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tan_cl

Asian-style "soft" breads

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Hi, I'm wondering if the pastry experts can help me with a conundrum that I've had since I started baking bread fifteen years ago. I'm not a commercial baker and have always been fascinated by those soft breads served in Asian bakeries - the very soft crusted baked barbecued pork and other buns in Chinese bakeries, the golden very fine soft-crust Japanese breads that go by a variety of names such as Milk Bun, Butter top, English loaf, etc. I have no problems creating the hard crust for breads like French loaves, foccacia, etc. but I simply cannot get a long-lasting soft crust like the Asian bakeries. I was told to use lots of butter in a pastry kitchen where I previously worked and it worked for a while but after the bread cooled, it became [permanently] hard-crusted. Perhaps it's the quality of the flour that I use? Can anyone help?

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all i really know is that the white buns are steamed (usually the ones with filling). that keeps the "crust" soft.

the golden ones are probably based on a brioche type recipe (enriched dough). i have a feeling though that asian bakeries don't use 100% butter and lean more toward shortening or lard. baking a little less time and how/how long you proof the dough may have something to do with your crust. also, oven temperature. for european style breads, you're definitely using higher temps with steam. try to do the opposite for these.

anyone else?

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In Asian breads (i.e. baked western-style breads that are made to appeal to the Asian palate or Asian idea of what western bread should look and taste like -- white, fluffy, tender, and sweet), make a wet dough dough using bleached-white soft flour, much milk, much fat (butter or lard), much sugar, egg(s), salt, yeast; that's it. Before baking, the crust is brushed with beaten egg or egg yolk with ot without sugar or melted butter mixed in; this treatment keeps the crust soft. Do not bake too long. Sometimes crusts are also brushed with melted butter with or without sugar after baking, another way to keep the crust soft. If you want a very, very soft crust, cover with, or wrap in, a damp cloth after removing from the oven, during the cooling period.


Edited by browniebaker (log)

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Sorry for the spelling, but are you talking about humbau? These are the large dumpling type mouthwatering savory items. Usually they have pork and a filling inside and then about a 1/4 inch bread/dumpling type outside that is soft?

I love making these and I pull them out of the freezer (sorry, I buy premade). I do put them in a bamboo steamer to "bake" them though. If it isn't this sorry, but this is all I thought of reading your post.

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I will check my books this weekend to see if I have a recipe. I have made them before by hand, but kind of messy. My mom got me hooked on asian food and the markets years ago. She may have a recipe too. She has tons more cook books than I do on asian style dishes.

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Just an fyi--if any of you happen to live in or near Chicago, I just came across the most amazing little place--called Wow Bao--in Water Tower Place in Chicago. It's something Bruce Cost and Lettuce Entertain You created and it is going to be a huge hit: these soft, squishy white steamed asian buns (they're steamed right in front of you) which I had previously only had with barbecued pork during dim sum--have been turned on their head by Bruce with all sorts of different but delicious fillings--like spicy Mongolian beef, thai curry chicken, kung pao chicken, chicken teriyaki, etc. And they only cost $1.19!!! Bruce also developed the best tasting "fresh ginger" ginger ale I've ever tasted as well.

This will go down as one of those concepts where people wonder why wasn't anyone smart enough to bring something like this to the mainstream already?

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that sounds delicious steve.

and if i'm not offending anyone (that's impossible :biggrin: ), sounds a lot better than what jean georges is doing at 66. i ate there and was horrified at what he was presenting as an "improvement" on what the chinese have been doing for 3,000 years.

wow bao sounds gimmicky, but in a cute way. wish i could visit chicago soon!

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Hi, I'm wondering if the pastry experts can help me with a conundrum that I've had since I started baking bread fifteen years ago. I'm not a commercial baker and have always been fascinated by those soft breads served in Asian bakeries - the very soft crusted baked barbecued pork and other buns in Chinese bakeries, the golden very fine soft-crust Japanese breads that go by a variety of names such as Milk Bun, Butter top, English loaf, etc. I have no problems creating the hard crust for breads like French loaves, foccacia, etc. but I simply cannot get a long-lasting soft crust like the Asian bakeries. I was told to use lots of butter in a pastry kitchen where I previously worked and it worked for a while but after the bread cooled, it became [permanently] hard-crusted. Perhaps it's the quality of the flour that I use? Can anyone help?

Your best evolution from European into Asian Baking methods and comparisons can be best achived thru becoming familiar and experimenting.

Many aren't aware that many of Asian applications in Baking are related to Portugesse Baker's, whom settled into Okinawa, Japan, Manila, China, Hong Kong and Macau. The Japanese words Pan, and Tempura are from Portugese. The Egg Tarts, Steamed Nut Cakes, Curry Puffs, Jellies and Sweets so popular at Dum Sim service are all from Portugel. Most Phillipine Cakes and Breads as well.

If you research Portugese Baking and Desserts, many of these or very similar items are traditional.

To become familiar, especially in hands on preperations it better, to permit yourself to become involved and learn methods. Even presently some of the best quality Baked Goods in Asia are available in Macau, Hong Kong and Vietnam.

Irwin

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tan cl welcome to egullet!

Most of the Asian breads I am familiar with usually use no butter rather lard or shortening. The Chinese bao (spongy buns) are usually steamed which results in their softness, they are also usually made with a cake flour and lard.

As to the Jaapnese style breads these are usually baked but again tend to be made with cake (or other low protein) flour and lard or shortening.

Here is a thread we had on Japanese style breads:

http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?act=ST...T&f=19&t=21459&

There is a link in there to a recipe for an-pan which should give you a good idea of a Jaapnese style soft bread.

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Thanks all. Torakris - thanks for the welcome - you noticed this was my first ever post :biggrin:

To clarify/confirm, I was talking about the Asian-style baked (not steamed) breads. Your link to the Japanese breads was interesting. And Torakris - the link you provided was spot-on - those are the kinds of breads I'm after, where the crust is golden, soft, the texture almost cotton or cake-like. I buy lots of those Japanese breads - the brioche-like sandwich loaves with inch-thick slices, those soft raisin loaves.

I do brush egg/egg yolk on breads gives it a lovely golden crust, but I find it has the effect of hardening the crust as well. I've tried various permutations of the bread dough - adding ammonium bicarbonate (as HK bakeries do), kneading it for a long time, cake flour, brushing it with butter both before and after baking and covering it with a cloth - but the best I have gotten is a soft crust that gradually hardens. I'm thinking it must be either the water or flour that I'm using or maybe just me, since no one else seems to have this problem! Some books also recommend milk powder in the dough, others talk about adding bread improvers (I've heard Lora Brody's bread improver is very good). But no success, sigh! Do you suppose the magic is in the fingers then?

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Love the wow pao idea, tho. Too bad I'm too far from Chicago to try it! Not sure what humbau is, though. Sounds like steamed char siew pao. But I'm actually after the baked Asian breads!


Edited by tan_cl (log)

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I can't thank Steve enough for leading me to this site via his fantastic site. I'm busy as it is with a cake-decorating board and just trying to resist spending more time here takes superhuman effort.

Here's my 2-sen on paus. It's a very versatile bun; any filling which is not too wet works. We've even substituted turkey meat in the chicken char siew pau (recipe below) one Christmas and it got rave reviews.

Although plain flour can be used, to get best results, try to get hold of Hong Kong flour aka Water Lily flour, which is a highly-bleached all-purpose soft wheat flour containing 8 to 9% protein used specially for making paus. Also, this days, shortening is used instead of lard.

chicken char siew pau

pork char siew pau

Notes: Do not oversteam the paus or it will take on a yellowish tinge and the buns will be toughened. Also, try not to allow water to wet the paus, which will make it sticky. Place a towel on the base of the steamer tray.


Edited by TP(M'sia) (log)

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I don't think the thread is about the steamed buns, but rather the thickly-sliced (at least 3/4 inch thick...sometimes 2" inch thick) loaves of bread that are usually perfectly rectangular in shape.

I don't know how the crust stays so soft, but I know there are a ton of (Chinese) bakeries here in Vancouver that make this type of bread. Our family buys a few loaves every week. I love the mildly sweet taste.


Edited by Ling (log)

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Sorry, I realized a few minutes too late that it's not about steamed breads.

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I was just sitting at the sandbox with a pastry chef friend of mine, though Japanese she studied in France and I thought she could give some insight. She said the softness is due to a number of factors namely soft (cake) flour, shortening or lard and lots of milk and eggs.

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I've noticed that bread recipes in Asian baking books usually call for bread improvers, bread softeners and dough softeners which are generally not mentioned in US/UK/Aussie bread recipes. That may account for softer western-style baked breads that most Asians prefer.

There's been some queries on this in a Malaysian cooking column.

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Just out of interest, what are all these bread improvers, softeners, etc. made of? Do they really help? Chinese bread recipes generally call for ammonia bicarbonate - the kind that really stings your nostrils - and I've added it to my breads but didn't notice anything different about it so I now generally ignore it in recipes. Maybe that's the reason why I can't get a soft crust?

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By the way, for anyone unfamiliar with Bruce Cost, here's a little blurb:

http://www.prochef.com/peanuts/peanuts0402.html

Thanks, too, for all the links--yes, TP and tan_cl, that recipe with Water-Lily flour, baking powder, yeast, shortening, etc. seems like it would produce exactly that soft, moist, spongy white texture. Oh, and I forgot the coolest little touch at Wow Bao--each bun sits on a paper "skin" which has the filling variety printed on it, so when several varieties are placed in a bag you can still tell them apart when you get home or back to the office.

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Sorry, I realized a few minutes too late that it's not about steamed breads.

No need to apologize; I hope I didn't sound rude. :smile:

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Just an fyi--if any of you happen to live in or near Chicago, I just came across the most amazing little place--called Wow Bao--in Water Tower Place in Chicago.  It's something Bruce Cost and Lettuce Entertain You created and it is going to be a huge hit:  these soft, squishy white steamed asian buns (they're steamed right in front of you) which I had previously only had with barbecued pork during dim sum--have been turned on their head by Bruce with all sorts of different but delicious fillings--like spicy Mongolian beef, thai curry chicken, kung pao chicken, chicken teriyaki, etc.  And they only cost $1.19!!!  Bruce also developed the best tasting "fresh ginger" ginger ale I've ever tasted as well.

This will go down as one of those concepts where people wonder why wasn't anyone smart enough to bring something like this to the mainstream already?

Your post made me laugh because last time I was in Chicago my friends bought some bao from Wow Bao and I grumbled about how ripped off they were paying 1.19 for something so tiny, they made me eat two any way, but I complained the whole time, mumbling about yuppies and the superiority of Sun Snack shop under the el tracks at Argyle. Usually in Asian snack shops you get something twice the size for that amount of money or even less. There are many different types of fillings besides char siu (bbqed pork) ya know, and you don't even have to go to Michegan Avenue to get them... Here in Pdx we're obsessed with one that has pork, lap cheung (sausage), hard boiled egg, cabbage and mung bean noodle filling and it's twice the size of those Wow Bao ones for a nickle less!

regards,

trillium

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Picking up on what someone else here said about Portugese bread, it occurs to me that the HK and Chinese baked breads I've had have been a lot like Portugese sweet bread -- similar soft, fluffy texture with no discernible crust and a definite sweet flavor. You might want to try a recipe for that.

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Quality is quality trillium--it either tastes good or it doesn't--and sure you'll find interesting cheaper things in asian snack shops and all sorts of Chowhound-approved dives but you didn't actually say Wow Bao wasn't delicious. I've never been to Portland (that's pdx?) and it doesn't surprise me you like Sun Snack shop. My point is Wow Bao brings accessibility and a fair price to something vastly underappreciated--who hasn't had kung pao chicken, but a steamed bun?--and yet tastes damn good despite that process of trying to appeal more overtly to a mainstream audience, which includes a drop-dead beautiful, gleaming, spotless, impeccably-designed kitchen and store front. Hi-rent location plus design plus packaging costs more money. But I think Bruce has also proved it doesn't have to taste any less delicious. He's going to introduce many people to something they weren't even aware they wanted until he introduced it to them. And later, after being wowed by bao here, some yuppie you're looking down on just might be a little more willing to try that not-so-strange-anymore steamed bun with lap cheung at some out of the way snack shop as well--under the el, in pdx or in Shanghai.

And just like Starbucks has helped raise awareness of espresso, and helped create a better climate where artisinal roasters and small cafes who do a better job can also thrive--if Wow Bao were to hit it just might allow more people in pdx to appreciate that bun you like, and the owners of that shop to raise their prices ever so and send their kids to a better college or remodel.

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How big are the Wow Bao?

I am really digging on this idea....maybe open my own bao cart here in SLC

I had lunch at Wow Bao a few weeks ago. I agree that the fillings are more interesting than the usual (I had curry chicken and a BBQ pork that was less sweet and had more complex flavor than I've had elsewhere) and the presentation and merchandizing are well thought out. The size of each bao is rather smaller than the ones found in Chinese bakeries and restaurants, so most people would need three or more to make a meal, though the small size lets you try more flavors and makes them perfect for quick snacking. The small size also means the price of lunch adds up fairly quickly. The only thing I found a bit annoying about the operational set up is there is no seating near the point-of-purchase - you actually have to go up two sets of escalators to get to chairs and tables set aside for diners.

It is a great concept, though, and I hope we see more locations popping up downtown.

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"The only thing I found a bit annoying about the operational set up is there is no seating near the point-of-purchase"

Neil--I agree, but then again I think that's more than a fair tradeoff considering the cost of doing business in such a prime ground-floor street level location. It also gets you that much closer to foodlife upstairs. If I lived in Chicago and ate there for lunch regularly my check would probably average $7-$8--I'd get 3 bao (3.57) plus hot & sour chicken noodle soup (3.19) plus hibiscus iced tea (1.69) or a 2 bao plus pad thai "salad" combo (4.49) plus ginger ale (2.19). I bet the normal person check average is $5.50-$6.

Lee--I'd say roughly 3" wide by 2.5" high but I ate them too quickly to make a mental measurement.

I hope we see more locations popping up in my downtown as well as yours Neil!

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