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Super Soft and Moist Chinese Bakery Buns

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Picture of Super Soft  and Moist Chinese Bakery Buns
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I recently stumbled upon the bread contest and thought, “Whoa! I can actually submit a half-decent entry for this!” Then it occurred to be that being stuck on campus, it means I am currently without my bread making ingredients/tools. As a result, there will be no photos with the exception of the final product. Instead, you'll get to see the results of my attempts to draw! I'll try to get some photos up when I am reunited with my bread gear.

After much trial and error, this recipe seems to produce a product that is the closest to the soft, moist, and chewy texture of the buns sold at Chinese bakeries. It uses a water roux to achieve the desired texture.

Total time from start to finished product will be approximately 3.5 hours. This recipe will yield about 15 dinner roll-sized buns.

 
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Step 1: Gather Tools

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Before you rush out to buy ingredients, make sure you have all the essential tools. Many can be improvised, but the scale is a MUST because all measurements will be given by weight for accuracy.

Essentials:
Large mixing bowl
Wooden spoon
Whisk
Proofing container (mixing bowl or other large container)
Bowl scraper (stiff spatula works too)
Dough cutter (upside down scraper or large non-serrated knife)
Baking tray/bread pan
Scale
Tea towel or plastic wrap

Optional:
Dough kneader (bread machine, stand mixer, cheap labour…)
Probe thermometer
Parchment paper
Pastry brush

Step 2: Gather Ingredients

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Get all your ingredients ready. You can weigh everything before hand or tare your scale as you add each new ingredient to the mixing vessel (this won’t work for the eggs though).

For the water roux (the secret to soft, moist bread!):
25 g bread flour
125 g water

Rest of the dough:
540 g bread flour
86 g sugar
8 g salt
11 g Instant yeast
86 g whole eggs
59 g whipping cream
63 g milk
144 g water roux (made from above ingredients)
49 g softened butter

Other:
1 egg (for egg wash)
1 tsp sesame seeds (optional)
1 tbsp flour (for dusting your work surface)

Step 3: Prepare the Roux

Picture of Prepare the Roux
Weigh out the flour and water for the roux and mix well in a small saucepan. Cook over low to medium heat and use a whisk to stir continuously until it reaches 65 °C. If you do not have a probe thermometer, just keep stirring until you notice that the whisk cuts through the thickened paste and exposes the bottom on the pan, leaving a trail behind. Alternatively, cook the mixture until it thickens and continue to cook for one additional minute. Remove it from the heat and allow to cool to room temp.

You can make the roux ahead of time and store it in the fridge for a day. However, if the roux turns grey in the fridge, chuck it and make a fresh batch!

Step 4: Prepare the Dough

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In the large mixing bowl, combine the bread flour, sugar, salt, and instant yeast. (If you are not using dry active yeast instead of instant, let it dissolve in the milk and add it to the dough with the liquids). Then add the eggs, whipping cream, and milk. Stir it with your wooden spoon until combined.

Retrieve your roux and add it to the ball along with the softened butter. Continue to mix. Stirring with the wooden spoon will become futile soon, so just dunk your hands in and work the dough together.

Once it has formed a cohesive mass, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface (you shouldn’t need much flour since the butter will lubricate the surface and prevent stickage) and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. The kneading process forms gluten, which for various reasons, is responsible for the unique texture of bread. See Step 8 for kneading  tips.

It usually takes me around 12 to 15 minutes to complete the kneading. If you own some sort of kneading device, mix in everything in the same order and knead for 10 min or until smooth and elastic.

Step 5: Proof the Dough

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Form the dough into a tight ball (see step 8 for tips on this) and place it seam down in a lightly oiled proofing container which you have weighed ahead of time! Take note of the total weight with the dough and then cover it with a damp tea towel or plastic wrap. Place the whole thing in a warm place. While it proofs, calculate the weight of your dough.

Let the dough rise until doubled in size. This takes about an hour to an hour and a half, depending on the ambient temperature.

Step 6: Shape the Dough

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After the dough has doubled in size, carefully remove the cover and with the dough still in the proofing container, punch it down with your knuckles. Then turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and gently press out any air bubbles. This will produce a more even texture and help to redistribute some of the sugars for the yeast to chow on.

 Knowing the total weight of the dough, you can now decide how many buns you want to make and divide accordingly. I usually get about 15 dinner roll-sized buns. Dividing the dough equally by weight is important for ensuring uniform baking.

Shape the pieces into round rolls, braids, or any other desired shape. See Step 8 for shaping ideas and tips.

Transfer the shaped dough pieces to either a lightly greased or parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Lightly cover the whole thing with a tea towel or plastic sheet. (I like to butterfly a plastic fruit/veggie bag from the grocery store and use that). Place everything in a warm place and let  it rise until doubled (about 45 min, depending on the ambient temperature). Start preheating your oven to 350 °F in the meantime.

Step 7: Bake the Dough and Eat!

Picture of Bake the Dough and Eat!
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Gently peel off the towel/plastic sheet. The buns should have now doubled in size and are ready for baking. Traditionally, Chinese buns are brushed with an egg wash to get that nice glossy look, so beat an egg and apply with a pastry brush. Additionally, you may sprinkle on some sesame seeds after your have applied the egg wash.

Finally, place the baking sheet into the preheated oven and leave it there for 15-20 minutes (this may vary depending on your oven). The rolls will expand a bit more in the oven and take on a deep caramel colour. Remove the buns from the oven and cool on a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before consumption.

If you’re not eating them right away, let them come all the way down to room temperature and place in an air-tight container. They will only keep for a couple days, after which, moistness and softness will become less than optimal.

Step 8: Additional Ideas and Tips

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Kneading By Hand
There are many methods for kneading dough, but for this recipe, I use what i consider to be the  most basic one. Using the heels of either one or both of your hands, push down on the dough and then away from you. This will flatten out the dough, which you then fold in half towards you and then turn 90 degrees. Repeat this process until the surface of the dough becomes smooth and feel tacky to the touch (if you quickly poke it with a clean finger, you should be able to remove your finger without dough sticking to it). The dough will also pass the windowpane test where if you take a small chunk of the dough and stretch it out, it will stretch to a paper thin “window” that you can see through.

There is no specific amount of kneading time to achieve this stage. Pay attention to the feel of the dough. When it is ready, you’ll notice a significant difference in its resistance to your kneading efforts. Dough can be over-kneaded, at which point it will seem to just fall apart, but I’ve personally never reached this stage either by hand or machine.


Forming a Tight Ball
Forming a tight ball is before proofing the dough is something that I’ve always been told is critical. The rationale is that this step results in a stronger gluten structure that allows more gases to be trapped in the dough during proofing. This has always been something I’ve been skeptical about, but nonetheless, I always form my dough into a tight ball.

One way of doing this with a relatively small amount of dough (i.e. what this recipe calls for) is to hold the dough up with both hands and fold it in half away from you, pressing the two flaps together. Then you rotate the ball 90 degrees as if it was a steering wheel and repeat for 4 or 5 iterations. This will produce a taught skin on the surface of your down. Seal up the final fold and place it seam side down in your container.

Finding a Proofing Location
Professional bakers use a temperature and humidity controlled proofing box. If you want to make one, this Instructable may be of interest to you.

If you don't have the time to tinker around and build your own proofing box, hopefully you have a feline friend! He or she will usually seek out the warmest place in your home to nap. When it's time to proof, borrow your cat's napping spot for an hour and distract him or her for an hour : )

If you can't find a warmer location, the dough will still rise. It will just take a bit longer, so don't despair!

Shaping Tips
Be creative when shaping the buns. For a simple, round bun, place the dough on the counter. Using one hand, push it away from you using the heel of your hand. Then sweep your hand back towards you in a circular motion, using your fingers to draw the dough ball back. Repeat a couple times for each bun. You’ll get a feel for it after the first couple tries.

For the knotted rolls in the cover photo, take your dough piece and roll it into an oblong stip about 6 inches or 15 cm in length. Then tie the strips into a knot.

For 14 more shaping inspiration, see http://tipnut.com/shaping-rolls/

Other Ideas
Throw some raisins into the dough for raisin buns – I’d go with a quarter of a cup to start with
Add other fillings – any fillings you put in should be cooked and not too watery. Add the fillings at the shaping stage.
Make pull apart rolls – shape the dough into rolls and bake in a cake pan
Make a loaf – instead of making individual buns, you can bake the dough in a 9x5” loaf pan. Just remember to increase baking time to about 35 minutes. Also, cut the egg wash with a tsp of water or use only egg white since excessive browning may occur with the increased baking time.

Final Words
Have fun with this and don't be discouraged if it doesn't work out at first. I've been through many failed loaves and rolls, but It all comes together with a bit of perseverance : )


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Thank you so much for the amazing recipe, this actually the first comment i write to an internet recipe although, i 've been using internet recipes for like over 3 years now. my bread tuned out so soft and tasty , it's only one thing the amount of roux made was about 118 gms and were suppose to use 144 gms, I got stuck of course and all I did was that I added some more water, the bread was amazing , I didn't't actually get it like urs or the buns in the pic but all in all its so tasty,
What do u think I should do to get ur same texture as well??
Thanks

The recipe is 25g flour and 125g water so it is around 150g, minus the evapourting during cooking process (perhaps), 144g is doable... however, I made it 50g flour and 150g water hehe, and it turned out a bit thicken so quickly... yet still, the buns turned out great.

jlee1661 year ago
can i use regular white flour instead of bread flour? or would that change the recipe?

Actually, most family recipes posted online call for All-purpose-flour which is plain flour as well (regular flour - somewhere between cake flour and bread flour)... Usually, for soft buns, you might want them to be softer hence the mixture of some cake flour into your bread flour... I suggest you look at the protein ... for this kind of buns, ~10-11% is good... ... Whenever I can choose, I choose not to use bleached flour.

It would be much better if you use bread flour(which has high gluten content). Regular flour may never reach the status because of its low gluten content no matter how long you knead, thus you may not get that soft, pillow-y bread you want in this recipe.

hlfwy.thr (author)  jlee1661 year ago
You could give it a shot. The texture might be a little different (less chewy, more soft and crumbly) and the total kneading time might be a bit shorter for you. Your results should still be pretty tasty though!
evuong1 made it!1 year ago

Cool... I made with some adjustments, and it was reducing the liquid (milk+cream - I used milk only) down to ~100 grams. I used melted butter to brush a thick coat on the buns prior to baking, they turned out very moisture and tender... I only use egg wash when I have it redundant, otherwise melted butter does the job so good! Thanks for sharing... :))

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Gembelino1 year ago
I'm getting into my Chinese breads and cakes at the moment and will have to give this a go!
mchia12 years ago
My friend and I made your bread recipe this weekend. They are so delicious! My arms are dead from all the kneading, but it was worth it. Your recipe has been the best bread recipe I've tried so far. The rolls turned out super chewy and soft. Thank you for all of the hard work you've put into getting the recipe just right and sharing it with the internet :)
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rizanmsm3 years ago
I tried last weekend it came up perfectly. but I changed the shapes.
Everyone loved it. The instructions are very clear and easy to understand.
Thank you.
(check out some pictures)
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chowke3 years ago
Can I use this dough for steamed buns with meat and vegetable fillings?
hlfwy.thr (author)  chowke3 years ago
This isn't the ideal dough for steamed buns. It won't give you that white pillow-y steamed bun texture or taste. I haven't figured out that dough yet!
Tooraj3 years ago
It has taken me almost a year to try this. I tried it last night on Christmas Eve and what a success! Perfect recipe, perfect buns! Truly, outstanding. Absolutely bakery quality bread.

Love the weight measurements and the illustrations.

Thank you very much.

BTW, I did voted when you first published this. You should have won, but runner up winner is great too.

Merry Christmas.
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hlfwy.thr (author)  Tooraj3 years ago
Merry Christmas to you too! I'm glad you liked the recipe. Those look super yummy!
target0224 years ago
These look great!
Could I use this recipe for pork buns, with a meat filling?
hlfwy.thr (author)  target0224 years ago
Absolutely! This is the same bread as the one used for bbq pork buns at the chinese bakery.
cjccjc4 years ago
Also love the illustrations - Never had Chinese buns, and going to try this. One question, could these be used for hamburger / hot dog buns?
ktana cjccjc4 years ago
There's a great snack found in many Chinese bakeries that is basically this type of bun wrapped around a hot dog and baked. Very tasty, nice contrast of salty and sweet.
astra284 years ago
Hi! I was wondering if you had a recipe for the chinese coconut bread or egg custard bread? :) those are my favorite! thanks a lot for this recipe!
hlfwy.thr (author)  astra284 years ago
I haven't tried to make coconut ones, but I would probably try the coconut filling section from this recipe:

http://blog.junbelen.com/2010/05/12/how-to-make-coconut-buns-chinese-cocktail-buns/

As for the custard buns...I have never made them either and I hesitate to post a link because I can't find one that I like, as is. I see too much variability in recipes. If you experiment though, let me know how it goes!

okay! thanks!
ElvenChild4 years ago
this tasted really good with rice and chow mein
hlfwy.thr (author)  ElvenChild4 years ago
Awesome!
This looks amazing, i most likely cant make, does it have a particular taste?
hlfwy.thr (author)  Senior Waffleman4 years ago
Umm..They're kinda sweet. I guess they would taste kinda like brioche, as someone mentioned. I've actually never had brioche, believe it or not, so I'm not sure.

I 'd say the defining feature is not so much the flavour but the soft, light texture.
Ok, thanks =)
mybodyby4 years ago
This super. Hi from Minsk. I want to translate it and to place with myself on a site - http://mybody.by/
hlfwy.thr (author)  mybodyby4 years ago
Sure :)
kojak4 years ago
I followed your instructions. It looked a little hinky with the first addition of liquids, however after the eggs, milk and cream were involved, the 12 minutes showed real progress. I continued for 3 minutes more. I made 20 rolls at 50 g/roll. These turned out beautifully. However, being a FOG (fat, old guy) I am not really allowed to have any thing good. I gave my neighbors 16 of the rolls and I enjoyed the last 4. Each roll was about 155 calories. Calorie counts came from WolframAlpha.com
This is great. I will be serving these dinner rolls at my next party. Thanks for the tut!
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hlfwy.thr (author)  kojak4 years ago
Glad that you liked it!
JoeWirth4 years ago
Do you have the ingredients in cups, tsp.... That be awesome!!
hlfwy.thr (author)  JoeWirth4 years ago
Sorry, no. I only work with weight because accuracy is required for bread. Invest in a scale. You won't regret it!
I'd like someone to explain how a scale is more accurate. In the past, without thinking about it, I was given (and accepted) the explanation that flour (in particular, but also other nominally dry ingredients) could have varying amounts of moisture depending in the humidity, with an impication that weighing (instead of measuring by volume) could somehow compensate for that variation in moisture.

Now that I've thought about it, that explanation doesn't stand up. If there is more moisture in the flour, the (nominally dry) flour will weigh more, and measuring by weight will give you less flour. Measuring volumetrically is very accurate if you consistently use the same measuring devices (spoons and cups), and level the ingredient with a straight edge.

On the other hand, I can imagine that "heaping" measures can vary, But, how does a scale provide more accuracy than "leveled" volumetric measures.

(Just a side note: And I know that with varying moisture content in the flour you might need to vary the amount of water, but that would be done based on the "feel" of the dough. I've never had to do it. (And, I can imagine that in a large scale commercial bakery they actually measure the moisture in the flour or something similar.)
bware rhkramer4 years ago
Whilst moisture will throw off both measures, sifting flour if successful will change the measured volume, but not the measured weight.

However I expect the bigger influence is physiological. If you are developing a recipe in cups, how likely are you to round 1 cup and 1 teaspoon to just 1 cup, where as 110g or 115g are both as easy to measure.

Also no-one has explained either system to the chickens, so don't worry too much, anything needing better then a 10% tolerance is just trial and error.
rhkramer bware4 years ago
bware,

Thanks!

BTW, I follow one recipe that calls for breaking an egg into a measuring cup and then filling to a certain level. Interesting.
I have been making bread for about 20 years and have never used a recipe or weighed/measured anything, and incidentally never had a real failure. Every batch is different and every batch is an adventure. To me, making bread to a recipe would be boring, boring, boring, and anyway bread has been made for 1000s of years, yet it is only in the last 100 years or so that most people can read. So for most of those 1000s of years a recipe would be no use, even if they had fancy electronic weighing scales. For most 'every day bread' you only need 3 ingredients - flour, yeast and water and the ratio is self regulating. Technique is the thing.
here is a converter.

http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/cooking-conversions/cooking-conversions-calculator.aspx?t=t&foodg=0&foods=&fno=0#food

BeSomebody4 years ago
I voted! These look soo good :)
t.rohner4 years ago

Hello, very nice buns.

I've been baking for a long time now and i never stumbled upon "roux" in baking. Since my better half has a cooking school, i heard about roux before, and it always was a combination of flour and some fatty component.(mostly butter)
Then i took a closer look on what you do with it and after seeing how you process your "roux", it's a gelatinization of the wheat starch.(I know about gelatinization of starch from my brewing experience)
It helps to retain more water, than in non gelatinized starch mixes.(in this case, your dough...)

When i look at your ingredients, a "Brioche" recipe comes to my mind. (loaded with butter, cream, milk and eggs)

I posted a recipe of a regional sepcialty, which is a little lower in fat.

http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-make-a-Braid-%22Butterzopf%22-or-Challah/

You can also make a sweet variety of it with hazelnut, raisins, apple filling. This is called a "Russian thread" here.
Or with "prosciutto di parma" and parmigiano, i love this.

Before christmas, the dough is sweetened with vanilla sugar and little figures are formed with the dough. (especially for the kids)

By the way, you have very nice illustrations.


Novembersky4 years ago
that's why it said "scale required"
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