There’s nothing like fresh bread in the morning. Steamed Scallion Buns – aka “Hua Juan” or “Mantou” as they are traditionally called – are typical Chinese breakfast food. My mom used to make them for me and my sister on the weekends (frozen of course). Spread them with a little condensed milk or jam and you are all set.
If you’ve never made bread before, Chinese steamed buns are actually a great way to start. Unlike traditional French bread, where you look for a crisp, thin crust and a chewy interior, Chinese buns are soft all over. My mom actually hates French bread. Whenever I take her to a fancy restaurant in the city and they serve mini baguettes, she always complains that it tastes stale because there is a “crust” and that it is too hard. Chinese buns on the other hand are like little soft pillows, it is puffy and should be soft to the touch.
The dough is also really easy to work with, so perfect for first time bread bakers! I made the scallion buns two ways, one which is the easier “roll-up” method and the other the “flower” method. I like the way the bread pulls apart using the “flower” method, but it’s messier and I think I’ll stick with the plain buns next time around.
Feel free to omit the scallions and make them plain. They are also excellent deep fried and served with condensed milk! Now if only I had a deep fryer…
For the Chinese Steamed Scallion Buns
Adapted from Almost Bourdain
Prep Time: 15-20 minutes, plus one hour of proofing time
Steaming Time: 13-15 minutes
Yields: ~8-10 buns
Note: Caster sugar is in between granulated sugar and powdered sugar. If you don’t have caster sugar, you can make caster sugar by grinding granulated sugar for ~20 seconds in a food processor or coffee grinder until fine but not powdery.
- 3 1/4 cup and 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 2/2 tablespoons caster sugar (see note above)
- 1 1/2 teaspoon instant dry yeast
- 1 cup lukewarm water
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon warm milk
For the Scallion Oil
- 2 cups chopped scallions, green part only (~approximately 5 stalks)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon vegetable or sesame oil
In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and let it sit for 5-10 minutes; stir to dissolve.
In a large bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer, combine together the flour and sugar. Add in the yeast and water mixture, oil, and milk and mix on low speed using a dough hook for 10 minute or until the dough is smooth and shiny. If you are not using an electric mixer, combine the ingredients using a wooden spoon until the dough comes together and then knead the dough on a smooth surface for approximately 10 minutes.
Put the dough in a lightly greased bowl and cover with saran wrap. Let it sit in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
While the dough is proofing, make the scallion oil. Mix the chopped scallions with the salt and oil and let it macerate. Don’t worry if there doesn’t seem like there is enough oil at first.
When the dough has doubled in size, remove and punch down the dough. Split the dough in half and keep the other half covered with a moist towel or saran wrap when not using. Roll out the first half of the dough to an 8 x 16 inch rectangle. Fold the rectangle in half and roll out again.
For the “roll-up” method – Using a pastry brush, spread a thin layer of the scallion oil over the dough. Roll the dough lengthwise into a log. Cut the log into five even pieces. Cover the buns with saran wrap or a moist towel and let it proof for 15-20 minutes. Once the final proof is done, steam in your steamer for 13-15 minutes. Repeat with the other half of the dough.
For the “flower” method – Divide the dough into five even pieces and roll each into a ball. One at a time, roll each ball into a long oval and cut the dough into long strips leaving a 1/2 inch border at one end. Using a pastry brush, spread a thin layer of the scallion oil over the dough. Gather the strips holding both ends and twist the dough. Form the twisted dough into a circle and tuck the ends underneath. Cover the twisted buns with saran wrap or a moist towel and let it proof for 15-20 minutes. Once the final proof is done, steam in your steamer for 13-15 minutes. Repeat with the other half of the dough.
The buns are best eaten within three days, but they can be frozen after they are steamed for up to three months. Just put in your steamer for 20 minutes if using straight from the freezer.