Fluffy Chinese Bakery Bread (Sweet & Savory Fillings)

food

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 :’)

3 Ingredient Vegan Chinese Turnip Cake

food

The Chinese turnip cake or Chinese LuoBuoGao, is a staple found in dim sum restaurants all over the world. The savory cake is a starchy, rectangular cake commonly filled with shiitake mushrooms and sausage. At about $3 a plate when eating out, it is actually a very affordable dish to make and acts as an excellent alternative for rice and noodles. The next time you become tired or rice, I highly recommend attempting to make turnip cakes!! Almost all variations aren’t vegan because they will toss sausage into the mix, but this recipe is one of the simplest turnip cake recipes ever and requires only 4 main ingredients. Chances are, you probably have salt, white pepper, and water at home so the base of the turnip cake is very simple to make.


Vegan Turnip Cake (3 Ingredients)

yield: 9 x 3 in cake-size

Ingredients:

  • approx. 2 ft. long worth of daikon root (measurement does not have to be exact. The more daikon, the better)
  • 1 bag rice flour (CLICK HERE to see what brand and size used)
  • 9 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 5 c. water
  • 1 tbsp. white pepper
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 3 tbsp salt
  • 3 tbsp. cornstarch (optional)
  • 5 tbsp. vegetable oil OR any flavorless oil

Special equipment needed: Springform pan (I used 9 x 3 in), steam-safe plastic wrap, cheesecloth, large steamer

Instructions:

daikons

Main ingredients

  1. Soak the shiitake mushrooms in warm water for 20 minutes, or until fully soft. Once hydrated, chop the mushrooms into small square pieces.
shrooms

chopped mushrooms

2. Peel the daikon root and slice into thin strips.

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thinly sliced daikon

3. In a large wok, heat up 5 tbsp. oil and toss in the mushrooms to saute over high heat until lightly golden brown.

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saute mushrooms

4. Toss in the daikon strips and saute for approx. 5 min. After 5 min, add in 3 c. of water , salt, white pepper, sugar, and corn starch (if using), stir, and let the mixture simmer for 20-25 min. over medium heat until daikon becomes translucent (check image below). Stir the mixture every 5 min.

chopped

translucent daikon

5. In a large bowl, combine 2 cups of water with 1 entire bag of rice flour. Mix until combined. Then slowly pour the mixture into the daikon and stir until a thick paste is formed. The paste will form quickly and will require arm strength to mix. Make sure all contents are evenly incorporated.

mix

pour rice flour mixture into daikon

mess

mix until paste forms

6. Set the mixture aside. Take the springform pan and remove the bottom. Take the circular portion of the pan and lay a cheesecloth on top of it. Then lay one sheet of steam-free plastic on top. Pat the cheese cloth and plastic down so that they line the rim of the pan. Place in the steamer and then scoop in the daikon mixture.

dop

scoop mixture into springform pan

7. Steam the daikon cake over medium heat for 1 hour. Take the cake out and allow it to cool and firm for about 30 min.

cake

steamed daikon cake

8. Cut the cake into rectangular pieces and enjoy steamed or pan-fried. I personally enjoy it pan fried since it creates a crispy exterior. Dip in flavored soy sauce or hot sauce.

radish

pan-fried cakes

 

Taiwan Day 6: I Made It on the News!

travel

 

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Tossing the Chinese yoyo

The only time that I’ll ever be famous was the day local Miaoli reporters flocked to the elementary school with their load of technical equipment, ready to interview the principal along with its fellow volunteers, such as me. We had known the day before that the reporters would come, so we prepared a simple medley of talents for the camera. I felt composed knowing that the reporters were coming, but the moment I saw the white van roll up in the parking lot with three people hauling out massive tripods, video recorders, and a box of microphones and audio devices, my composure escaped my insides and was replaced with queasiness.

The schoolchildren upstairs had been sweeping floors and tidying up the classrooms since the first bell, when suddenly from below I heard thumping footsteps and echoes of children repeatedly hollering, ” 他們到了! 他們到了!” (They are here!) To keep all procedures organized, the principal, calm yet assertive, spoke on the intercom for all students to gather in the foyer and instantly all the schoolchildren frantically raced each other, competing who could sit down criss-crossed applesauce first. When the children had arranged themselves in columns by grade, the principal spoke with authority, “Today is the day, and we are so thankful for our volunteer teachers here. The local reporters have come and are ready to report all that has gone on in the past week at our school. We have been preparing for this for a couple of days so try your best and just have fun! All the yo-yo kids, head downstairs first and let’s attempt the “dragon”!” While the yo-yo kids set up on the grass, me and my fellow volunteer mates were approached by the reporters, who set up audio microphones on our backs and told us to write our Chinese names on a sheet of paper. Having the cameraman clip the audio box onto the back of my jeans and guide the wire to the back of my neck was tremendously awesome. I was about to be on Taiwanese News! Who would’ve imagined my first time on television would be in a foreign country?

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Elementary schoolkids

After I was set up, I waited to be interviewed. My stomach felt empty because I didn’t know what type of questions the reporter would ask and I had to respond in Chinese, which I am quite good at, but having to spontaneously respond on the first try on camera was frightening. In my head, I predicted some simple questions she could possibly ask, so I repeatedly rehearsed my responses in my head until I was called on. The double emotions of excitement and nervousness was overwhelming, but I confidently greeted the reporter and stood in an area of good lighting. She instructed me to speak loudly and about 2 inches away from the microphone and within seconds, my two minutes of fame began.

Initially, the reporter asked me elementary questions which thankfully I had rehearsed in my head, but I was at the highest extent of nervousness that I even had to ensure I wouldn’t butcher my Chinese name. Eighteen years I have lived with this name and even such pressure could’ve caused me to forget. More advanced questions were thrown at me and the camera was fast and rolling, but surprisingly, I briskly soared past them one by one, and by the end of two minutes, I had only stuttered once. I felt proud at the moment. Public speaking was never my forte and I personally know of my low self-esteem, but the girl that would appear on the Miaoli News later tonight would be someone of full confidence.

But my fame did not end there. I eagerly moved on to the patch of grass where the children were warming up their master yo-yo skills, and boy was I an amateur among the kids, but I had picked up Chinese yo-yo quickly in the past few days so I agreed to join the yo-yo squad on camera. The first trick performed was the “dragon”, which is great for cameras because it shows teamwork, unity, the Miaoli elementary school as one. It took only the second try for the yo-yo to smoothly move down the line of ten people, from one persons string to the next, and the toss back reached great heights and was successfully caught. We all happily cheered and we, as a school, truly were one in unity. Following the “dragon”, we performed toss ups, around the leg, spider web, and throw and catch. I performed around the leg, which can be perpetual for the ultimate yo-yo guru, but as a non-guru I was currently at 21 loops, when everyone, including the reporter and cameramen, gathered around and loudly chanted the counts in unison. I had reached 40 loops when I saw my yo-yo wobble in which I tried to straighten, but once I hit 43, my yo-yo tumbled off and rolled away on the grass. Everybody joyously hollered, clapped, and laughed and I put on a broad smile because 43 was a great number for a dilettante like me.

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On the Miaoli news

After the yo-yo portion was recorded, I was approached for a second interview on how I was so talented on the Chinese yo-yo, which, umm… I honestly wasn’t, but because I am an American who had just picked up the sport, it was pretty impressive. They then moved on to the Chinese top acts, which I had no place in because I actually had zero talent in Chinese top.  An hour had passed as I watched these little town children, flawlessly execute impressive top tricks, only wishing I was as skilled as they were. Performance can be exhausting, thus when the medley concluded with one last top trick, a lunch of fried oyster mushrooms, fresh bamboo shoots with Kewpie mayonnaise, bitter melon with salted egg, and leafy vegetables was served for all the hungry performers. All plates were later emptied of their food, and classes resumed as usual.

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Dinner

-Jamie

Spicy Tofu Snacks

food

_DSC0343Tofu has become a significant part of my diet. I was never a huge meat fanatic so I often went for weeks meat-free. Tofu comes in handy during these meat-free meals since it has a meaty texture and it is quite nutritious. I like to think of it as a portobella mushroom because they are both meaty and filling, while both excellent sources of nutrition. I often saute tofu, fry them, steam them, put them in to desserts. My favorite way of cooking tofu is to saute them with an assortment of sauces such as a thai peanut or coconut curry sauce. However, some days I may be feeling unvirtuous, so I add extra calories to my diet by frying the tofu. I know that frying is catastrophic to health but this is only once in a while.. I swear! It is so scrumptious that it’s hard to control my hand as it instinctively reaches out and grabs one tofu after another even when my stomach is bloated. The recipe is very easy and quick and only requires a few ingredients. I simply used my usual fry batter which consists of an egg and flour mixture and a panko and potato starch mixture. After frying, I tossed the tofu with jalapenos and salt and pepper. This is similar to a brownie; it isn’t something you eat often due to its high fat and caloric content, but when you do eat it, do not go with some healthy version.. go all the way!

Cumin Lamb

food

photo 2 (8)I don’t think words can describe how savory and tempting this dish is. It will cause anyone to devour multiple bowls of rice, as I had done, which was devastating since I was on my so-called “diet”. Carbs are not my best friend, but I can only put my devouring of 3 bowls of rice in the past. First, I want to say that lamb has a very distinct and unique flavor. I feel like you would either like it or hate it. It tastes a bit stinky, actually. I had tried this dish in many Chinese restaurants and I decided to whip it up myself. The ingredients are quite simple, and if you decide to make this at home yourself, you’ll find it to be so much cheaper than the price in the restaurants. Like… a lot cheaper.

Ingredients:

  • thinly chopped lamb
  • cumin powder and seeds
  • yellow onion
  • green onion
  • soy sauce, salt
  • red peppers
  • red spicy oil

Sweat the yellow onions in a pan for about 3 minutes. Add the lamb into the pan and cook until it is almost well done. Add in the green onions, cumin, soy salt, salt, red peppers, and oil. You need to add a lot of cumin since the cumin is not very strong once cooked. Only add a little bit of soy sauce so it doesn’t get too salty. Add the peppers and oil depending on how much of a spicy-fanatic you are. I advise you to keep tasting and adding to get it to match your taste buds. Since I like a bit more spice, I added more peppers, while I toned town the salt. I also added a ton of cumin for cumin is so tasty and very beneficial to health! Well… I should probably go work off my 3 bowls of rice… or not.

-Happy Cooking!