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.
Step 1: Gather Tools
Large mixing bowl
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
Tea towel or plastic wrap
Dough kneader (bread machine, stand mixer, cheap labour…)
Step 2: Gather Ingredients
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
1 egg (for egg wash)
1 tsp sesame seeds (optional)
1 tbsp flour (for dusting your work surface)
Step 3: Prepare the Roux
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
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
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
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!
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
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!
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/
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.
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 : )