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Oh Hum Bao…fluffy balls of goodness. Sounds kinda dirty don’t it?  I’m talking about the Chinese Steamed Buns here, filled with all manner of yummy. The first time I tried one I wasn’t really impressed. The second time? Hooked, totally and completely hooked.  Luckily, or not, I can’t get a decent one near me unless I go down to Chinatown…oh excuse me, the International disctrict.  I don’t know if they call it that for politically correct reasons or out of some misplaced desire for homogenity. It’s Chinatown for God’s sake. The shops? Chinese, the restaurants? Chinese. The people? Chinese (mostly). At my favorite Dim Sum place (don’t ask me the name, it’s in Chinese, I just know the street it’s on) the servers don’t speak English. Well…..maybe a Chinese version of English. Last time I asked “Oh, what’s in that?” The lady went back to the kitchen (with her cart) and came back and said….something…maybe pork…and some other words. So now I just eat it and try to figure it out. Except the Chicken feet. My friends consider me a daring eater but I don’t like the idea of everyone in the place looking at me with a chicken foot sticking out of my mouth…cause you have to gnaw on them.  So it’s vanity that stops me…..

But I digress…. as usual.  And yeah, there is a Vietnamese section up the road from the Chinese section but I haven’t explored that yet. I always get stuck in Chinatown, usually in a bakery. But just to press my point. There is nothing International about that district. Maybe it’s a fusion of Asian cultures (maybe) but there are no Russian piroshky, no Greek shops, no…Brazilian food.

Hum Bao...by me!

I never thought about making these at home…until I did….think about it.  INTERNET SEARCH!  Lots of different versions, so I picked the easiest one.  Now the great part about these is you can fill them with anything. I mean BBQ pork is probably the most common but it’s really up to you. You can do curry chicken, chicken mushroom green onion, a vegetarian version.  In fact, I had one once….oh I still remember, it was MASSIVE.  It was filled with meat of some kind, sausage and there was even an egg inside, hard boiled egg!
This recipe calls for yeast!  Yeast and breads scare me, I feel like they are difficult.  Most homemade bread I’ve had is dense and kinda chewy, NOT appealing.

Yeast primer type thingy

So first you mix 1 Tb yeast (I used one packet that you can get in any grocery store)
1 ts sugar, 1/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup warm water. Let it sit for about 1/2 hour.
Then you have to knead, but how much?  that’s the trick! And there are tricks to this. Luckily I had just read a book “Baking Artisan Pastries & Breads” by Ciril Hitz. Good thing I did. He has pictures in there that show a properly “worked” dough in his troubleshooting section. Under techniques there are pictures that show a window test that you can do to tell if your dough is “fully developed”.  It helped…alot.  I don’t have a kitchenaid mixer (not that I don’t want one but I’m cheap!) so I did this all by hand and one thing I can tell you is the dough feels different after kneading for awhile. It gets smoother and kinda silky. I’m pretty sure this is the stage you want to get to. I also read online somewhere that if you are kneading bread dough by hand it’s almost impossible to overwork. That your hands will get tired before that happens….cause that was a fear too, “overworking” the dough….so complicated!

From the book so you have an idea what to look for.

So after your yeast sits for half an hour, add 1/2 cup warm water, 1 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 ts salt, 2 Tb sugar and 1 Tb vegetable oil.
Mix together and then knead on a floured surface until it’s smooth and you can do the window test. See above.  It’s kinda fun actually. Then you put the dough in a bowl that has been greased on the bottom & sides. ( I used vegetable oil)  You then cover it and leave it to rise for about 2 1/2 – 3 hours! Yes hours!
If you know me, which you probably don’t, you will know that I have a problem following directions. I don’t do it on purpose but I’m usually so excited about making something that I’ll skim through the recipe and then go!  Hey at least I make sure I have all the ingredients first….usually.  Anyway, I get to the 3 hours part and it’s about 6:30pm now and I wanted these for dinner, tonight.  So we had my fallback, rice, kidney beans & cheese.  It’s quick, easy and tasty (we haven’t gotten sick of it yet!)

The start

After 3 (!) hours.

Now the crazy part!  You punch this, yes I said punch!  AND it deflates!  AND that’s what you want!  Then you put it on a floured surface and knead it some more.  AND…if you’re me…you decide that you really want to go to bed soon and don’t want to finish this tonight.  But you don’t know if you can stop in the middle and refrigerate the dough and pick up again tomorrow after work.  Can you put dough in the refrigerator?  In the middle of the process?  INTERNET SEARCH (I love the internet! YES I know there is alot of false info and duplicate info out there, I’ve been doing this a long time now.) The answer is YES!!!!!! Wrap it tightly in plastic and use in within at least 48 hours. AWESOME!!!!
Day Two…

Pork

I chose BBQ pork…kinda.  Not the usual Chinese style BBQ pork you find in these.  Some leftover pork shoulder that I had made a ketchup, brown sugar, cayenne pepper-ish sauce for.  So as you can see above, you flatten out circles of dough, put your filling in the center and wrap the dough around it. Pinching the top together. Meanwhile you take a wok (or any pan I suppose) put a little bit of water and a steamer tray in it and start it on a low simmer. You don’t want water splashing up onto the buns.  Arrange the buns on the tray (if you have a bamboo steamer that would be super traditional and great….I don’t have one. There are so many things I still need to have a proper kitchen.)

I put too many in. No overcrowding!

Mine were shoving and pushing each other! I had to take some out and leave them room to expand. Cover and let steam for about 15 minutes.  How do you know if they are done?  I have no idea. I just took one out and cut into it and it was perfect!!!!!  SERIOUSLY, I was so impressed with my bad self.  They looked like professional steamed buns! I couldn’t get over it. Why have I been so scared of trying to make bread, yeast type things. Oh I’m unstoppable and dangerous now.  Just look!

Just look at that!

I also just had to try baking some and see what would happen.  375 for about 15 mins.  They were silly looking, they looked like aliens.  The tops kinda came off the filling.  They puffed up and these looked like a professionally baked bun too but the flavor was kinda boring.  Oh!!!!  I forgot.  The flavor of the steamed bun!  It was pretty close to the ones I get in Chinatown. I think theirs are sweeter and I wonder if they use rice flour?  Obviously I will have to make more and try different versions. But the thing that was great about the steamed ones is that they even had the skin that kinda peels off?  If you’ve ever had these you’ll know what I’m talking about. They have a little skin that you can peel away in parts.  Oh and I also forgot, you’re supposed to put them on squares of wax paper and then onto the steamer tray, but I didn’t have wax paper and if I did I probably wouldn’t want to cut it into squares.  It worked without the wax paper, a little bit stuck to the steamer tray but nothing tragic. I don’t know, it’s up to you. If you want to be safe, use the wax paper.
 Or live on the edge, don’t read the recipe all the way through, take chances.

Baked aliens.

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