Monday, June 25, 2012

Oriental Bread--Man Tou

a man tou is broke down in the middle, and you can see the air holes in the bread

I'm packing away my kitchen this weekend. I can't wait for the day when I can buy a nest I call home and settle for good. But for now, all the spatula, measuring cups, and bowls will have to stay in their cardboard boxes for.

As I packed, I realized I can't update my blog if I leave all my stuff in storage while I crash in my friend's apartment for the time being. This put me in panic mode. Not only do I want to update my blog, I still want to cook and bake too! So I dashed to Google and tried to see what can I possibly learn to make without an oven. Well duh! There's tons of stuff I can make. I don't' know what I was worrying about.
Two white buns side by side

But anyways thanks to my small panic attack because I found a man-tou 饅頭 recipe that I've never thought of making. Man-tou or 饅頭 in Mandarin is a flavorless bun. It's what travelers bring with them on a long distance trip. It lasts a long time before drying up and it's loaded with carbs. Of course nowadays, people create green tea flavor, taro ones and even sweet potato man-tou. It's no longer the plain old bun that you eat when you've got nothing better to fill your empty stomach.

In no time, I got my active dry yeast soaked in warm milk while measuring out some flour and sugar. All the preparation took me about 10 minutes? When I checked on the yeast, no bubbles. Hmm...this never happened, but I'm sure the yeast will get to work once I put everything together. Not so fortunate. I had a very difficult time working with the dough. It was very elastic and the dough barely stretch out. Even after letting it rest for 20 minutes on the counter, it got slightly softer, but still too difficult to knead.

The next day I started all over again with new yeast and even got a better version of the recipe. It seems like the traditional way is to make two doughs--one old and one young, then mix the two together to get the right chewiness. Like the first day I saw no bubbles when I soak the yeast in warm water. But as I recall, I used a little more than 1 cup of water but only 1/2 teaspoon of yeast. Maybe the proportion of water is too much for the yeast to bubble up?

All I can say is. It worked, this time.

an old dough is to be kneaded into a bowl of flours
the dough on the top of the messy dough is the old dough
So what's the old and young dough I was talking about? Some Western bakeries keep a moldy little dough in their fridge, which is the key to their fragrant breads. Apparently in China, traditional man-tou makers also keep smelly doughs! Except theirs isn't moldy and they don't pass it on from generation to generation. The old dough is simply an over raised dough kept in a cold place for up to 3 months. Every time you want to make man-tou you snatch a chunk from the old dough and knead it into new flour. Whatever dough you don't use up, add it back to the old dough for next time you make man-tou. Similarly, the old dough gives man-tou a sour flavor, and it balances out with sugar to give you a light tang when you take a bite.

Another interesting thing about this recipe before I give you the recipe is that it uses cake flour! Yes, you heard me right, cake flour in bread! It gave me the right chew that I remember from childhood, when grandma used to walk a few kilometers to the market to buy me fresh buns before I drag my lazy ass off the bamboo mat.

You begin with a not so old old dough:
50g cake flour
150g all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
110g warm water
a sprinkle of salt

let yeast soak in warm water for 10 minutes
a hand is kneading the dough; the force comes from the palm of the handmeasure out the flours in a large bowl and sprinkle some salt on top
pour water and yeast over flour
gather everything into a rough ball
start kneading with the back of your palm
push the dough away, then fold it back
turn the bowl a quarter to the right/left (whichever direction you prefer)
continue to knead, fold, and turn the bowl till you get a smooth surface
the bowl at this time should be free of flour and water
cover dough with wet clothe or plastic wrap and let rest for 3-4 hours
**you can also refrigerate the dough at this time and continue the next day

main dough:
150g all-purpose flour
200g cake flour
5g active dry yeast
200g milk
40g sugar
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
15g or 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
100g old dough

pour yeast into milk
measure out the dry ingredients into one large bowl
if butter is not at room temperature, heat it up for 5-10 seconds in the microwave
pour milk and yeast into the bowl of dry ingredients
when the ingredients are roughly incorporated, knead in the old dough
when you get a rough ball, add the butter
knead the butter into the dough, folding un-buttered sides onto the buttered side
knead with the back of your palm, fold over the dough, and turn the bowl a quarter to the right
continue until you get a very smooth surface and the dough is soft to push
take a small piece of dough and flatten it between your palms, then try to open it up between your fingers
a rolling pin and a scraper are on top of a thick dough roughcontinue kneading if the dough is too thick to stretch out; if you get a thin membrane then stop kneading
cover the dough with wet clothe or plastic wrap and let rest for 20 minutes
after twenty minutes, roll the dough out into a rectangle (length longer than width)
now we will roll the dough by first tugging the bottom up into a tight rope, then with your palms, roll the dough forward
you should get a long rope
if the rope isn't even in width, roll the dough back and forth stretching out
cut the rope up into 2" pieces
let pre-cooked man-tou rest for 40 minutes before steaming

When steaming, place a sheet of baking paper on top of the metal plate, then assemble the man-tou so that they have enough space between them to rise. Cook boiler on medium heat for 12 minutes. After steaming, turn off the fire and let the pot rest for 5 minutes before opening the lid to remove the man-tous.

three buns are placed in a rice cooker and they are not touching each other so their skin won't stick after steaming

A red electric rice cooker
I used TaTung Electric Cooker

Repeat with the remaining man-tou. They keep well in room temperature. You can reheat them with steam or in microwave. It's good for breakfast with a side of scramble egg!
scrambled egg with fish paste and onion inside a bun

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