Fluffy Chinese Bakery Bread (Sweet & Savory Fillings)

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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.

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Ham, pesto, and cheddar loaf

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.

My mistakes:

  • 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

Ingredients:

  • 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.

Directions:

  1.  Grease two loaf pans.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, yeast, and warm milk until completely dissolved. Let the yeast activate for 15-20 minutes.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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    dough has tripled in size

  5. 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.
  6. 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._DSC0098
  7. 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.
  8. Repeat the process and place 4 rolled dough into each greased loaf pan._DSC0106
  9. 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.
  10. Preheat the oven to 340 F.
  11. 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 :’)

Best Ever Healthy Banana Bread (Vegan, Oil-Free, GF)

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As I strolled around my kitchen, staring at the sad image of limited items in my pantry, I wondered if I should even attempt to make banana bread. The 3 limp and dark bananas laying on my counter top had an imminent death and I wanted to make use of them because all bananas deserve to turn into something beautiful rather than end up in my backyard’s soil. I’ve successfully made healthy banana bread in the past, but I had some source of fat replacement such as Greek yogurt or applesauce. But today, I had neither. However, my food science course has taught me a lot this year, making me more knowledgeable than ever on how I can ingeniously utilize my pantry staples. And with some playing around, I somehow created my BEST ever healthy banana bread. It was so surprisingly moist and flavorful versus an expected dense and dry bread. Well, science really does wonders…


Healthy Banana Bread (Oil-Free, GF, Vegan)

yield: 1 loaf OR 3 mini loaves

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. oat flour (I made my own; instructions below)
  • 3 ripe medium bananas
  • 1/3 c. sweetened soymilk, unsweetened may also be used, just add more of the sugar source
  • 8 dates (medjool or regular) soaked in hot water for 5 min. (use 12 dates if you used unsweetened soymilk)
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tbsp. ACV or lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  2. To make oat flour (if necessary), blend 2 cups of oats in batches in a high speed blender. Blend until a fine flour is formed and sift all the flour! The sifting is necessary for the bread to be as flaky and smooth as possible. Discard any extra chunks left behind or blend until it’s able to sift through the sieve.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the oat flour, baking powder and soda, and salt.
  4. Mix the soymilk with ACV or vinegar in a small bowl. It should curdle in a minute or two.
  5. In a blender or food processor, blend the dates until a caramel paste is formed. You can add a tsp. of the hot water to help the mixture blend as well.
  6. In a medium bowl, mash the bananas and add the curdled soymilk, date paste, and vanilla extract and stir to combine.
  7. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mix and stir until the batter is completely homogeneous. OPTIONAL: Add in some nuts, dried fruit, or chocolate chips:)
  8. In a greased loaf pan or one lined with parchment paper, pour the batter in. If using a loaf pan, bake for 50 min. If using mini loaf pans, bake for 20-25 minutes.
  9. Remove loaves from the oven and cool on a cooling rack for a minimum of 5 minutes.
banana bread

baked loaves

I honestly cannot contain my excitement over how scrumptious this banana bread is. If you take a moment and consider what your are eating, you’re basically eating a bowl of oatmeal in solid form! All the fiber, antioxidants, and minerals from the oat flour, potassium from bananas, and Vitamin B6 and B12 from the soymilk help to keep your body full of energy without any ounce of fat! It’s hard to believe, but this banana bread is actually gluten-free, vegan, refined sugar-free, and oil-free!! It’s a long pretentious list of “healthiness”, but why not make a delicious, moist cake-dessert healthy? It’s a win-win right here.

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moist and flaky

And thus, I sat at my table and feasted on the best-ever healthy banana bread with a cup of cold milk. As you could tell, it was a beautiful moment.

 

Microwave English Muffin (Vegan + GF)

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This is a recipe taken from Big Man’s World that is absolutely simple, foolproof, and healthy! I have made these for breakfast multiple times and they never disappoint. The great thing about this recipe is that it is low-cost, vegan, and gluten-free so it’s an ideal bread alternative for someone with Celiac’s disease. All the ingredients used are natural and are a great source of fiber from rolled oats and alpha-linoleic acid from the chia seeds. I ended up making an eggs benedict-type of breakfast with the English muffin, it goes great with almond butter (check out how to make homemade almond butter!), jam (check out how to make homemade chia jam!), honey, ricotta… really whatever you have on hand would serve as a great topping for the muffins.


Microwave English Muffin (Vegan + GF)

yield: 1 large English muffin

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup rolled oats (gluten free, if necessary)
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds or flax meal
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened applesauce (I used a quick homemade apple sauce where I microwaved apple slices and placed in a food processor)
  • 1 tbsp non-dairy milk

Instructions:

  1. In a blender or food processor, process the oats, chia/flax seeds, and baking powder until a fine and evenly mixed powder forms
  2. Transfer to a small cup, bowl, or ramekin, and add the applesauce and nondairy milk, and mix until dough forms. Flatten the top of the dough.
  3. Microwave for 2 minutes on high.
  4. Let it cool for 2 minutes and then slice, toast (optional), and enjoy with your toppings of choice!

On a side note, I made my English muffin breakfast a tad crazy as I loaded on the toppings, but I am all for creativity so top as you please! I included caramelized onions, tomatoes, goat cheese, cucumber slices, and turkey bacon.

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pre-microwave

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post-microwave

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a close up on the goodness

-Jamie

Matcha Buns 2 Flavors: Taro and Adzuki Beans (Vegan)

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Taro matcha buns

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Adzuki matcha buns

Matcha has been around in East Asian cuisine for as long as I can think of, but the superfine green tea powder has recently gained mass popularity in the United States with dishes from matcha lattes to matcha croissants! This ingredient is high in antioxidants and provides a natural bright, luscious hue to foods. From seeing matcha ice cream, mochi, to lattes, I haven’t seen matcha baozi (buns) served at any cafe or restaurant and today I decided to put a unique twist on these buns by stuffing the buns with two typical Asian flavors: adzuki beans and taro, which both have deep colors that pair well with the earthy green color from the matcha. Not to mention, this recipe is vegan!!!


 

Steamed Matcha Buns

yield: 8 buns

Ingredients:

For the dough:

  • 1 1/4 c. all purpose flour (plus more for dusting)
  • 1/2 c. lukewarm water
  • 5 tsp. white sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. active yeast
  • 1 tsp. flavorless oil
  • 1 tsp. matcha powder
  • flavorless oil (for brushing)
  • red and purple food coloring for labeling the flavors(optional)

For Adzuki beans filling (yield 4; double if you want to yield 8):

  • 6 tbsp. canned adzuki beans

For taro filling, recipe can be found from my Sweet Soft Taro-Filled Flatbread recipe. However, I added 1-2 drops of purple food coloring to enhance the color so that the green bun and purple filling colors would contrast better.

Directions (step by step pictures down below):

  1. Pour lukewarm water into a medium-sized bowl, along with the sugar. Mix thoroughly until the sugar is dissolved.
  2. Sprinkle the yeast into the liquid and mix thoroughly until dissolved. Then add the matcha powder until the liquid is completely mixed.
  3. Pour the flour in and knead with a fork or hands for 8 minutes. Add the oil and knead for an additional minute.
  4. Pour the dough onto a floured surface and knead the dough for 5 min. Ball the dough up and cover with a bowl for 30 min. to let it rise.
  5. After 30 min, the dough should have risen a little bit. Punch the middle of the dough to release air bubbles; gently knead the dough for 30 sec. then ball it up and cover with a bowl for another 20 min.
  6. After 20 min, the dough should risen more and the dough should be soft and fluffy.
  7. Cut the dough into 8 even pieces and ball them up and place on the side.
  8. For each ball of dough, use a rolling pin to roll the dough out, making sure that the sides are thin and the middle is much thicker. The flattened dough should be about 2 1/2 in. in diameter. Place a heaping 1 1/2 tbsp. filling (taro or adzuki) in the middle and pinch the sides in, sealing tightly so that the filling does not come out.
  9. Use your hands to rotate the bun so that the top is completely smooth and the bun is perfectly round.
  10. Place in a steamer using muffin liners and brush the top of the buns with a little bit of oil.
  11. I then used a toothpick to put a tiny dot on the buns to indicate which flavor is which. I used purple food coloring for taro and red for adzuki beans.
  12. Cover the steamer with a lid and let the buns rise for at least 15 min.
  13. Place 1/2 c. water in a large wok or pot and steam the buns (covered) on high heat for 10 min.
  14. Then remove the lid and continue to steam on high heat for an additional 5 min.
  15. Remove the steamer and let the buns cool for 15 min. If you don’t cool the buns enough, the muffin liners will be difficult to remove.
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Matcha dough ball

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Cover with a bowl to let the dough rise

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I used canned adzuki beans from a Korean grocery store

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Portion dough into 8 even pieces

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Ball the dough up

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Stuff with a generous amount of adzuki beans

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Stuff with a generous amount of taro

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Seal the edges (this is the bottom of the bun)

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Place buns in the steamer

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I color coded the two flavors with food coloring

Cut open the buns carefully and mentally says “Oooh and Aaah” because the colors are just too gorgeous, and the buns taste just as good as it looks!

-Jamie

A Glorious Loaf of Bread: Nut and Seed Bread Recipe (GF and Vegan)

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Topped with chia jam and avocado

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Nuts and seeds bread

Loitering among the miscellany of breads and baked goods in Central Market continuously induces contentment because wheat-infused air and the overwhelming display of intricately-crafted balls of gluten rings perfection. I’m a bread enthusiast, constantly exploring the art of bread-making. In front of my eyes was a glut of bread samples, and I shamelessly began the carb-adventure with a plain ciabatta bread, working through hatch pepper cheddar scones, lemon ricotta cookies, purple wheat bread, and ending with a “seed bread” packed with poppy and sunflower seeds. Instantly, I fell for the seed bread as I reached for seconds and thirds because seeds in bread provides an earthy taste and crunchy texture that I love.

However, stores rarely add enough seeds and nuts to my liking, and if they do, they loaf costs around a whopping $11. It only seemed sensible to make my own, packed with nuts and seeds, resulting in a high-protein, high-fiber, healthy loaf of bread. I formulated a vegan and gluten-free recipe, inspired by a Paleo, Stone-Age Nordic Bread Recipe, which comprises a variety of nuts and seeds.


 

Nut and Seed Bread

yield: 1 loaf

Ingredients:

  • 1 c. pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 c. flax seeds
  • 1/2 c. nuts (almonds, walnuts, or hazelnuts; any nuts work) I used raw almonds
  • 1 c. gluten-free rolled oats
  • 4 tbsp. ground flaxseeds
  • 1 c. water
  • 1 tbsp. agave or maple syrup
  • 3 tbsp. chia seeds
  • 2 tbsp. oil (I used coconut oil, but you can use olive oil if you would like an olive scented loaf)

Directions:

  1. Cut the nuts in half (I found this to be beneficial because whole almonds made the loaf a bit more difficult to slice). Then, combine all the ingredients in a bowl and pour into a loaf pan lined with parchment paper.
  2. Cover with plastic wrap and let the loaf sit for at least 5 hours.
  3. Bake the loaf in a pre-heated 350 °C oven for 25 minutes.
  4. Remove the loaf from the pan and bake on the wire rack for 30 minutes.
  5. Cool the loaf on a cooling rack for at least 30 minutes, which will allow the bread to firm up, making it easy to slice.

A little of this bread goes a long way because it is packed with protein, fiber, and OMEGA-3s that cause satiety for a long period of time. You can top your bread with any toppings you would like, but a couple ideas include avocado and strawberry chia jam, which I will post a recipe for tomorrow.

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Pre-baked loaf

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Baked loaf

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Two breakfast toast options

-Jamie