Sayonara sourdough, ni hao bao buns
s July wound up, sourdough’s days of social media glory seemed to have been overtaken by Asian breads. Sweet, smooth and springy breads from the East, such as tingmos, mantous and warm-as-a-blanket bao sandwiches, took over our timelines. The deal was sealed when celebrity chef Maria Goretti whipped up Japanese Hokkaido buns on IGTV at @mariagorettiz. Goretti doesn’t reveal the complete recipe but takes viewers through the basic steps of baking a fluffy Asian bread with a delightfully glossy crust and pillowy texture.
“Hokkaido buns really caught my fancy because of the tangzhong method. I learnt it from my banker friend, Sanjeev Chaturvedi, who is a self-taught baker and chef,” says Goretti. It’s a roux made with flour and water which gives the bread more hydration and makes it moist. Although this technique is used widely to make noodles and dumplings, it is believed to have been popularized by 65°C Bread Doctor, a book by Yvonne Chen, for use in breads such as Hokkaido and Japanese milk loaves.
Bread-making around the world shares several similarities, such as the quartet of ingredients—flour, water, yeast and eggs—while cooking methods range from baking and steaming to roasting and frying. So, it’s technique that differentiates breads from the East, making them more moist than the drier crusty sourdough.
As with most foods, the fun lies in experimenting. Indians are now discovering that Asian breads go well with desi dishes. For instance, tingmos paired with Kerala chilli pork make for a perfect Sunday lunch. Tingmo cravings can be fulfilled by following a detailed recipe on the website www.bongeats.com, which offers detailed instructions on how to use yeast so that the steamed buns “open up like a flower”.
Similarly, think baos stuffed with Indian fillings—it’s a world waiting to be discovered. Last week, chef Shriya Shetty put up a post about baos stuffed with ghee roast chicken on her Instagram profile @chiashetts. Shetty, who has worked with Gaggan in Bangkok, is now an independent chef specializing in Mangalorean food. Her caption read, “Crazy Forking Delicious”.
Spiced gravies are a ready-made match for sweetish steamed breads and no one knows it better than restaurants specializing in South-East Asian cuisine. Mumbai’s Bastian offers a coconut-based Singapore curry, flavoured with lemongrass and kaffir lime, with a side of Chinese mantou buns. One Street Over’s baos are stuffed with pork belly, apple butter and kimchi. Chef Boo Kim, the food and beverages director of Bastian Hospitality, the parent company of these restaurants, believes the popularity of these buns lies in their ability to adapt to regional dishes. Indians seem to agree as they experiment with Asian-style open baos and stuffed buns.
Kim, who swears by the comfort of baos stuffed with crispy chicken, says the closest Indian counterpart is the Goan pao. There are textural variations but Goan pao and vinegar-spiked sausages can give McDonald’s a run for its money. So it may not come as a surprise that just a month ago, Bengaluru-based home chef Alisha Da Lima Leitao launched a stuffed pao home delivery service, Whattaypao, on Instagram. Leitao is Goan and the menu, true to her roots, features fillings such as cafreal, xacuti and rechaedo in vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. Traditionally, there is no such thing as a stuffed pao, for these are breads that accompany Goan gravies and breakfasts. But Leitao sensed that if she combined the two, it could offer a no-frills, wholesome snack for our time-scarce, work-from-home lives. Somewhat like baos, which are considered easy-to-prepare snacks in China.
Of course, if your trusted online grocery has run out of yeast, you always could try your hand at Korean flatbread. It’s like a thick crepe or dosa. Sharing the recipes for a scallion flatbread and bao, Kim says: “The flatbread was one of my favourite things growing up. This Korean savoury pancake is delicious and pairs well with almost anything.”
Can also be had with gravy, chutney or soy sauce
2 cups flour
1 litre water
70g scallions, chopped
20ml sesame oil
Mix the ingredients and let sit for a few minutes. Heat a sauté pan with a little oil. Pour the batter over the pan in a thick layer. Cook for a few minutes till golden-brown at the bottom and flip to cook the other side similarly. Repeat till all the batter is used up.
A favourite across South-East Asian cuisines, it can be had stuffed or dipped in your favourite gravy
30g dry active yeast
Mix yeast, sugar and warm water and set it aside for 5 minutes until the yeast becomes foamy. Combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and add the yeast mixture and oil. Mix it into a ball and then flour a kneading surface. Knead the dough until smooth. Let it sit for a few minutes. Then set it aside for about an hour.
Divide the dough into small buns and roll them out one by one. The thickness should be about a quarter of an inch. Place them on cookingor butter paper, brush the tops with oil and fold each piece of dough in half, pressing it down lightly. Cover the buns with a plastic wrap and let them rise for another hour.
Transfer each bun, still on its parchment square, to a steamer with a little more than an inch of water. Cover and steam for 10-12 minutes until they appear puffed.