and cornstarch in and whisk until simmering. Pour in the mashed taro and whisk until combined (about 3 minutes). Turn the heat off and set aside to let the mixture cool. Add purple food coloring if desired.
- Once dough has risen, pour onto a lightly floured surface and divide dough into 8 even pieces. Using a rolling pin, roll one dough piece into a long oval shape. The dough should be about 1/8th of an inch thick. Spoon the taro onto the oval dough and spread from top to bottom, but do not get too close to the edges. Roll the dough like you would a cinnamon roll and lightly seal the edges. The edges do not need to be completely sealed.
- If doing savory, lay half a slice of deli meat, spread 1/2 tsp pesto or tomato sauce, and sprinkle some cheese and roll dough like you would a cinnamon roll.
- Repeat the process and place 4 rolled dough into each greased loaf pan.
- Beat an egg well and use a pastry brush to brush the 2 loaves of bread with egg wash. Sprinkle white sesame seeds onto the taro bread and sprinkle garlic bread seasoning onto the savory bread. Cover the 2 loaves with plastic wrap and foil and let the dough rise for an additional 20 min.
- Preheat the oven to 340 F.
- After the second rising, place the dough into the oven and bake for 22 minutes, OR until the tops are golden brown due to the Maillard reaction. The bread is delicious right out the oven but will get softer once it has set for about 15 minutes covered.
As I have concluded that this is my best bread dough up to date, I’d like to experiment with different shapes and fillings. This was a simple loaf recipe but Chinese bread is known for its beautiful shapes, so until next time, Stay tuned :’)