I blushingly recall having promised to write this post the day after the previous one. Note to self: just say “later,” never “tomorrow” when talking up future posts. By way of explanation, let me just say that moving house is a little bit like being eaten up by a monster (kraken?) along with all of your belongings, digested, and pooped out the other end. In other words, the less said about the whole thing, the better (I am still being digested, in case you were wondering).
So if I can’t write about the mountains of boxes that I am surrounded by, I can at least make good on that promise and finish my Peking duck story.
As I mentioned earlier, there are those who like to wrap their duck in pancakes, and that is all well and good, but I prefer a steamed bun. There are lots of recipes out there, because this is a very versatile little carbohydrate. It is very similar to the outside of a bao, if you get my drift. That is to say, it is a bouncy yeasted dough that is steamed to create soft pillows that can be peeled open and stuffed with any number of things.
When I was living in China, I noticed that when people talked about “main dishes” they were actually talking about their carbohydrates. You could have rice as your main dish, but it was also equally possible to have noodles, congee, or steamed bread. Everything else that you eat — vegetables, meat, fish, or just something pungent like pork fat and chili peppers, is just to help the main dish down. (One of my new favorite meals is chili bean paste – fermented broad beans and chilis – and a bowl of rice. The bean paste is so potent that the rice goes down a treat with it. A fried egg on top is nice, but in a pinch I can do without.)
So think of these buns as vehicles for whatever tasty dish you fancy, like super soft pitas. I used a recipe from Fuchsia Dunlop’s amazing cookbook, Every Grain of Rice, which has my mother and me scrambling to try every recipe as fast as we can so we can move on to the next great recipe.
Lotus Leaf Buns (so named for their shape, which resembles a folded lotus leaf)
2 tsp dried yeast
500 grams white flour plus more for dusting
2 tbsp cooking oil plus more for greasing
2 tsp sugar
Add the yeast to 100 ml tepid water and set aside for five minutes to bloom. Make a well in the flour and pour in the dissolved yeast. Mix it in just enough to make a paste, then cover and let it sit for 20 minutes or so, or until it goes bubbly. add the oil and sugar, as well as about 225 ml of water — enough to give you a soft, kneadable dough…
…because it’s time to knead! Knead it until the dough is nice and smooth, around 10 minutes. Put it in a bowl, cover, and let it rise for about 20 minutes.
Knock the dough back and turn it out on to the counter. Now, you’ll split it into around 32 little balls. You can do this more easily by quartering the dough and then getting 8 pieces off each quarter. The pieces should be 25 grams, and because I love my kitchen scale, I weighed them. Think what you will.
Now comes the fun part. Take a little dough ball and roll it out until it is about 8 cm across. Repeat until you have 32 discs. Then lightly brush one side of a disc with oil and fold it over. If you forget, the dough will fuse together and there will be no peeling open the bread for you. (Those are the ones that I eat first so no one can see them.)
Fold the dough over in half and then use a comb to press in the pattern of a lotus leaf into the dough. Then use the back of the comb to gently nudge the dough to make it curl inwards at each leaf vein. In the end, they will look like this:
Then let them rise another 20 minutes while you get your steamer ready. Steam the buns on high heat for 10 minutes. They will balloon! You can eat them right away, or cool them before refrigerating or freezing them. Just steam them to reheat.
If this all sounds a bit fiddly, I have to admit that it is. (But I just confessed to weighing each bun.) I did it twice in three days, though, and had fun. Plus, the buns were good, and I had some leftovers for snacking and for Baki’s lunch box.
If you are eating these buns with duck, here’s how we do it: first peel the bun open and go ahead and lay on a schmear of Hoisin sauce. Then add a slice of cucumber and a few slivers of green onion. Add your duck skin and your ready for blast off. Mmmmmm….
One of my relatives wrote to me after reading the first Peking duck post that he prefers a good Cantonese style roast duck. He’s got a point. It just so happens that I ran across a recipe for Cantonese roast duck in Gloria Bley Miller’s Thousand Chinese Recipes book while we were reading up on duck. My mother and I are very tempted to try it…