On a Sunday a few weeks ago (like many Sundays), I was looking for something to make when I remembered that Popo had given me her old bamboo steamer and The Dim Sum Book by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo.
I’ve made dim sum with Popo a few times and it’s always been an interesting challenge. There were the soup dumplings that were tasty but kind of leaked and both successful and failed steamed buns. Luckily, these baked ones turned out pretty well except for the salt.
It’s not often that I tap into the Chinese in me. Most of the time I feel very American. But, this year I am attempting to make more Chinese foods. I’ve already been off to a pretty good start with egg drop soup and wonton soup.
Growing up, the extent of Chinese New Year has been the occasional lai see and maybe some dim sum but that's about it. It’s just never been something that my family has particularly celebrated.
When I moved to Hawaii, it was much more obvious that Chinese New Year was a celebratory event. Hawaii's Chinatown explodes in red and gold. Stalls with all sorts of knick knacks and food come out. There's a huge parade with lion dancing and firecrackers. The already humid air gets inundated with layers of smoke and fried food. It's hot, loud, crowded and boisterous but everyone is excited and full of positive energy.
So I’m not surprised that this year, I’m feeling Chinese New Year more than others. Perhaps it's because a few family members are going to Hawaii specifically for Chinese New Year and I wish I was too. Or because I'll be learning how to make jai this weekend. Or maybe it's because it's the Year of the Monkey and that's my year, Qiao's and Popo's, too. I mean, it only comes every 12 years.
While flipping through The Dim Sum Book, I was looking for something that didn't require too many ingredients or additional cooking time like char siu bao. And then I found these little buggers which required very little ingredients and time compared to most of the other dim sum.
These lap cheong buns are basically the Chinese version of pretzel buns. It's a steamed bread wrapped around lap cheong. Now, mind you, I'm pretty particular about this Chinese sausage called lap cheong. Like wonton wrappers, certain brands taste and work better than others. I'm partial to this one, the one in the red package. Don't ask what's in lap cheong because it's a lot of
unhealthy really delicious stuff. The fattier the better.
There are two parts to this recipe–the dough and the filling. The technique for forming the dough is similar to making pasta dough. Add the wet to the dry on a work surface and slowly work it together. (In retrospect, I wish I had tried it in a bowl since it is quite messy. Next time, I'll see how it is. )
After the kneading the dough for 12-15 minutes, let the dough rest for an hour. This is an important step since this isn't a yeasted dough. Letting the dough rest results in a soft and fluffy bread in the end. While letting the dough rest, cut the waxed paper into pieces and marinate the lap cheong in oyster sauce, soy sauce and sesame oil.
Then, cut the dough in 16 pieces and roll each piece in a 12-inch rope. Wrap it around the sausage and place it on the wax paper. Finally, into the steamer they go. Resist all temptation to open the lid for 15-20 minutes. The one key to really fluffy steamed buns is in the name. You've got to have a steady and powerful steam so that the bread can cook all the way through. If you don't, they'll be incredibly doughy and inedible. This also means, you'll need to keep an eye on your steamer as it can run dangerously low on water towards the end.
When you do open the steamer, it's surprising at how big these buns grow and how fluffy the bread gets. It's slightly sweet, soft and a little chewy–exactly how it tastes at a dim sum restaurant. And the lap cheong adds a nice salty and juicy balance to the bread.
I do love char siu bao but these come very close. They're easier to make and are super cute.
I forgot to mention that your living space will smell very Chinese-y in the end. But, it's so worth it!
So, whether or not you celebrate it, Happy Chinese New Year / Gung Hay Fat Choy!
Lap Cheong Buns
Yields: 16 buns
The final steamed buns freeze well but the dough does not.
Steamed Bun Dough
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
3½ teaspoons baking powder
½ cup sugar
3 ounces milk
1½ ounces water
2 tablespoons shortening
8 lap cheong
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Sixteen 3½-inch by 2-inch pieces of wax paper
Steamed Bun Dough
Mix flour, baking powder, and sugar together on a work surface. Make a well in the middle.
Add milk gradually and with fingers combine it with flour mixture.
Once milk has been absorbed, add water with fingers and continue to work the dough.
Add shortening, and again with fingers, continue to work the dough.
Using a dough scraper, gather the dough with one hand and begin kneading with the other hand.
Knead for 12-15 minutes. If the dough is still dry, add 1 teaspoon of water at a time and continue to knead, until the dough becomes elastic. If the dough is wet, sprinkle a bit of flour on the work surface and on your hands and continue kneading.
When dough is elastic, cover with a damp cloth and allow it to rest for 1 hour.
Filling and Buns
In the meantime, cut 16 pieces of wax paper, 3½-inch by 2-inch.
Cut lap cheong in half, lengthwise and diagonally.
In a medium sized bowl, combine the oyster sauce, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Add the cut sausage and marinate for 30 minutes.
Roll rested bun dough into a cylindrical piece about 16 inches long. Cut into sixteen 1-inch pieces. Working with one piece at a time, roll into a 12-inch long rope. Cover the remaining pieces with a damp cloth to keep them moist.
Hold the lap cheong and wrap the dough rope around it. Place lap cheong rolls on a piece of wax paper. Then, place in a steamer 1 inch apart to allow for growth.
Steam for 15-20 minutes. Serve immediately.