Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Recipe corner: Steamed buns a la Momofuku

I so wanted to call this post something along the lines of "My lovely buns".  Because I really do have the sense of humour of a prurient twelve year old boy. 
I also wanted to give it a gorgeous photo that would be an adequate reflection of quite how tasty these little beauties were.  But you know the score with regards my food photography skills by now.  So here are my steamed buns with prawn cakes:
Sexy, huh?  But then, the originals were not renowned for their great beauty:
I must admit, I was really, really happy with the way these turned out; taste and texture wise they were dead ringers for the ones we ate in Momofuku.  And OK they were David Chang's recipe but still, we've all seen that round on Masterchef where the contestants all get given exactly the same recipe and still manage to produce entirely different, often substandard, plates of food. 
If you haven't experienced these buns before they are quite hard to describe - they have a dense, damp texture and a slight sweetness to them and they are incredibly delicious and even more incredibly moreish.  I think that they are most commonly served with pork. On Saturday, we wrapped them round peppery little prawn cakes that D made by whizzing up raw king prawns, flour and plenty of seasoning.  The following day we went a bit off piste and had them with halloumi and sweet chilli sauce which may have been fusion gone mad but turned out to be seriously yummy.
They dry out fairly quickly once steamed but are easily revived - just brush them with water, put on a plate loosely covered with cling film and microwave on medium for about a minute. 
240ml warm water (I used a ratio of 1 part boiling to 2 parts cold tap)
1/2 tsp active dry yeast
3 tbsp plus 1 pinch sugar
2 tbsp skimmed milk powder
420g plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
Tbsp sunflower oil
Makes 16, 3 pro points per bun
Stir together 60ml of the water with the yeast (make sure that this is brought to room temperature first if you have kept it in the fridge) and a pinch of sugar.  Leave this to stand for 5-10 minutes until it starts to foam.  If it doesn't foam it means the yeast hasn't woken up - this could be to do with the temperature of the water (check it is not too hot) or the age of the yeast itself.  I watch Bake Off and therefore know these things.
While you are waiting, stir together the flour and the rest of the sugar in a large mixing bowl. 
To the foamy mixture add the rest of the water, and the skimmed milk powder and give a quick whisk to combine.
Gently stir the liquid into the flour.  The original recipe suggested using a fork, I used my Kitchen Aid on a low setting.  Keep going until the dough begins to form - it was soft to the touch but by no means sticky - and make sure that all the flour becomes incorporated.  Now turn out the ball onto a floured surface and knead for about five minutes (you could use a dough hook for this stage, but kneading is fun! It's like Play Dough for grown ups!)  You'll know that you're getting there when the dough takes on a pliant, elastic feel. 
Oil a large bowl and place the dough in there, turning it to ensure an even coating in the oil.  Cover with cling film and place in a warm spot for 2 hours, during which time it should roughly double in size.
Once this is done you need to give it a good pummelling which will make it deflate a little.  Transfer it to a lightly floured surface, flatten it out and sprinkle with the baking powder, then gather it up into a ball with the powder in the middle.  You now need to knead for another five minutes or so to ensure the baking powder is incorporated - again, you could use the dough hook attachment of a stand mixer to do this.  Recover the dough and leave to stand for another half an hour.
We're nearly there, campers!  Now it is time to shape and steam the buns.
First cut out squares of parchment paper approximately 3 inch square.  The buns will sit on these in the steamer, so you need one for each bun.  Roll the dough into a log shape about 16 inches long and then divide into 16 equal pieces.  Take each piece between your two hands, and use your palms to flatten it into an oval shape, then use a lightly floured rolling pin to roll the oval out so that it is about 6 inches long and 3 wide.  Now, using a pastry brush, brush one half with sunflower oil and fold it in half so it is the shape of a capital D - but do not pinch the edges together.  As each bun is shaped, cover loosely in cling film.  Allow them to stand for another 30 minutes or so, in which time they will rise very slightly.
The buns are now ready for steaming.  Sit some form of rack over boiling water, place the buns (sitting on their parchment paper) over the steam and cover for about five minutes, during which time they will puff up a little but not alarmingly so.  You may well have to do this in batches, unless you have the world's largest steamer.  Wrap the steamed buns in a clean tea towel until they are all done.  They do not need to be eaten straightaway (see above for revival tip) and can be frozen at this stage for future use.
Feel incredibly clever and incredibly smug.

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